Expo Line Un-Reasonably Closing in on 2020 Ridership Goals

It seems rail transit can perform just fine in Los Angeles, despite what folks at the pretend-Libertarian Reason Foundation would tell you.

The Expo Line is on track to shatter ridership expectations, illustrating the folly of analyzing a rail line's usefulness based on ridership on its first week of operation.

Back in April, the Foundation sent a pair of riders to ride the mostly-opened Expo Line and declared it a disaster. In its first weeks of operation, the line barely attracted a third of the ridership expected for the line by 2020. When other outlets, including Angie Schmitt for Streetsblog, argued that judging a rail line’s overall worth in its first week of existence is a form of journalism malpractice, Reason doubled, then tripled down that having two grown men ride a train for a day in its first week of operation counting the people they see is a credible way to determine if a rail line is a failure.

Phase I of the Expo Line connects downtown Los Angeles to downtown Culver City and rolls past major attractions including USC, Staples Center/LA Live, Exposition Park and the Science Center. Phase II is scheduled to open in 2015 or 2016 and will extend the line from Culver City to Santa Monica. The ridership estimates in 2020 are only for Phase I.

It must be with some horror that Reason Foundation writer Scott Shackford watches the ridership numbers steadily climb. In fact, the rail line attracted nearly 20,000 riders every weekday (actually 19,776) in August according to statistics provided by Metro.  When designing the Expo Line, Metro estimated the line would attract 27,000 daily weekday riders on Phase I by 2020. Ridership on Phase I doubled since the line’s April opening from 9,000 riders to 20,000 riders. While clearly the current growth rate is not sustainable, the line will not be doubling its ridership every four months, the rapid growth points to Expo shattering ridership projections.

Incidentally, August was a great month for Metro’s bus and rail service. In addition to good news for Expo, the Green Line saw its third highest number of weekday boardings (45,536), the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit had its second highest number of weekday boardings (27,513) and the Blue Line had its best month ever with 92,006 daily weekday boardings.

There’s a reason that Streetsblog is continually carping on the Reason Foundation for its slap shod analysis of rail transit. Reason has done a lot of important research on transportation including studies showing how subsidized “short hop” air service wastes money, how Congress should consider more toll roads for future road construction, and they even make some interesting points about how Los Angeles’ decision to build rail while cutting bus service has not led to increased ridership in their Expo Line pieces. By publishing transportation arguments that don’t pass the laugh test, regardless of whether or not one agrees with their conclusions, Reason discredits and takes away from the other research the Foundation undertakes.

The second is that the Reason Foundation is popular with “free market” thinkers that dominate the Republican party. If their arguments go unchallenged, they could become de-facto truth in many corners of Washington, D.C.

  • Glendale

    Great article but need to update the map! Yikes that is old.

  • Paul Peterson

    Goes to show, you can’t always listen to reason :)

  • Anonymous

    As the saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Reason is only right when it happens to coincide with their predetermined biases. So maybe sometimes they say something reasonable about toll roads, but then they turn around and suggest building a 20 mile long toll tunnel through the San Gabriel Mountains.

  • If on the triple down link, you read the comments, the author quadrupled down by digging himself further into the hole.

    Remember in their original argument, they also made the ” point”  that rail doesnt see increasing ridership over time….and they actually used moves as a comparison. 

  • Kevinseymour2002

    As much as I appreciate your take down of that ridiculous Reason article, you’re also a bit factually challenged. Metro projected 27,000 riders at the end of the first year of operation. According to the FEIS which is available online, Metro is projecting 43,600 riders by 2020.


    Since different lines can vary widely in length, a way to get a good comparison between them is to see what the weekday boardings are per mile.

    Weekday boardings per mile in August:


    As you can see, only the Blue Line has a higher ridership per mile on a weekday than the Expo Line.

    I only included above ground transportation ridership in the above numbers. However, the Red/Purple subway line had a weekday ridership of 8,852 per mile in August.

  • It’s my understanding that the 43.6k assumes that the line is completed…it’s the riders for phase I assuming I and II are built. The 37k by 2020 is the one Metro was using in press materials at the line opening. I’ll see what the “official” numbers are and make an update.

    That being said, they’re going to be at 27k by the end of the year, and it will all be moot anyway.

  • John G/

    “Reason Foundation is popular with “free market” thinkers that dominate the Republican party”

    Wrong Damien Newton! I am a Republican and don’t associate with the Reason. Nice try!

  • Corrections like this do matter. I’ve seen comments in Washington based media that Expo is a failure, and they cite the original Reason article. It’s tough to get out good info, but it’s even tougher to kill erroneous info on the internet where it can be linked to forever without context.

  • ExpoScam

    Not so hard to figure.  Several years ago, with the Orange line, Metro finally figured out “underpromise, overdeliver”.   Ridership estimates are set artificially low, then bus routes are truncated to force transfers to rail, and voila’, “overwhelming demand”, regardless of the actual utility of the line.


  • Jeesh, I didn’t mean every single registered Republican.

  • Matt

    Except 27k for an 8 mile line is a pretty big figure no matter how you slice it. Compare to other rail lines around the country if you don’t believe me. The real test wIll come 4 years from now when the line will open as designed, but it is off to a very good start.

  • Mig

    I might agree with your comment if rail could go anywhere, but it has fixed tracks.  Even with the elimination of bus service rail is not always a feasible substitue.  This is an oversimplification that does little to explain expo ridership.  Have service cuts even affected parallel routes to expo?  Questions to answer before any confidence in your “explanation.”

  • Anonymous


  • Claude

    I’;m a Republican too, and I’ve noticed that the dominant libertarian wing gets most of their misinformation from Reason, Kato and other far right activist organizations from that cluster.


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