Adding Insult to Injury, Metro to Re-Open Reduced-Service Blue Line a Month Late

Washington Blue Line Station  shuttered during New Blue rehabilitation. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Washington Blue Line Station shuttered during New Blue rehabilitation. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Until this morning, Metro was expected to re-open the Blue Line in “late September,” as the agency had announced in late 2018. Today, Metro announced that the re-opening is delayed by a month, and will now be “late October.”

Portions of Metro’s oldest rail line have been closed since January under the agency’s “New Blue” rehabilitation project. Metro has been doing $350 million worth of modernization designed to “enhance safety, increase reliability, and improve the customer experience.” The project includes replacing tracks, upgrading train control and overhead power systems, adding four new crossover tracks/switches, and giving Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station a major upgrade.

During closures, Metro has been running shuttle buses. With more than half a year of partial closures and shuttles, the corridor’s ridership has declined. Last year, the Blue Line typically saw 60,000+ weekday riders. As of July, rail and shuttle ridership combined for ~43,000 total daily riders. Every weekday, about 17,000 former riders shifted their trips elsewhere – likely some to parallel Metro buses, some to cars, and some not making discretionary trips.

In May, during New Blue closures, the Metro board voted to cut peak Blue Line train frequencies from 6 minutes to 8 minutes, reducing rush hour service by 25%. Identical Expo Line service cuts resulted in today’s crowding. The Blue Line is likely to experience similar crowding when it re-opens.

Reading Metro’s announcement today, the word “delay” does not appear. The announcement doesn’t even state that the opening date changed from September to October. Metro states, “Thank you for your patience as we enter the home stretch of the New Blue Improvements Project….” and “Metro would like to extend our sincerest thanks to our riders for their patience during the service closures and construction.” Metro further announces:

Metro will celebrate the line’s reopening and thank the public for its patience with free rides and a local community celebration. The exact opening date and details of the celebration will be announced next month following train testing.

Sure, it is Metro’s job to try to put a positive spin on this. But why not acknowledge that the date has changed? Why not tell riders what caused the delay? Construction delays are common on big infrastructure projects – from freeways to rail lines. There is no need to act as if the delay never happened. These Blue Line refurbishment and Rosa Parks station upgrades are needed. The New Blue will result in better and more reliable service.

If Metro really wants to thank its riders for their “patience,” then they should be upfront about construction delays. Riders deserve the truth.

Rather than spending time and money celebrating, how about instead restoring cut service? Riders won’t need to keep being so patient, if the Metro Board would act to return service to the 6-minute headways that Blue Line riders were accustomed to when closures got underway in January. In addition to needed frequent peak-hour service, Metro should improve off-peak service, too. In 2016, the agency cut evening service in half, increasing headways from 10 to 20 minutes.

In Long Beach, some signal prioritization was added as part of New Blue – but too often Blue and Expo Line trains slow excessively in stretches where they wait in mixed traffic with cars. Metro should work with cities (including traffic enforcement departments) to continuously improve Blue and Expo train prioritization over car traffic. Single-occupancy vehicles should not have priority over trains carrying hundreds. In 2017, Phil Washington pledged to shave 10 minutes off the Blue Line’s end-to-end then-58-minute trip time. Metro needs to redouble its efforts to make good on Washington’s pledge – and strong effective signal prioritization is one part of the solution.

Lastly, Metro should acknowledge that, more than any other Metro rail, the Blue Line serves many disenfranchised neighborhoods. Rather than platitudes about so-called “choice riders,” Metro should recommit to serving the Blue Line’s core South L.A. ridership. Prioritizing equity would take a multi-faceted approach, including commitments to:

If Metro puts its riders first – in honesty, in service frequency, in speed and prioritization, in equity – this would be worth celebrating!

  • rett bryson

    how are riders criminalized? what vendors are being referenced in the statement “work with vendors, instead of criminalizing and ostracizing them”?

  • Toadally

    The author is spot on for all issues

  • Toadally

    If you actually rode the Blue Line before, you’d know exactly what he’s talking about

  • Toadally

    BTW, I’m writing this as I’m waiting 20 minutes for an overcrowded 860 bus to come

  • Alexander DeLarge

    Great write up, concise and to the point. Metro NEEDS to be straight up and realign commitments on the Blue Line.

    Hope somebody at Metro kicks this up, doubt it. (or some Solis staff shows it to her, since she’s probably the only one willing to talk about this).

  • Joe Linton
  • DZ in LBC

    Thanks for writing this article.

    I am looking forward to the restoration of service, but am disappointed with the operational quality of signal prioritization in the reconditioned segment of the line. I ride from Compton almost daily, and if there are 10 minutes worth of signalization improvements, I am not seeing the results. The ride south of Willow is still jerky and slow with lots of pauses waiting for lights to change.

  • Joe Linton

    It’s definitely something I plan to look into – what was done in LB, what effect it has had, what more might be needed. I think I heard that signal prioritization isn’t something you just flip a switch on, but something that the city needs to optimize over time. Though I will hold off on digging into that until Metro gets the whole line back running again.

  • Metro should have a permitting process for vendors on trains. We should debate how to make it work for everyone instead of criminalizing low-income people’s hustles.

  • Mat

    That sounds good and all, but Streetsblog is arguing for less police and more of a live and let live environment.

    After all, if someone wants to aggressively sell their wares or solicit for a date that self expression should be allowed. Who is Metro to infringe on these first amendment rights and unnecessarily criminalize this? Simply pointing out that someone is “looking good today” is not criminal behavior and by trying to discourage that can be considered discrimination.

  • Alexander DeLarge

    Good sarcasm, but less policing doesn’t coincide with a lawless environment.
    Less policing can be as simple as stopping fare checks and/or kicking out vendors (both are discriminatory), and only having police patrol for safety purposes.

  • Matt

    The updated schedules will be a good clue. I really doubt the 10 minute savings myself. An article would be fantastic, but as you say we’ll have to wait.

  • Bob 1401

    Metro with a budget over $7 BILLION with a Board that is run by mostly elected city and county officials as a part-time job using Metro for their own political gain with little or no knowledge of public transit making micro decisions that only uses Metro for political photo Ops.

    Metro has a history of delays and not telling the truth. Both the Expo and Gold lines were delayed a year, not because the construction could not be finished in time, but appeared to be slowed down by Metro because of Metro’s Board would not order the rolling stock in a timely manner. The initial budget for ordering the rail-cars would have bought 100 cars. But the time the board ordered the cars, the number of cars for the budget dropped to 78-cars. If you remember the opening, both routs did not have enough cars and played games with bad service.

    The Crenshaw/LAX line is being delayed a year. It should have been operational now.

    The first thing that needs to be done is get rid of the way Metro’s Board is filled. Metro should not be used for political purposes by part time Board Members using Metro’s money for non-transportation type projects. The board should be a full time board with its members elected by 13 districts representing all of the county from Antelope Valley to the South Bay.

    The CEO must be a registered engineer with an extensive background in public transit and budgeting. A person the know the region. It must be filled with the best and most knowledgeable and competent person.

  • TT12345

    I ride the Blue Line daily and I complain all the time about the metro not doing enough to enforce fares. What is the point of some of us paying while others don’t? Unless taxpayers want to make the metro free, then what’s the alternative to criminalizing fare evaders? There’s subsidized fares for lower income people but I doubt most of these evaders would bother to apply.

  • Maxi

    Plenty of Latinos and African Americans ride Meto everyday without any legal problems. They buy a ticket and take the ride, often to their jobs. Encouraging little punks with nothing better to do with their time than ride around Metro all day, harassing other riders and taking up much needed space away from commuters is only driving ridership and revenue down. Almost every time I mention taking Metro to other people with jobs who often drive right alongside trains to work (especially the much hated Blue Line),I always hear several horror stories from people who used to ride (but got scared away) or from people who know someone who used to ride (but got scared away).

    The primary purpose of Metro trains is for commuters, just as it is in all other parts of the world. Poor local residents can be better served on a bus if all they need is a quick jaunt to the neighborhood grocery store. Turning a blind eye to lil gangsters and mentally unstable homeless people who reek worse than a dumpster at a fish market in summer is highly counterproductive and detrimental to the success and financial well being of the entire network.

    And there are plenty of programs available to provide free/discouted passes to students and low income people.

  • Joe Linton

    Using language like “little punks,” “lil gangsters,” and “mentally unstable homeless people” isn’t helping your point. Also – on what do you base your contention that “the primary purpose of Metro trains is for commuters”? This is a historically sexist assumption that has not served transit users well. https://usa.streetsblog.org/2019/08/29/all-the-ways-u-s-transport-system-is-biased-against-women/

  • scooned

    i was looking into moving to LB so i can take this train to work, sigh

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