Last time we spoke with L.A. County Metro CEO Phil Washington, we asked him about the delays and overcrowded cars that were plaguing the recently-opened Expo Line from Santa Monica to downtown L.A.
Its backers hope the new line will alleviate traffic congestion on the 10 Freeway during rush hour. There have been some challenges since its launch, from overcrowded cars to maintaining the speed necessary to keep the trains on time. Washington says Metro is making progress.
"We’re working with the city of Santa Monica to synchronize lights and that sort of thing," Washington told AirTalk's Larry Mantle. "The overcrowding issue — it was just incredible that we exceeded all ridership expectations on that particular line and the Gold Line as well. Starting Monday [yesterday] we put more cars on the Expo Line and we increased the frequency. We moved from 12 minutes between every train to six minutes between every train, so I think riders will see big relief on the Expo Line."
Also since our last check-in, the Los Angeles Rams have begun playing home games at the Coliseum downtown. So, are people actually taking the train to football Sundays?
"Since the Rams have started playing at the Coliseum, we’re carrying about 20 percent of the people that are at the game," Washington said. "That is incredible. These trains are crowded and we’re having to put more cars on."
We also talked with Washington about how many people are taking advantage of the bike share program Metro launched back in July, what Metro is doing to address parking issues in areas like Azusa that are seeing a larger influx of passengers now that they are Metro-accessible, and the security improvements riders can expect to see on the Blue Line and elsewhere.
What kind of security and cleanliness improvements can we expect to see, especially on the Blue Line?
We are doubling down on our security efforts. We took to the L.A. Metro Board last month an action to create a uniformed presence at stations, sort of a fixed-post presence. Ridership will see that presence starting now on the Blue Line and the Green Line. Our riders will see uniformed security presence at those stations and on trains as well, and our board approved that action last month. In terms of safety and state of good repair, over the next 10 years we’re putting $1 billion into the Blue Line to bring that up to a state of good repair. With that being the oldest line, there’s a lot of work we need to do on it. As a matter of fact, in the next week, we’re having an event where we’re putting $30 million into the state of good repair and repairs on the Blue Line. We’re paying a lot of attention to the infrastructure needs on the Blue Line and all our lines.
As trains pass by on the Expo Line, the arms will not lift sometimes for 40 seconds after the train leaves the intersection, causing a traffic backup. Can that be safely shortened?
We’ll look at it. Safety is our number one priority. We do not want to cause backups. There are regulations out there that require the gate stay down a certain period of time, even after the train has passed. We’ll look at that on all of our crossings to see if those gates are down too long.
What is the current status of the Regional Connector, which would connect Blue and Expo Lines to Gold Line and Union Station?
The Regional Connector is one of three projects we have under construction. We opened up two lines this year: The Gold Line extension to Azusa and the Expo Line all the way out to Santa Monica. We have three more under construction, and that includes the Regional Connector. We are pretty early on in construction, maybe 25-30 percent along. It’s really a game-changer that will allow for a one-seat ride from Azusa down to Long Beach. This is a game-changer for the region. We just lowered a tunnel-boring machine last week to start digging a tunnel under the earth to allow for that particular project and station.
How are you addressing parking issues created by a larger number of riders taking the train from places like Azusa, where a stop was recently added?
One of the things we’re looking at is trying to partner with the cities out there to purchase more parking areas. The Gold Line at Azusa there are some areas that we’re looking at. Keep in mind that on the Expo and Gold Line, on Metro-owned property, we went with parking as best we could in those areas. To acquire more property for parking, we have to have willing partners (i.e. the cities or property owners). We’re doing the best we can to acquire property for parking.
How successful has the bike share program been so far and where is it in comparison to cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco that have similar programs?
The consultants we brought on board said it’d be about two years before we reach numbers of other cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. We’re about eight months in and the trend is looking good. We believe that we will build up to those cities. We are looking for a brand name sponsor for that. Most of those other cities have premiere sponsors that partner with the agency. We see a bright future for active transportation and the bike share programs. When this started, you had to be a pass-holder, either monthly or annual. We are looking at extending that so all riders can use the bikes, and I do see that as our future.
When will cell service be added to the Red Line above 7th and Metro?
We are working right now with cellular service. We just turned on Union Station to 7th and Metro. We’re working on the next phase right now. I’m thinking that next phase will be completed in the spring or so of next year. It’s a full-court press to get cellular service in that tunnel. Just eight months ago there was no cellular service in there. We challenged the private sector and I challenged my team to get cellular service. We’ve got it in there from Union Station to 7th, and we are moving forward aggressively to get the rest of it done.
What are overall ridership numbers like, including bus and light rail?
On bus, we are slightly down. On rail, we’re increasing because of the new additions. We see this as a cyclical sort of phenomenon. Gas prices are low right now. The trend is not downward now, but leveling off as we see it. We’re in a national trend of bus ridership reducing all over the country.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
Phil Washington, chief executive officer, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)