The Ventura Boulevard Subway


The Valley is in trouble, and it doesn’t seem to know it yet. Or, maybe it doesn’t care. Apparently, a few homeowners decided long ago that buses were the answer to the public transit question for the SFV. Fast forward to 2007, and the Orange Line “transitway”delivers passengers along some obscure route through the Valley at break-neck speeds of….. 14 mph.
Let’s recap some important events that have taken place since then:

Dec. 6, 2006 – Universal announces $3-billion “Vision Plan” for the expansion of Universal City.

Jul. 18, 2007 – Westfield announces $700-million redevelopment of 30 acres near Warner Center.

Aug. 6, 2007 – Los Angeles Times runs article on the condo boom in Southern California “In the Sherman Oaks-Studio City area alone, 2,300 apartments and condos were approved for construction between 2000 and 2006.”

A lotta new development. A lotta new residents. A lotta new traffic congestion. We see the mayor and city council members clamoring for the mic for the big announcement. But what is being done now to plan for the congestion to come? Are there any plans at all?

One of the best plans out there is gaining traction. It’s called Get L.A. Moving, and it’s exactly what L.A. needs: a master plan for a comprehensive Los Angeles Rail Network.

As far as the Valley goes, one possibility would be an extension of the current Red Line subway under Ventura Boulevard to Warner Center, looping North through Canoga Park to the Van Nuys Airport, Bob Hope Airport, Burbank, and back to Universal City.

It’s time for the people of Los Angeles to demand more for their tax dollars. More than a photo-op with some douchebags standing in front of a bus they will never ride.


27 Responses to “The Ventura Boulevard Subway”

  1. 1 Donald Stanwood

    Councilman Yaroslavski a “douche bag”? Well, his MTA “Reform” Act of 1998 did throw a monkey wrench in the works of any new subway construction for ten years, at least. As for a Red Line extension further into the Valley, we should all live so long. The Purple Line to the Sea, Expo Phase II, even the Eastside Foothill Extension all have priority depending who you talk to. Arguably, a more feasible project would be the eventual conversion of the Orange Line to light rail. Then you’d have headways considerably faster than 14 mph and an end to these mishaps in which wayward autos do for buses what the iceberg did to the “Titanic”.

  2. 2 Dan Wentzel

    It’s an interesting proposal. What would be needed to make it work is a North-South line in the middle, possibly from LAX up the Westside, over/through the Sepulveda Pass to the Orange Line and MetroLink lines.

    Parts of it could be built above ground I think to facilitate construction.

    The golden age of the car, where Angelenos feel a sense of entitlement to drive their single-occupancy vehicle anytime, anyplace, anywhere with cheap gas, affordable parking and minimal congestion is over and will only decline. Everyone’s behavior will change however grudgingly, out of economic and environmental necessity. The densification will only continue. The only real question is whether Angelenos will bury their heads in the sand in the hopes that they won’t have to change their behavior or whether they will show up and support the transit improvements necessary for the future.

  3. 3 Alek F

    I totally agree!
    Yes, Los Angeles definitely needs a comprehensive, citywide Subway system (combined with some Light-rail lines).
    It’s time for Angelenos to start thinking “outside the box” – meaning, enough buses! And enough investing in only cars and freeways! We need to invest in a reliable Subway system, which could be one of the very few options that could get us around! Subway would be a hassle-free, reliable alternative, available for EVERYBODY.
    Yes, it is a big investment, but it’s something that will pay itself off very fast. And definitely – it’s a long-time investment, which could guarantee a good future in our city, ensuring our mobility, greatly improving our social lives, and helping our economy to move forward!
    Los Angeles is becoming a dense, urban city, with New York lifestyle in many areas. And it’s becoming obvious that a transportation system based on cars has miserably failed!
    Let’s finally build the subway!

  4. 4 Tom Rubin

    Quick eyeball estimate, the two subway lines and their connections appear to be somewhat in excess of 30 miles of track. At about $300 million a mile, call it about $10 billion to build — which is about has been spent on all the MTA rail lines + BRT to date.

    The rail ridership has, of course, been very disappointing — what we now know as the Red Line was originally projected to carry 376,000 passengers per day, with 298,000 being the count for what was actually built, and total rail ridership on the Blue, Gold, Green, Red lines combined, plus the Orange Line, was almost exactly the latter figure for June.

    Rail transit has also been a very expensive way to move a small number of people in LA. The huge capital costs per passenger are fairly well known, but a lot of people don’t realize that the OPERATING costs of carrying people on MTA rail lines are a lot higher than for any of the decent bus lines (comparisons to bus system-wide averages show rail operating costs lower under some indicators, but this is a very poor measure due to all the of low ridership bus lines).

    The potential for subway ridership in the Valley is low, even in comparison to the existing Red Line ridership — which has yet to reach half of the projection for 2000. The cost of subways, capital and operating, would be so high that there would not be a chance in hell of getting any Federal funding, leaving MTA and the State to cover the capital costs, and I have great doubts that the rest of the State would be all that interested in funding still another LA boondoogle, particularly one of this huge size.

    You mention that, “It’s time for the people of Los Angeles to demand more for their tax dollars.” Well, your subway proposal would appear to take about five years worth of the FULL County Prop A, Prop C, and TDA sales taxes to build to carry a rather small number of people — and those, not too well.

    Let’s keep in mind that, in transit, particularly in the Valley, the time to travel on transit has a lot more to with the time to access the transit lines at each end, plus to wait for transfers, than it has to do with the vehicle speed. There are just not all that many people who live and/or work, or have other trip ends, that are all that close to where the stations for any type of rail might be, and in the Valley, the situation is a lot worse than most of the rest of the County. In short, this is simply not a very good use of taxpayer funds — costs too much, does too little.

    I’m certainly no fan of the Orange Line. But, to be fair, the speed isn’t 14 mph, it is more like 18 mph (approximately 46 minutes at rush hour to go 13.7 miles). This is a lot slower than the 29 mph originally promised, but anyone who believed that was a fool. The speed is very comparable to what light rail would do in the same corridor, because the problem is not the decision on steel or rubber wheels, but the decision to do grade crossings without any protection through some of the worst transit guideway intersections ever contemplated. The proper comparison would be BRT vs. LRT in one of two configurations: (a) both without any grade crossing protection, or, (b) both with. Again, either way, not much difference in operating speed.

    Of course, what should have been done is a network of Rapid Bus lines, both E-W and N-S, throughout the Valley. In the redo of the EIR, even the three Rapid Bus networks that MTA carefully choose to be as far from as many riders as possible all carried more than the Orange Line alternative and MTA actually showed that Rapid Bus would be several minutes faster than BRT between North Hollywood and Warner Center.

  5. 5 Tim

    Busways are more expensive to maintain (pavement over rail), carry less passengers and are slower. From the Silver Line in Boston to the Orange Line in LA, they are a stopgap measure at best, but not the best solution.

    You can blame the politicians, but it really is ultimately the short-sighted voters who cut the funding for subways and hamstrung the transit planners.

    Bottom line: Something akin to the Freeway building plan of the 50s will be needed in Los Angeles to construct the transit system we need. This will require tax dollars, politicians with vision and voters with willingness to tax themselves to invest in the future of our city.

  6. Hey Tom,

    I keep forgetting to ask you two questions:

    1) At what capital and operating cost and under what environmental conditions is grade separated rail worth it?

    2) If we choose to not invest in some form of fixed gateway transportation system, what do you think the impact would be on the local job, housing and goods movement economies both within the Los Angeles urban core, across the Southern California region, and throughout the country?

    Damien Goodmon

  7. By my estimation there are two corridors in the SFV with existing, projected and potential future job and residential density to support grade separated rail transit: Ventura Blvd and Van Nuys Blvd.

    The Ventura Blvd line has the capability of connecting all of the major economic centers north of Hollywood, as suggested in the Get LA Moving Gold Line alignment, so I think it’s a stretch to suggest it would have difficulty qualifying for federal funding. Any potential New Starts obstacles would likely be due to state and agency fiscal conditions that neither I nor you Tom, can project 10 years out.

    Oh and MOS-3 Red Line and Eastside tunneling both came in at about half the $300M/mile estimate. Actual cost are around $150M/mile (comparatively Expo = $90M/mile) and that in many respects can be reduced by utilizing economy of scale.

  8. “Rail transit has also been a very expensive way to move a small number of people in LA.”

    So sayeth Tom Rubin.

    Let’s look at the facts. The Red Line has about 140K boardings a day. Let’s be conservative and say 130K, because it varies. The Green Line, 40K. The Blue Line has 75k, and the Gold Line 20K. That’s 265K boardings a day. Not all of those represent different people, so let’s say 200k individuals are riding Metrorail daily.

    This is greater than any urban heavy rail /light rail system in the USA, except for New York, Chicago, Washington and San Francisco, depending on what figures you use. The Blue Line is the number one most-ridden light rail line in the nation. (The Green Line in Boston splits into four different line, but that has more riders.) The numbers should increase when the system enlarges.

    That’s not a small number of people by any stretch. Is it even a small PERCENTAGE? Is that what you meant to say? Is that 10% of commuters? 2% of commuters? If it actually is that small a percentage, do you really want to send those people back to buses or cars? Is moving 2% of commuters in Los Angeles by rail worthwhile? It is worth investing money to remove 2% of cars from our freeway system during rush hour?

    Any small additional amount of trackage added on to Metrorail will add more riders other than those who live near the line. When the Gold Line extension opens, you’ll get not only people who live in East L.A. using it to travel within East L.A., but also riders who, for example, work in East L.A. and live in Hollywood. It’s the network effect, and riders are not just added, but added exponentially across the system.

    That’s why GetLAMoving is so important.

  9. 9 jeff

    Hey what about Cal State Northridge, a 30,000 student school plus staff, faculty, etc.?

    What makes Sherman Way the preferred route over say, Roscoe, which has quite a few hospitals along it?

    And finally, perhaps this subway/rail line could use the rail right of way that slashes diagonally across the valley from Chatsworth to Burbank (see the Googlemap link in the story).

  10. 11 manuel

    How about we get all the prisoners at the county jail, give them a pick and shovel have them do the hard part. Make them earn some of that money that is being spent on them.

  11. 12 manuel

    Now that Google has created “my maps” it has made transit experts out of all of us. I love it.

  12. 13 manuel

    I agree with Jeff. Don’t leave out CSUN, plus the business center on Corbin and Plummer. However, with Washington Mutual (@$$ ho!%$) relocating all those jobs I don’t think there will be a business center left. But there is potential for more, (every one at once) CONDOS!

  13. 14 Transit Planner

    I agree with the bottom half of the loop (Ventura Blvd.), but not the upper half. I would support an upgrade of Metrolink to frequent service (as O.C. is doing) instead. A frequent “BRT” shuttle to the CSUN campus (like CSU Sacramento is doing) could provide connections throughout the campus.

  14. 15 Dan Wentzel

    I’m supporting the Friends of the Pink Line — “Pink Line” being what’s being referred to as the connecting line between Hollywood/Century City via Santa Monica Blvd., connecting the Red and Purple Lines.

    Friends of the Expo line provided a good model. There could easily be a Friends of the Ventura Blvd. Line to raise it’s profile.

  15. 16 Alek F

    To Mr. Tom Rubin:
    you wrote that “the rail ridership has, of course, been very disappointing”.
    With all due respect – I’m not sure where you got those “very disappointing” ridership figures from, but you’re wrong in those assumptions.
    The rail ridership has bee HIGHER than projected, particularly on the Purple/Red line.
    I’ve talked to MTA officials directly (including the director of Westside/Central division, David Mieger). And – as MTA said, they “have been a victim of their own success!” Meaning – the Subway has been more successful than ever projected, that currently they don’t have enough supply of metro-trains to meet the current demand! Ridership increase has been the highest on the Purple line, of all rail lines taken.
    Going back to your idea of Rapid bus lines. Have you ridden one lately? Well, if you have – especially during rush hour – then I certainly hope you’ve enjoyed the “Rapid” crawling of the bus in the traffic at 5 miles-per-hour. I’ve been late more than once to appointments because of those “reliable” rapid buses.
    I think it’s obvious that buses have miserably failed! (including Rapid ones). Certainly it’s better than having no buses at all. But comparing to subway, buses are unreliable, run late, schedules are mostly useless. This is a total opposite of the Subway service, which is reliable, practically always on time, and fast.
    Yes, subway is expensive to build, but it’s a long-term investment, which pays itself off relatively fast.
    If you’re still not convinced, please visit the office of the Mayor of New York, and suggest to him an idea of replacing the New York subway by some Rapid Bus lines. And let us know what he says! :))

  16. 17 Tom Rubin

    Hadn’t been here for a while and, after noticing some of the remarks, decided that I had to clear a few things up.

    For Tim, in 5. above, “Busways are more expensive to maintain (pavement over rail)” — I have no idea where the more expensive comes from, rail is far, FAR more expensive. With a busway, pretty much all you have in the guideway proper (I taking out the stations and other part of the lines where there is no significant difference between a rail line and the busway) is the pavement itself. For rail, besides the fixed track, you have the rail switches, which require a lot of attention in and of themselves. You have the propulsion power supply system, the automatic trains control, and so many other things.

    I have no idea what you had in mind by “pavement over rail” above, so I won’t attempt to comment.

    “(Busways) carry less passengers” — the ridership really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with busway or rail, but has a lot to do with the alignment and the characteristics if the guideway. If you have a busway and light rail line on the same alignment that operate pretty much at the same speed, with the same hours and frequency of service, and other things not significantly different, then you find the ridership doesn’t change much either. There are differences in operating characteristics that are inherent in bus and rail, and these should be considered, but it is hard to show much of an advantage one way or the other (light rail has an initial acceleration generally in the range of 3 mph/sec up to about 15 mph, vs. about 2 mph/sec for bus and rail ride quality is generally a bit better; bus has a greater percentage of seated passengers and more frequent service and can operate all night; and busway buses can serve as their own feeder and collector service, eliminating many of those transit ridership killing transfers) in most situations.

    The main advantage between busway and light rail is that light rail is so much more expensive for comparable service; therefore, for the cost of light rail, you can build and operate far more busway service and, therefore, serve far more people.

    “(Busways) are slower” — as mentioned above, light rail does have an acceleration advantage, which can, in some situations, translate into higher average operating speed. However, when you do the math, the time savings are not large. Because a light rail train is far larger than a bus, and carries more people, for the same capacity, you will have far more frequent service on a busway than a light rail line, and the reduced wait time is generally at least as much as any rail operating time advantage — and, interstingly, people rate wait time as being far longer than time spent traveling, with 250% being a common adjustment constant for wait times in transportation modeling.

    I can summarize the rest of this posting as, you think that rail is a good thing and necessary in LA. Fine, you are entitled to that opinion.

    For Damien in 6. above, “At what capital and operating cost and under what environmental conditions is grade separated rail worth it?”

    My response here is that you are asking a question that appears to require a response in “absolute” numbers, such as “If light rail costs under $X million per mile to build, then it is a go.” Well, that is not the way this type of decision should be made.

    Instead, what you need to look at is, what is the cost per unit of benefit — such as per trip taken, passenger mile, travel hours saved, air quality improvement whatever — and how do the alternatives do in comparison? Of course, it should go without saying that this analysis must be done competently, professionally, and in an unbiased manner.

    (Yep, it SHOULD go with saying …)

    So, my answer is, when the operating and capital costs and environmental benefits of rail are worthwhile, and superior to that of other alternatives, then rail is worth it.

    “If we choose to not invest in some form of fixed guideway transportation system, what do you think the impact would be on the local job, housing and goods movement economies both within the Los Angeles urban core, accross the Southern California region, and throughout the country.”

    First, I am going to assume that, by “fixed guideway transportation system,” you mean fixed guideway TRANSIT system (Freight railroads are a fixed guideway transportation mode). Also, I will assume that fixed guideway transit would include light, heavy, and commuter rail (and just about any other type of passenger rail) AND busways, HOV/Busways, HOT/Busways, and HOV/HOT Busways.

    The answer, once again, is very largely dependent on what the other options are. Since the key for all governmental transportation is the amount of taxes and/or user fees are available, I’m going to assume, in my response, that the governmental subsidy funding will remain constant, but that the user fees will be dependent upon usage (in other words, if ridership on one mode is higher than an that for an alternative mode, than there will be more fare revenue that can be used for public transit for the mode with higher ridership).

    In general terms, if there was no expansion of rail transit and Orange Line busways, it would be pretty difficult to notice the difference, even if there was no other alternative implemented. Figure that total working weekday rail + Orange Line passenger trips are about 300,000 and there are about 60 million total trips in SoCal, and it is not really that much of big deal now, about one-half of one percent (actually, it is a lot lower than that because the 60 million is linked trips and the 300,000 is unlinked). For the most part, the “best” lines were build first (with the obvious exception of sending the Red Line to the Valley instead of down Wilshire), plus so much of the rail funds are now taken up in paying off what was borrowed to build the first set of lines, it is damn hard to come up with any plan that shows any major expansion of rail ridership in the foreseeable future without some huge new source of funding — and I don’t know where that would be coming from.

    If, however, the available transit funds were shifted to uses which would emphisize the ability to carry passengers on useful trips at lower public subsidy, then a whole lot more transit riders would be carried each year.

    My calculations, from MTA FY07 Budget and other MTA-source information, is that the constant dollar subsidy (total, operating plus capital) per MTA bus rider was $1.93, compared to $13 for MTA guideway transit rider. (Keep in mind that these were averages, rail and the Orange Line don’t do anywhere near as well when we’re talking about the subsidies per new rider.)

    The greatest ridership increase in post-WWII U.S. transit history was when the cash fare on SCRTD buses was reduced from $.85 to $.50 from FY82 to FY83, and stayed there for three years. Ridership increased over 40% (354 to 497 million per year), peak period ridership went up 36% — and, by the way, the cost of this was less than 20% of the Proposition A 1/2 cent sales tax receipts for those years.

    The INCREASE in ridership was the seventh largest bus transit system in the U.S. at the time.

    At the end of the fifty-cent fare, the money that paid for it went for rail — and the fares went up. Over the next eleven years, ridership fell over 12 million a year — and I’m talking total MTA ridership, including rail, not just bus.

    Then, the Consent Decree went in in 1996, buses were added, the fare increases were reversed and then moderated, and ridership started going up again, by 12 million a year.

    So, in my mind, sticking strictly to transit options, the thing to do is to stop extending rail and instead improve bus transit — including reducing fares.

    I’m also a big fan of HOT lanes, including both building new HOT lanes — which, of course, would be used for long-haul bus service — and looking at converting existing HOV lanes for HOT use (the details of how I would propose to do this last are far more complex that I need to go into right now and would require some technology that does not current exist in a field-proven state, which means it is not yet ripe for prime time).

    Again, any such decisions need to me made on the basis of looking at all the alternatives — and that includes rail, at least until the first few rounds of cuts, just like all the others.

    For Damien in 7., discussing grade-separated rail transit in the Valley, the main problens with a fixed guideway rail line along Ventura and Van Nuys Blvd’s are:

    1. In this context, “grade-separated” will mean, with some possible short exceptions, either elevated or subway. While I can make a good case for elevated, given what I know about these communities, particularly the Ventura Blvd. community (I lived very close to Ventura Blvd. for over five years) is that I see a VERY hard time getting anyone to go for elevated — as proven by the Valley’s rejection of elevated and insistance on subway for the where-is-it-now San Fernando Valley East-West Subway, Phases I and II.
    2. Subway down either street would cost hundreds of millions of dollars per mile to build and would screw up these corridors for years.
    3. While both of these are heavily traveled corridors, most of the traffic is not ALONG these corridors, but TO the various activity centers thereon. Most of the travel on such subways would likely be to someplace else, such as to downtown.

    When you do the math, subways in these two corridors just don’t make a whole lot of sense.

    For Scott in 8. above, yes, I did mean that the rail transit numbers are a small percentage of passenger trips — as discussed above, under one-half of one percent of the total weekday trips in the region, and many of these were former bus riders, including not a few who were forced off their buses to use the trains.

    As to your comment, “… do you really want to send these people back to buses or cars?,” please keep in mind that I did not propose tearing out any existing rail lines, although if a study of alternatives showed that this was a good idea, it should be considered.

    The biggest cost with rail is the initial capital, followed by the on-going capital renewal and replacement and the operating subsidies. Well, the initial capital invest is GONE, and other than perhaps being able to sell certain components for some bucks, there is no way to get these funds back. The on-going capital costs to maintain the existing rail infrastructure are a lot more than that for bus — which carries about six times as many people, but the problem is, when you take Federal funds to build a rail line, if you stop operating that rail line, you have to pay a whole lot of money back to the Feds. We’re talking about billions of dollars for the Fed share of the Red Line.

    So, shutting down existing rail lines is not something that I’d propose to do much of, with the exception of looking seriously of the Metrolink service to the High Desert, particularly when on the HOV work on the I-5 and 14 are completed. Of the MTA rail lines, the Pasadena Gold Line has by far the worst statistics — and they don’t seem to be getting much better. I’m not real optomistic that opening the East Side extension is going to result in a huge jump of Pasadena ridership because of that great connection — but, we’ll be getting some data before too very much longer, so, let’s wait and see. We might as well go to that dance; we paid enough for the ticket.

    What I AM saying is, can we stop now? Given the extremely poor results on the rail we have built so far — which again, is mainly the “best” lines there are — before we build the next one, can we do a REAL analysis of options to see what might be better?

    Are the rail numbers fairly large in absolute terms? Well, not real bad when you compare to other new rail cities, but, take a look at the relative investment, both in terms of miles build and the cost.

    You need to look at both the investment, in terms of public sector capital and operating subsidies, and the results achieved, in terms of ridership primarily, and then compare the cost/subsidy per to what you get with the other transportation alternatives.

    I’m not saying that rail transit in Los Angeles doesn’t do ANYTHING; what I am saying is that it has cost way too much to gain way too little, compared to what could have been achieved with other available alternatives.

    To Alek in 16. above, your statement, “The rail ridership has bee (sic) HIGHER than projected, particularly on the Purple/Red Line,” is just plain wrong.

    For your information, I was the CFO of the good old SCRTD at the meeting in 1989 when the revised FEIS for the what we now know as the Red and Purple Lines was adopted by the Board of Directors and I have a copy of both that FEIS and the previous one.

    The 1983 version had working weekday ridership projections for the year 2000 of 376,000. That, of course, was for the old “wounded knee” alignment that was not built — but that 376,000 number was what was used to get the funding partners on board to get the money to build it.

    The 1989 version — which was for exactly what was built — had 298,000 daily, again in the year 2000.

    Red Line ridership has not hit half of the 298,000 for any month since it opened.

    Now, keep one other thing in mind — the ridership projections for the 1989 EIS were done with the assumption that there would be the same type of “zone fare” that existed for SCRTD bus service at the time. This would have meant that, on top of an $.85 cash fare, there would have been four zone fares, at $.30 each, for an end-to-end trip from North Hollywood to Union Station. However, the fare that was actually implemented was a “flat” fare — in this case, just the $.85, no zone surcharge.

    Trust me, when you reduce the fare by this much, it has a major impact on ridership — so, in reality, the Red Line 1989 ridership projection was well over double what was actually produced.

    This was the worst of the MTA rail ridership projections. The Blue Line came in over, although the same zone vs. flat fare difference was in play. (Actually, I was the father of the flat fare — as SCRTD CFO, I was responsible for the ticket vending machines, which were not working very well at all, taking over a minute to process transactions. I was very concerned about having long lines at the TVM’s trying to buy tickets as the trains were going through the stations, so I pushed for a flat fare struture for the Blue Line, which was later adopted for all SCRTD/MTA rail lines, instead of the five-zone-plus-rail-premium that had been originally proposed, and was able to get it done. In the best — or, perhaps, luckiest — rail ridership projection I’ve ever seen, the SCRTD modeling staff projected the “flat fare” ridership one year out to within the sampling error of our counting methodology. Interestingly, the flat fare ridership projection was about 212% of the zone fare structure originally proposed.)

    The Green Line projections were also not real bad, although we still have the flat-vs-zone issue in the model, and it took quite a bit longer for the Green Line to mature its ridership compared to the other light rail lines. (Of course, another way of saying this is that there was steady growth of Green Line ridership for several years after opening.)

    Gold Line ridership is way under the projections and is not showing much growth (other than what has been attributed to the fuel price increase growth).

    You are absolutely right about many of the rail lines being at or near capacity. Some of this is due to poor planning and design, some to inappropriate cost-cutting, and others to either incompetence — or worse.

    When the Red Line was being “sold,” the SCRTD General Manager, who was hired for the specific purpose of getting it built, was going all over the nation talking about the great planning process and how everything was so well coordinated. I remember him specifically talking about the line being designed to carry the 376,000 daily — on about 16 miles of track. Given that BART, with over four times that much track, and far more stations, at the time, wasn’t anywhere close to that number, I couldn’t figure out how this was going to be possible — particularly since BART stations are designed for ten cars, while the Red Line stations only are long enough for six (the MTA cars do have slightly larger capacity).

    Well, it turned out, the claim it could handle the 376,000 was horsepucky. Simply can’t be done.

    One of the big problems is that, when the rail lines begin to come in over budget, the tendency is to look for things to cut — and a lot of these cuts are not real bright.

    For example, the Pasadena to Los Angeles Metro Blue Line Construction Authority, which built the Pasadena Gold Line (don’t ask; just one of those “California things”) had sworn on a stack of bibles that it could build the line for the funding that MTA said was not enough.

    Well, even after getting a fair hunk of extra change that MTA didn’t have, they couldn’t do it. So, not having any responsibility for operating the mother, they started looking for things to cut.

    One of these was propulsion power supply stations. As a general rule, you design your system to be able to carry your maximum load, with a safety factor, and then be able to operate (at reduced levels) if you lose every other station. What this generally means is a power supply at each station, at a million dollars plus each.

    Well, the Construction Authority decided to save money by taking these out. MTA was so concerned about not even being able to operate at all if they lost one station that they added four stations back as soon as it was turned over to it. But, the line that was planned to be able to operate three-car consists in both directions on six-minute headways opened operatin two-car consists on twelve-minute headways — which was about all that was possible at the time.

    Yes, Rapid Bus is not perfect. However, it is a very significant improvement which, on the lines where MTA properly implemented it, such as Wilshire, has produced huge ridership gains — at very low taxpayer subsidy, about $.95 per new rider.

    If you want to really improve on-time performance in a big way in this town, one good option would be Orange Line-style busways. If you build them right (in other words, learn from the errors in building the Orange Line), the lower cost of busways means you could build a lot more lines and miles than you could if you did light rail. As to heavy rail, other than the Wilshire corridor, not a whole lot of places where the demand is anywhere near enough to justify it.

    (However, in my mind, all guideway transit in LA, other than freeway bus lanes, will need to be pretty damn good to be worth doing, based on the lousy results to date.)

    (When you are spending the taxpayer dollar, a good rule to follow is, start with spending on the projects that do the most good for the most people for the least expenditure first. Based on the documented results, in LA, rail ain’t it.)

    I’d sure like to do a lot more to improve bus service in LA, in order to bring those improvements to that vast majority of transit riders that will never have a chance in hell of being able to use a rail line for their daily travel, and also for the rather portion of the MTA rail riders who use at least one bus in their rail trips. We CAN do better — but, to do better, we must first TRY to do better, and that means paying more attention to bus than rail in this town, because bus is far more important than rail for moving people, and, baring some 9.0+ level earthquake changes in how things work here, always will be.

    The record is very clear — spend a little money on bus, ridership goes way up. Spend a lot of money on rail, and try to reduce bus subsidies even a little, and/or increase bus fares, and total system ridership tanks.

    That’s the way it is in LA.

    You say, “Yes, subway is expensive to build, but it’s a long-term investment, which pays itself off relatively fast.”

    OK, I agree with you that it is expensive to build — VERY expensive, particularly when you compare the cost with the benefits.

    As to the “long-term investment,” well, yes, I agree — you need to spend a lot of money over a long time — over two decades in the case of the Red Line — to get it built, and you then need to spend a lot more money to keep it going for the rest of time.

    But, the part about, “pays itself off relatively fast” — considering that the Red Line has one of the highest subsidies per passenger and per passenger-mile of the major heavy rail systems in the U.S., and one of the lowest farebox recovery ratio’s, and will be requiring well over a billion dollars of subsidies each decade for as long as it it there, could you please explain what you mean here? It obviously cannot be in dollar terms and it doesn’t really seem to be in terms of ridership — not yet hitting half of what was projected for seven years ago, and many of the other operating statistics are not real fine, either. If you mean that you like to take it and it works well for you, well, I’m happy for you — but I’m sad for all the other people who need transit in this town who are paying more for bad service to get you what you like.

    As to your suggestion, “If you are still not convinced, please visit the office of the Mayor of New York, and suggest to him an idea of replacing the New York subway by some Rapid Bus lines.,” OK, you have me convinced — we should not tear down the New York City subway system.

    In LA, we should stop wasting more money on expensive urban rail that carries far to few people per public taxpayer subsidy dollar, we should instead fund the transit that works for the transit-dependent first to improve both the quantity and quality of service — and we should probably continue to operate just about every existing passenger rail line in the area, although there are a few that are worth looking at closely.

    We most definately should have never build the first rail line. While this can be excused as an experiment — we didn’t know how bad it would be until we started operating it — continuing to start new rail lines after the news has come in is the height of folly.

  17. 18 Manuel

    Well, maybe now that NBC has decided to move on top of the Universal Studios Red Line Station a subway down Ventura will be a necessity. Because I am pretty sure that a big majority of the employees for NBC will be coming from the West Valley and the communities along Ventura blvd and not from Hollywood and Downtown. So the Ventura Line should be a big consideration for the MTA (after the purple line to the sea) now with a third project – Bigger Mall at Woodland Hills, The Art Wave in North Hollywood and NBC studios in Universal City – planed for areas in the southern parts of the Valley. Plus, I do believe that the Westfield shopping center in Sherman Oaks is planning to increase in size. So, let’s create “Friends of the Ventura Line” and While we are at it, how about “friends of the 405 line”.

  18. HI

    I dont live in LA, but I do live in London, UK. Here, we have a transport system that is the best in the world. But what makes it the best? Cheap and quick use of the transport. Congestion charges (for people to drive in to the centre of town during peak hours), vast network underground (subway) and very densily populated bus network. London Underground built lines out into the suburbs in the early 1930s and within a decade, these suburbs grew in population and was used for people traveling into the city. The network boasts over 270 stations and 12 lines. Travel is cheaper if you dont use cash, rather the use of a card you swipe (oyster card). To summarise, London would not exist without the investment and belief that a decent transport system is the best way for a city to operate. Cars will not disappear, and will still be widely used, but a decent transport system could half the traffic. The arguement will always be there, but to be honest, it involves risk and the forward thinking that the system may not be profitable for many years, it also requires the trust of the public with regards safety and reliability. Commuters must be able to see that the alternative to their car is a train, bus etc. The best way to do this is to have a transport system to be proud of. 2 lines on the London Underground operate without drivers, soon to be 3. We also have a light railway that is being extended almost every 3 years. All in all, investment and patience is what is needed to succeed with a transport system that could rival any city in the world. visit to see what a great system it is. Thanks for reading. I will be visiting your city for myself in July 2008. I anticipate sitting in traffic!

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