Metro Service Changes Take Effect This Sunday, Including Fewer Night Trains

A side effect of additional "late night" train service will be to alleviate the strain on cars when Midnight Ridazz let's out (assuming the ride ends before midnight). Photo:##http://www.flickr.com/photos/garyseven/3138690971/sizes/z/in/photostream/##Gary Kavanagh/Flickr##
As of Sunday, Metro’s “More Trains More Often” nighttime initiative will be over. Photo: Gary Kavanagh

This Sunday, June 26, Metro will be making their twice yearly “service changes” to bus and rail service. This typically means minor cuts, often justifiable, but still incrementally making riders’ lives a little worse and incrementally contributing to declines in ridership.

Metro’s The Source has a fair summary of the agency’s latest round of transit service adjustments. As one would expect, the agency emphasized improvements:

  • All Gold Line trains will serve the entire new Foothill Extension. Since the new stations opened in March, they were only served by every other train out of Union Station, meaning trains to Azusa ran every 12 minutes. As of Sunday, peak-hour service to Azusa will be every 7 minutes.
  • Metro Rapid Bus line 744 night service has been adjusted to better serve Cal State Northridge.
  • Metro Bus line 230 night service has been adjusted to better serve Mission College.

The Source uses very neutral language to mention some nighttime service cuts for Metro rail lines. These cuts are generating some concern on social media. Right now, evening service (from roughly 8 p.m. to midnight) on the Expo Line and Blue Line runs every 10 minutes. As of Sunday, this will be cut in half to every 20 minutes. Some late night Blue Line trains also run shorter lines, ending at Del Amo Station. In addition, Red Line and Purple Line service for Friday and Saturday nights will be reduced from every 10 minutes to every 20. (Metro already reduced Sunday through Thursday night service to every 20 minutes last year.)

Relatively frequent night train service was introduced in 2011 as part of the Villaraigosa-era “More Trains More Often” improvements. This week’s changes effectively end that 2011 service expansion. 

Why the reduced nighttime frequency? Metro has couched these rail service reductions in terms of the need for windows of time to perform maintenance, but another big reason appears to be cost savings. As part of Phil Washington’s Risk Allocation Matrix initiative to trim costs, a January 2016 report [PDF] recommended Metro save $4.4 million in Fiscal Year 2016-2107 by “reducing night rail service” including “reducing headways from 10 to 20 minutes from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. and replacing with bus service after 12 a.m.” Metro has implemented the reduced headways but, so far, has not implemented buses to replace after-midnight rail service.

It is also worth noting that Metro did not implement the agency’s high frequency network bus service overhaul, which had been tentatively scheduled for July 2016. One small component of that plan, the outsourcing of a couple lines, is taking place. As of Sunday:

  • Bus lines 190, 194 (El Monte to Pomona) and part of line 270 (Monrovia to El Monte) will be operated by Foothill Transit.
  • Part of line 270 (El Monte to Norwalk) will be operated by Norwalk Transit.

What do you think, readers? Is cutting evening rail service a prudent response to Metro’s fiscal constraints? Or is it a retreat from serving mobility needs of riders who depend on Metro? Will it result in less ridership? Or, in the long run, will maintenance windows contribute to better overall reliability?

  • jforsander

    These drastic cuts to nighttime rail service are a terrible idea, especially during a year Metro is asking the voters to approve a sale tax increase that will fund $120 billon + in transportation infrastructure in LA County. It doesn’t make sense to throw this kind of good will away just to save $4.4 million dollars/year, especially when they will almost certainly be spending much more than that to advertise/educate the public about the transit tax initiative.

  • effron

    Suddenly that ride to Santa Monica or DTLA for a dinner and a show became a lot less appealing for lots of “choice” riders.

  • Buttermilk

    Last night I took the expo at sepulveda toward Santa Monica (which was a 20 minute wait anyway). The train headed the other direction was pretty full for the time of night. I could imagine a 50% cut in service making that train standing-room only, and discouraging a lot of riders, especially discretionary riders, from using it.

    I feel like ridership-service is metro’s chicken and egg problem that it needs to resolve. Ridership will not increase unless service does, and cutting service because of lowish ridership is totally self-defeating. And I know people who have legitimately tried to take transit, but can’t because of low nighttime service. It’s a particular problem for students who often are in class in the morning and working at night.

  • effron

    I’m sure 45k+ riders on the Expo is ‘good enough for now’ as far as Metro is concerned. They’ve already exceeded their low-balled ‘projected ridership’ which entitles them to declare victory and go home.

    Besides, they were obviously not the least bit ready for the Expo’s opening. They’ve bungled it every bit as much as the Gold Line opening. In the short term it may at least give them an opportunity to further paper over all the glaring deficencies. They know full well all the inadequacies which everyone experiences daily aren’t going away anytime soon. Perhaps it’s best to shoo people away until they can demonstrate that they know what it means to have an adequate number of trains carrying people in a safe and timely manner. I’d throw in the words speedy or swift but Expo will never live up to those terms no matter what they do.

  • Lorenzo Mutia

    Why can’t they just reduce service to a somewhat more bearable 15 minutes? I assume it’s because of the single tracking but a decent train signaling system can work around it. I’ll call out my ignorance on this because, among other things, I don’t know if LA has CBTC for its trains as opposed to block signalling.

  • LAguttersnipe

    I have mixed feelings, on one hand I don’t want our system to deteriorate like BART or DC. On the other hand I feel that this is just a cost cutting scheme more so than a maintenance program, and the proof will be in the single tracking. The Red/Purple maintenance garbage has been going on for so long that I actively avoid taking the Red Line at night because I don’t like waiting 25 minutes to go 4 stops.

    My bigger question is: Where is the trade off for service/maintenance? Once this goes into effect the Blue Line will essentially only be offering rush hour service because it is every 24 minutes from 9:30am – 2:30pm and then every 20 from 8pm-close. I haven’t been on many systems in Europe but Shanghai’s last train is at like 10:30pm, Bangkok also, so they get a nice 7 hours every night for maintenance and they seem to run every 4-5 minutes all day long.

    I seriously do not see the point of a 4th sales tax if Metro is just going to cut more service.

  • I would like to know if there’s an hourly breakdown of ridership numbers.

    I’m a daily user of the Metro, but I’ve had a lot of issues on the Expo line since the extension to Santa Monica opened. If this is how operations go with this many users and this much track mileage I feel reluctant to vote to fund the expansion of this system as it stands now.

    Public transportation, I feel, should not be a feel-good joke. It is a utility like water and power. If they want to ask for a permanent sales tax increase they should probably get their new lines functional at the very least, to say nothing of building any rail line at-grade or not figuring out how to get traffic prioritization to work.

    As a citizen of LA is there anything I can do?

  • Buttermilk

    I’m probably somewhat unique in that I used to live in and still often visit the new gold line service area, but I now live in the new expo line service area. I was originally very disparaging of the gold line extension (it obviously should A be a faster commuter rail line eg S-Bahn type train and B not have gone in because Azusa is great and all but really should not be a transit priority at this time). But now that the gold line is open, I’ve actually been pretty impressed by its function and pleased to see fairly heavy usage. I’m comparing it to 5+ years ago when I was commuting on it, and there’s a notable increase in interest and usage. So, not necessarily the greatest decision on metro’s part, but not the worst thing they’ve ever done, either.

    The Expo is just the opposite. I was very excited and optimistic about it. Now that I’ve seen it in action, I can’t believe metro wasted the money on it. And it’s not just the grade separation/signal priority/late train issues. It’s the total lack of vision. The stations aren’t set up to scale up for an increase in ridership, they aren’t well designed, the (lack of) grade separation makes expanding trains to more than 3 cars in the future hard/impossible in some areas. It actually has similar density issues to the gold line extension (Irwindale is still the stupidest light rail station in the world, but Rancho Park is the second stupidest). As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it basically doesn’t beat the already existing R10 bus any time other than peak of peak. It even lost a race to a bike. I could go on.

    The expo is sort of feeling like a broken promise and a symbol of LA’s poor urban planning. Although I will say that the various Santa Monicans I’ve had to shepherd through the train riding process have been so naive of what public transit could be that they have been very pleased with the experience. We’ll see what happens when the novelty wears off.

  • Darren

    Three bus routes (12, Rapid 12, and Culver City 3) serve the Rancho Park station, connecting it to Century City and UCLA. So once UCLA starts back up again it will likely be a busy transfer point. And one can always hope that someday LA upzones the area around the station to allow greater population density.

  • Buttermilk

    The 12 does not serve Rancho Park because it was discontinued. The 8 does. The station is clearly there because of wishful thinking surrounding the Westside Pavilion and because it’s a (very slightly) more direct connection to UCLA than the Sepulveda Expo station. That doesn’t make its placement in the middle of a bunch of ranch houses any less ridiculous or any less similar to the densities around, say, the Arcadia gold line station (except Arcadia has a better mall). Transferring there is also awkward for a number of design reasons, and many passengers don’t realize that you cannot transfer between metro and BBB/CC w/out a metro-muni transfer or an EZ pass.

  • jforsander

    Buttermilk you are misinformed. Big Blue Bus route 12 has not been discontinued but it’s route has been shortened to better serve UCLA commuters now that the Expo Line Phase 2 is open:
    http://www.bigbluebus.com/Routes-and-Schedules/Rapid-12.aspx#serviceChange

  • Buttermilk

    Nope, the 12 was discontinued. It was replaced by the 17, which doesn’t serve Rancho Park, and “combined” into the R12.

    From the BBB site (http://www.bigbluebus.com/Routes-and-Schedules/Route-12.aspx)

    “Route 12 is discontinued and partially replaced by service on:

    Updated Rapid 12 routing on Westwood Blvd., Overland Ave., and UCLA campus.

    NEW Route 17 at the Culver City Station, National Blvd., Palms Blvd., and UCLA. Additionally, NEW Route 17 service along Sawtelle Blvd. connects the Palms neighborhood with the VA West LA Medical Center on all days and UCLA on weekdays only.

    Alternate service on Sepulveda Blvd. provided by Culver City Bus Route 6 and Rapid 6.”

  • jforsander

    Big Blue Bus route 12 and Rapid 12 were combined into one service. The new route does not go all the way to Culver City Station anymore because it doesn’t need to now that Westwood/Rancho Park Expo Line station is open. Critically, The new (rapid) 12 Big Blue bus line still does serve riders commuting between Westwood/UCLA and the Expo Line (which was the reason this line was created in the first place).

  • Buttermilk

    Dude. If somebody says that 3 routes serve a station, the 12, the R12, and the 3, but one of those lines was discontinued (per the actual service that runs that line) and therefore does not run there anymore, it was most certainly discontinued and they most certainly cannot claim that it is one of the 3 lines that serves the stop (there are 3 lines still serving Rancho Park, but they’re the 8, R12, and CC 3). The 12 and the R12 were actually slightly different routes, even in Westwood, before the service change. I cannot, for example, take the R12 unless I change the stop I wait at at UCLA. I could take the 12 from the stop I use back when it was running. It no longer runs, therefore I cannot take it.

  • Joe Linton

    There are no publicly available hourly breakdowns. I expect Metro has them, but you might have to ask (and/or make a public records request)

  • calwatch

    Because there are no Automatic Passenger Counters on the trains, there is no hourly breakdown. Rail passenger counts are based off sampling.

  • calwatch

    Also, the Culver City 3 is the only all day connection from Expo to Century City, a key jobs destination.

  • JJ

    Agreed. I suspect this has more to do with maintenance issues giving Metro a black eye. They can’t take cars out of service due to demand, but they’re paying the price in train failures. Headway is varying between 12 and 18 minutes on average, with delays of up to 20-30 minutes if a car gets hung up on shared track downtown.

  • effron

    That area around the station is never going to be upzoned in this lifetime. If you want to invest in long-shot hopes for the Expo Line you’re far better off hoping that someday it will be granted signal priority on the street running sections.

    The Rancho Park station is a quaint stop –though I’d love to know what the designers were thinking when they had the passengers exit onto the gated tracks. Someone’s gonna get hurt one of these days. Surely the Bergamot layout would have been the superior option there.

  • Ben

    As a daily rider of the Expo line for several years prior to the extension, I find it remarkable that Metro has found a way to make service even worse. I shouldn’t be surprised though given their track record with the Red and Blue lines. This isn’t about a measly $4M cost savings, their operations are so bad they can’t even run the line with 12 minute headways at peak hours. Truly a laughable agency. And now they expect voters to chip in for more of this atrocious service?

  • Darren

    I know, but it really is too bad that’s the case. It now has some of the best transit access in the region, with one-seat rides to UCLA, Century City, USC, and Downtown LA. Plus it has numerous amenities within walking distance like Trader Joe’s, Westfield and adjacent shops/restaurants, etc. At least the properties right on Westwood should be allowed to be more than single-family homes.

  • Joe Linton

    Calwatch – do you know if there’s TAP data with hourly breakdown? Seems like that would be a good proxy.

  • effron

    The better placed hopes are for mixed users on Pico and Westwood north of Pico. The area around the station is a well organized enclave that full well understand the value of where they live and are rightfully wary of development interests that seek to exploit it.

  • GR

    Interesting… because that’s how I kind of feel about Foothill and Expo2 as well.

    Foothill has potential–a vision for transformation. There were a lot of thoughts put into the route–not necessarily with immediate high ridership number in mind, but more as a long term investment.

    Expo2 feels kind of like another Blue Line, or at least more of the the same we’ve seen for the past couple decades.

    The DTSM Station is cool and all, but most of the other Expo2 stations don’t have the same promise as the Foothill stations. It’s just Metro going through the motion of stuffing a rail line through the Westside.

  • calwatch

    There might be. I don’t know.

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