As Union Station makes changes, will they consider the people who use it?

24x36 Poster

On rather short notice, approximately one week ago, Los Angeles Metro announced major changes to the way Union Station will be allowed to be used during the overnight hours of 1am to 4am.

This is one of the many changes public transportation users have begun to see in the wake of Metro’s February 2011 purchase of the station (or “Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal” to railroading purists) from TPG Capital. TGP Capital had just acquired the property itself through a spinoff deal with ProLogis, which had merged with a development company called Catellus, the descendant company of the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads’ property holding interests.

While the addition of the newer food and retail options — including the upgrading of the main waiting hall’s newsstand to one operated by the French multinational Relay, as well as the addition of Famima!, Subway, Starbucks, etc. — were begun under the Catellus/ProLogis ownership, further improvements that Metro has proposed will fundamentally alter the interior and exterior of a station that, up until the early 1990’s, had more pigeons than people.

One of the first visible changes made under Metro ownership was the posting early this spring of some directly-quoted portions of the Metro Code of Conduct on signs around the station, including my favorite, the prohibition on “Unavoidable Grossly Repulsive Odor” (6.05.160). This set of regulations, which was adopted in a somewhat off-the-radar method, was originally intended to be applied to the much smaller (and potentially “sealed”) single-purpose rail and bus transit facilities, and vehicles, that were exclusively Metro’s domain.

Before:
Posted Code of Conduct Before

Now, apparently, the code is also being applied to all of Union Station, which is a multi-faceted and open facility with all kinds of users and uses that are not taken into consideration on other Metro property. In other words, it appeared that some portions of the code were about to impose Metro’s rules on the customers of other transportation providers and tenants at Union Station even if those carriers and tenants themselves did not also have the same restrictions on their vehicles or at their own stations or in their establishments.

One example was the posting of Metro’s restriction against persons under 14 not being allowed to ride Metro with a bicycle without being accompanied by an adult (6.05.040). This is not the policy of other transportation providers which use Union Station, but by posting it, Metro was essentially banning all persons under 14 with a bicycle who were without an adult from even passing through the station property, even if all they wished to do was buy an ice-cream at Downtown L.A.’s only Ben & Jerry’s.

Fortunately, thanks especially to the work of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and others, Metro has apparently accounted for some of those conflicts, and has now reposted these restrictions on Union Stations users apparently with the broader context of a modern transportation hub in mind. However, Metro’s code itself is unchanged and it is unclear what portions of it apply to Union Station or if the multiple law enforcement entities that patrol Union Station will be enforcing it.

After:
Posted Code of Conduct After

When the new Code of Conduct signs were installed, another new sign (see image at top of this post) was installed on the reverse side advising that effective Monday, August 19th at 1 am (i.e. earlier this week), the station would be “changing its hours of operation” and:

Between 1:00am and 4:00am, ticketed passengers and those persons with lawful transportation purposes will be directed to a designated seating/lounge area. Those persons without authorization or permission to remain in Union Station or on the facility property will be required to leave the premises.

This sign also contains a map showing where “ticketed passengers and those persons with lawful transportation purposes” are supposed to wait. Roughly, it is the area where one finds the iconic Los Angeles Union Station seats bounded by the Relay Newsstand, the Wetzels Pretzels, the Amtrak information booth and the See’s candy kiosk.

UnionStationWaitingAreaMap

This policy will be enforced by the newly-red-jacketed “Ambassadors in the employ of Universal Protection Service” who are a contractor for Metro specifically assigned to Union Station, in partnership with the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s Transit Service Bureau.

To the non-transit-using observer or those who do not work outside of the Monday-Friday 9-5 shift, Union Station might be considered to be “done for the day” once the last Metrolink and Amtrak trains leave and arrive just before Midnight. Certainly it was not all that long ago that the Metro Red Line Subway, which was the only Metro Rail line serving the station, would shut down at about that time.

But Downtown Los Angeles and its transportation hub is slowly turning into a 24/7 activity center.

With the arrival of the Metro Gold Line, and it’s Roybal extension to East L.A. (which converted the “terminal” into a “station”), rail transit at Union Station is a nearly 21-hour operation even on a weekday, due to the logistics of operating a 20-mile (32km)-long light rail line which has only one car-barn. Add in the recently extended Metro service on “Friday and Saturday Nights” and this window grows further.

From my study of the various providers’ current timetables (See combined schedule of operations here) during the traditional work week (Mondays through Fridays) between 12:50am and 4:10am, forty-three arrivals and departures take place at Union Station. On weekends (Saturday and Sundays) that number climbs to seventy-six!

Note that in these totals I have chosen to include the arrivals ten minutes before 1:00am and departures ten minutes after 4:00am as the users of these trips will likely be impacted by the new security policy as they reposition themselves into, out of, or through the Union Station property during the 1:00am to 4:00am time period.

That’s more arrivals and departures on a weekday, than the station saw in an entire day in 1990.

However, it should be remembered that a traveler using Union Station in 1990 would have found themselves using either Amtrak’s trains departing from the railroad tracks or Amtrak’s “Thruway” buses which depart from the Amtrak Bus Bays just west of the Amtrak baggage carousel (located behind the Subway Sandwich Stand).

There was no grand East Portal to the then-gloomy pedestrian tunnel under the train platforms or Patsaouras Transit Plaza beyond. Entry to the tunnel under the strict control of Amtrak personnel and passengers were only permitted access when walking to or from trains.

Passengers were boarded through “gates” along a wall which stretched all the way from the current Amtrak ticket widows to the Amtrak baggage carousel room. You can still see the only remnants of this wall (and passenger-control doctrine) today when you line up, as Amtrak would like you to at most of its stations, for Surfliner departures at the still-intact gates E and F.

Today the station is a vibrant place, and while not nearly as lively as most of its overseas contemporaries (which benefit from their nations’ larger per captia investments in public transportation and special exemptions from local laws on store opening times), Union Station, long the location of a reliably-“stocked” taxi stand, now has retail open 24 hours a day, and has since 1990 added:

  • The Subway platform
  • The Light Rail platform (in the place of tracks 1 and 2)
  • Patsaouras Transit Plaza which hosts transit buses, Megabus and LAX FlyAway Services
  • The always-open Gateway Center Garage
  • The “Bus Rapid Transit station” where the El Monte Busway meets Alameda Street.

UnionStationNodes credit LA Metro

This last facility is currently outside the newly restricted area and it has been there since the El Monte Busway opened in 1974, but it will be replaced in 2015 with a busway platform more adjacent to the Patsaouras Plaza and will then be connected to the rest of Union Station. It is therefore likely to fall under this new control policy when completed, so I have included the departures from it in my survey of timetables, especially since Zev Yaroslavsky would have you accept that the Metro Silver Line (Metro Bus Route 910), which uses it as its Union Station stop, is “like a rail line on rubber tires” and is shown on the Metro Rail Map. Foothill Transit’s Silver Streak bus to West Covina, Pomona and Montclair stops at this facility, shares the same pricing system (fare, media accepted) with the Metro Silver Line as far as El Monte and runs 24 hours per day.

With all of these varying points of egress to and from Union Station property, and with the move via technology from the majority of ticketing being issued on at a staffed window to it now being done through vending machines (scattered around the station property), SMS codes, smartcards, barcodes on smartphones and the coming future of near-field communication (NFC)-enabled devices, the definition of a “ticketed passenger” has changed dramatically in the past two decades.

As I, and many others, have had more than a few Kafkaesque encounters with Metro staff and contractors in the past (how, for example, can one be “ticketed” in advance for a transit bus that uses a farebox?). I turned to Paul Gonzales Metro’s Senior Media Relations Officer for some answers to questions:

Question: If the person is not “ticketed” but wishes to purchase one, are they allowed to stay, and what is the process by which they are permitted access to the various places that tickets are sold with in Union Station? Is merely stating that they will travel considered “transportation business”?

Answer: The desire to purchase a ticket is transportation business, but the person must purchase a ticket. If a person says he/she is waiting for the next conveyance, that qualifies as transportation business. But the person must take that conveyance or they will be required to leave.

Question: At what point before departure will the person be allowed to leave the waiting area to go to their desired transportation departure? Must they wait for an escort as is the case with Amtrak departures today?

Answer: When the conveyance arrives the person should go to the boarding location. Regular Amtrak procedures apply for boarding. [Except Amtrak does not have any trains leaving during this time period-Ed]

Question: What provisions are there for persons wishing to leave the station to, for example, smoke tobacco (take a cigarette break)?

Answer: A person with valid transportation business is allowed in the designated waiting area. A ticket allows the person to enter even if they leave to smoke.

It is understandable that Metro does not want Union Station to become a place that people are either uncomfortable with or afraid to enter, as has been the (thankfully) temporary fate of other large transportation facilities all over the world in living memory. However, it is also incumbent upon the decision-makers at Metro to recognize that there are already many legitimate uses of Union Station in the “wee hours,” and these will only increase in the future. Just because someone is working the third-shift or needs to get somewhere early in the morning does not justify their being hindered in making connections, especially by Metro staff or security contractors who themselves may have never ever traveled by any mode of transport other than a car. There is already a disproportionate amount of scrutiny and intimidation aimed at users of alternative modes of transportation in Southern California than is tolerated by those who use automobiles as it is.

Please let Streetsblog LA know what your experiences are with this new policy as it is implemented.

  • James Fujita

    I’ve never had a reason to be at Union Station later than midnight, and I doubt I ever will. When I did visit the station, it was always to transfer from subway to bus or from light rail to subway, so this new rule wouldn’t seem to apply because I would have legitimate transportation business.

    Overall, I wouldn’t want people setting up camp at Union Station, so some sort of rules are needed.

    However, I do wonder how this would affect somebody living at the Mozaic who needed to visit the 24-Hour Famima!!, for example. One would hope that the “spirit of the law” is enforced and not the “letter.” That’s what law enforcement generally does with traffic laws.

  • Joe B

    Rather than hope that the letter of the rules are ignored in favor of enforcing the spirit of the rules, wouldn’t it be better to update the letter of the rules to better conform to the spirit?
    Do the rules really prohibit me from riding my bike in the driveway in front of the front door? It sounds like they do.

  • Steven White

    Rather than “transportation purpose” I’d say the wording should be changed to include business purposes with a business within the station. I live at Mozaic so this could theoretically affect me like you describe. Although, it’s easy enough to look like you’re headed to the Gold Line or the bus plaza on the other side and simply stop in Famima!! on the way before heading back out the doors. My guess is they won’t be stopping people who are walking and clearly heading somewhere, but rather people who are loitering around.

  • James Fujita

    Generally speaking, safety and security regulations tend to be more conservative than it may sometimes seem like they need to be.

    In a lawsuit-fueled society such as ours, this provides maximum leeway to deal with the deliberately disruptive passenger or the belligerent drunk (“but the rules didn’t specifically say I couldn’t”) while still giving law enforcement the discretion to decide it’s not worth bothering a person such as above commenter Steven White, who might have reason to walk in, go to Famima!!, shop and head back out.

  • Joe B

    Being drunk or deliberately disruptive are already banned by other parts of the code, so we don’t need to ban Famima shoppers and people who arrive by bike in order to deal with the drunk and disruptive.

    Creating blanket prohibitions and then relying on law enforcement to enforce them only against people they don’t like is generally bad policy. It allows law enforcement to create their own oppressive and arbitrary standards of behavior which all too often target people whose behavior is perhaps odd or nonconforming, but inoffensive.

  • Rail Dude

    Try going to union station early in the morning and all the chairs are occupied by homeless people. Stopping off at Subway to get breakfast I was asked twice for money. I am sympathetic to the homeless problem, I just wonder how well Metro can address these issues.

  • I dont think this is a new policy.

    Over a year ago, I was taking an amtrak san joaquin bus from that time period (1 or 2am?) and was directed to sit in the exact area noted by the poster. At least three times, while sitting there, I was asked to show my amtrak ticket to prove I was “allowed” to sit in the waiting area.

    There were maybe 5 other people sitting around waiting for amtrak departures. Everybody else was prohibited from sitting.

    Famina was open at the time

  • Erik Griswold

    It may not be new in practice, but it hasn’t been posted before.

  • Erik Griswold

    And that is exactly what must not be allowed to happen under this new policy.

  • davistrain

    Thanks for posting this. I was at a railway history meeting last week, and long time LA area rail and transit observer was reporting this supposedly new policy. I got the impression that he thought it was overkill, although he does not drive and usually has two or three transit passes on his person. I’ve been at Union Station in the “wee small hours” on several occasions to catch the “Ambus” to Bakersfield, and I don’t mind a bit if the patrol officers ask to see tickets. Anything to keep the riff-raff out is a good idea. I would presume that having a valid “TAP” card would be considered evidence that one was there for transportation purposes. Regarding someone who lived at a residence on the property making a late-night munchies run to Famima!, I would guess that showing a door key would confirm that the person didn’t just wander in off the street. Ideally, we wouldn’t need such controls, but until our governments can figure out what to do with the “winos and weirdos”, these measures will be necessary to make the station a safe and comfortable place for the general public.

  • Erik Griswold

    What does a “door key” to the Mozaic Apartment complex look like? What about other downtown residents? Are they going to be able to access the shopping at the station, which is slated to increase if Metro plans are followed?

  • John Guidinger

    I have been an Amtrak and earlier railroad passenger at LA’s Union Station since the 1940’s and I have many great memories of this wonderful station. But over the past 20 years I see more and more men in Union Station who ask for money or press you for other favors or handouts. I have traveled widely by air, bus, and rail and see pan-handlers at some other stations and airports. But the pan-handler problem seems more severe at Union Station than elsewhere and I have commented to Amtrak about this problem. Somehow this issue needs to be addressed in line with the legal issues involved. This problem has been fixed at other large stations (such as at Grand Central and Penn Station in New York) and it needs to be fixed at LA Union Station as well. I will be glad to show my tickets to the authorities at Union Station at any time if this will allow my wife and I to feel comfortable while waiting for a train or eating at a restaurant.

  • Alex Brideau III

    As a Mozaic resident myself, I can tell you that our door keys look like generic door keys. But if Famima!! (don’t forget that extra exclamation mark!! :-) is supposed to be open to the public 24 hours a day, I would think anyone choosing to patronize them at any hour would/should have the right to do so, regardless of whether they live nearby or happen to be a walk-in. I don’t think Famima!! is supposed to be reserved for transit users in the wee hours. I can imagine their corporate offices would take issue with such a restriction.

  • calwatch

    The thing is that “loitering” is already banned (“remaining in station without lawful transportation purpose”). So this regulation is superfluous, other than perhaps closing the main hall down to allow for cleaning and maintenance. They should just enforce the loitering rule and allow anyone to pass through at will. As long as you are moving it shouldn’t matter.

    Now the real Nazis at enforcing no loitering is the owner of the property above the Wilshire/Western station, who will shoo people away and even call the cops if you complain about their tactics (at which point my conveyance had arrived anyway so I just left).

  • Nathanael

    Given the record of law enforcement permitting other police officers to crash cars, assault people, kidnap people, kill people, etc., I am not interested in any policy which gives law enforcement “discretion” to ignore the law. Better to write the law correctly in the first place.

  • jessie

    Security harassing the passengers. I just got off the Amtrak bus after 1 am and I was immediately shown the exit because I had no band for further travel. What if I wanted to go Famima and get coffee or something to eat? I couldn’t. I park there most of the time. You have to walk through the terminal to get to the elevators. I didn’t even think of this till right now. They escort you right of the building. Two men complained loudly cussing and yellling who had just ended their travel and they were both upset and complaining to an armed Sheriff with a dog the private security was harassing them. Then one guy earlier was trying to find his ride and because he didn’t leave quick enough six security officers surrounded and folllowed him and one of them started yelling at him to get the f””k out here. I was waiting for my family to pick me up. I just wanted to leave. I didn’t dare cross the street because the homeless were sitting in droves on the steps opposite the station. I was completely full of anxiety because of this situation.

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