Metro Weighs Possible Service Reductions for Downtown Rail Lines

Pico Station, which services the Blue and Expo lines.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority could reduce rail service in and out of Downtown on three of its busiest lines. The transit agency is currently evaluating a proposal that would see wait times between trains increase, although Metro promises it would not impact capacity.

The proposal has generated mixed reactions from local groups, including opposition from a prominent business organization.

The plan, laid out in Metro’s proposed $7.2 billion budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, is to reduce rail service countywide by 5.93%. The biggest impact would be on the Expo, Gold and Blue lines, with a reduced flow in and out of Downtown.

The Downtown proposal is spurred not by issues with the trains, but rather street traffic. Portions of the three lines all run at-grade along streets, requiring stops at red lights and other locations, according to Metro Communications Manager Rick Jager.

The result, Jager said, is that trains sometimes bunch up or bottleneck, particularly the Expo and Blue lines around the 23rd Street station.

If approved by the Metro board of directors this week, the service reductions would take effect at the end of June, Jager said.

Metro stressed that the shift would not impact the amount of people the trains can move in and out of Downtown. Rather, the change would impact only wait times. Trains on the three lines that arrive every six minutes during rush hour would instead arrive every eight minutes under the proposed new schedule.

To make up for that, Metro would shift to using three-car trains during peak hours instead of the current mix of two- and three-car trains. That would allow the agency to move more people, even if ride frequency is decreased. A three-car train can carry 357-410 people.

The proposal is generating concern and some opposition. Business advocacy group the Central City Association has come out against the proposal. In a letter to the transit agency on the wider budget proposal, the CCA said that service reductions would hurt riders and Downtown businesses, and also negatively impact Metro.

It added that cutting rail service even as Metro expands with projects such as the Regional Connector “does not make sense.”

“After five years of consistent ridership losses due to increased car ownership, new transportation alternatives, and worsening bus performance, proposing to reduce funding and cut service is a recipe for continued decline and is an approach that CCA must strongly oppose,” said the letter signed by CCA President and CEO Jessica Lall.

The CCA also charged that the three lines are the busiest in Metro’s system, and help connect people in Downtown with the communities of East Los Angeles, the Westside and Long Beach.

“These investment choices are a troubling reflection of how we value Metro riders, and our commitment to investing where service is most likely to be successful,” the letter continued.

The proposal could improve rail efficiency, according to Dana Gabbard, treasurer with the activist group Southern California Transit Advocates. He noted that most of the wait time that Metro trains experience is due to being held up at stations or by traffic lights. Even if wait times for trains are extended, if the timing is carefully done, the actual rides could be shorter.

Still, Gabbard said one impact could be psychological. Riders, especially during peak hours, are anxious for their train to arrive. Delays could frustrate riders, and longer wait times could mean more build-up at platforms, making it difficult to load and unload trains.

Metro’s Finance and Budget Committee approved the new budget, complete with the reduced train service, on Wednesday, May 15. It is scheduled for a vote from the full board on May 23.

Jager noted that the proposed reduction would be unique when it comes to the Blue Line, as that route is already seeing significant shifts during a two-phase renovation.