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Was L.A.'s $8-billion investment in rail worth the money?

Metro Link marks 20th anniversary

TalkBackLAL.A. County had made an huge investment in rail in the last two decades  -- building several light rail lines and a subway.

But was it worth it?

Although the region now has a gleaming system of subways and light-rail trains, some transportation experts say the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's $8-billion effort — less operating costs — has done little to reduce traffic congestion or increase the use of mass transit much beyond the level in 1985, when planning for the Metro Blue Line began.

Rather than bolster ridership, these experts say, the emphasis on rail has come at the expense of the MTA's vast network of buses and may have cost the agency at least 1.5 billion passenger boardings from 1986 to 2006.

"Overall, the push for rail has forced transit ridership down," said Tom Rubin, a veteran transit consultant and former chief financial officer for the MTA's predecessor. "Had they run a lot of buses at low fares, they could have doubled the number of riders."

Rail transit advocates contend that it is premature to judge urban rail's performance because the local systems are not fully developed and have yet to substantially benefit from being part of a broad rail network.

Read Dan Weikel's story here. Tell us what you think.

Photo: Marcia Baker, 21, gives boyfriend Ramon Diaz, 20, a kiss while riding the Metro Blue Line with fellow commuters in Los Angeles. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (84)

re: Marilyn Cobos:

Actually, the metro here is cheap compared to other cities. I used to live in the Bay Area, and CalTrain's fares are per "zone." There are 5-6 stops per zone and the farther you go, the more you pay. Going from San Jose to San Francisco, probably a little farther than the length of the Blue Line, can cost about $16 one-way.

Also, taking the NYC trains from JFK airport into Manhattan went up to $13 this year from $12 last summer, and that's only a 30-minute ride.

On those notes, I think it's great that (even with the recent fare increase) I can go as far as I want in one direction for just $1.50. I use the Blue Line every day for work to go from Long Beach to Downtown LA. $3 round-trip per day, and at 40-50 miles in a car I'd easily go through more than a $3 gallon of gas each day, especially in stop-and-go traffic.

The metro is great, don't get me wrong but the biggest issue is that it's not convenient to the majority of Angelinos due to the limited number of locations. Extend a line completely down Wilshire to the ocean, another down Ventura blvd and then connect the valley with the westside so that you don't have to go through Wilshire/Vermont and a considerable amount of people may be willing to give up on daily driving. The Metro is competing against people who have more convenience with their cars. If you ensure the subway is more convenient then people will switch over. But you will also need to rely on the bus system to supplement rail travel. Right now the buses are already crowded in the mid city area, and they aren't exactly pleasant to ride on for the working man/woman. Clean them up, make sure they are on-time, more frequent and make the average Angelino feel safe riding them and people will ride.

Actually, rails are great, need more.
When gas get to $10 per gallon more people will be using the rails. Also, plan ahead, avoid waiting for the $10/gallon gas at that point is will be years to complete. Also, should look at building smaller rails systems. Use innovating technology such as smart rails.

To follow up on the last comment. Yes the NYC system goes to JFK. If you haven't been to NYC in 5 or 10 years you should look that up. Now as for the 20+ year old LA system, this takes at least 50 years to improve it to the point where it is networked into other systems and matured as a real asset to the city. NYC, Boston have a dense population center and the NYC system took 100 years to mature with the city. So if you want to proclaim it as a failure perhaps you should wait another 25 years when gas is 7 to 10 dollars a gallon and LA has many more people living in the downtown area. Then present your argument. This seems like a similar discussion I had with someone for the internet which was a fun but nearly useless item nearly 20 years ago about the time this rail system was first operating. Give it time.

Actually the reasonwhy MTA is losing so much in ridership is the busses and trains do not go anywhere people really want to go. Also the Green line was supposed to go all the way to Disneyland (That never happened). Metro then raises the fare so ridiculously and cuts service everywhere that noone wants to take public transit and tends to actually buy fuel efficient vehicles instead.


Don't expect miracles. Los Angeles is the land of the car; meaning, 8 Billion dollars in rail systems is not enough money to create a system that is actually going to be appealing. No one is going to ride a rail if it means that they will also take 3 bus routes to get to work. Once the infastructure is capable of taking people from point a to point b on its own, then the appeal with undoubtedly increase ridership.

Our rail system here sucks & was a total waste of money. It takes longer to get somewhere connecting to all the individual lines than it does to drive or catch the bus. In many other metropolitan areas there rail systems make logical sense as there is a nice stretch of railway where multiple lines connect to the cities epicenter and major airports. In these places you don't have to spend 3 hours & five trains to get somewhere & and at one stop you can catch trains going to various cities/making it convenient & useful. Aside from this it costs entirely too much to catch the train.

The buses are perfect for who they cater to... Illegals who can't afford a car/insurance.

Because every time I've had to ride the bus, and every day I pass the bus stops, that's what I see.

I agree. They should have made more cleaner busses.

It's too late now. Like everything else in L.A.


For another 8 billion do you think we could get a metro system that actually gets us to the airport or will we always be controlled by the unions!

Amtrak loses on average 32 dollars per rider and 41 of the 44 lines lost money in 2008. We the taxpayers continue to subsidize this trainwreck!!! I read of one trainline that cost so much money, we could have bought every passenger a Prius with the ammount lost !! Bring on Health Care!!! I am sure the government will do a great job at that also ...

Nobody i have told this idea to, has been able to defeat it.
Make the 10 freeway to the Inland empire all one way and converthe the 60 Freeway the other way. This will essentially give us 8+ lanes for each way. The 60 and the 10 parrallel each other and are 2 miles apart maximun the whole way through.

I wish it was that simple for the 405, it sucks!!

I'd consider using it if it went where I wanted to go. If it worked as good as NYC's system. You can go just about anywhere in NYC on a subway and have a reasonable walk on each end. The problem is LA and OC are many times bigger than NYC. Perhaps 800 billion could create a system that functions as well.

Until then it is a useless system for most of us.

Lucky me, I no longer have a job so I don't have to worry about it either way right now.

$8 Billion and they still couldn't manage to stretch it to the airport, which would be LOGICAL! Could you imagine what that would do to Super Shuttle, the MTA, Taxi Cabs and Towncar services? I say SCREW 'EM! I'll bet usership would double based on that rail extension alone. But alas, I'm sure there are enough lobbying dollars and corrupt politicians to prevent that from ever becoming a reality.

Money down the drain. The light-rail system should have been built down the middle of each freeway, similar to portions of the gold line in the SGV. Buses would then feed people from stations adjacent each station. Right now, as bad as my Santa Clarita to the LAX area is, using the Mtro Line and then Blue and Green lines would take close to 3 hours EACH way and only get me 1.5 miles from where I work! The next build-out on the westside will only compound the problems. No more rail- more freeway and major arterial lanes!!!

if they keep extending the network and it goes more places I will park my car and use the rail system the same way I did when i lived in new york

Metrolink was great, before they decided to institute a 5% increase in fares every year! They say the reason for this is due to less ridership. Think about it morons, LOWER the price and you increase ridership! Nice, LAME excuse. I'm guessing the real reason is to compensate for the new "state of the art" cars, locomotives, paying "rent" for the existing rail shared by freight trains, etc. I'm bitter...lower your prices before you lose another rider!

Maybe if the trains actually went anywhere useful they might be more successful. Let me know when they go to the westside, the valley, Silverlake, culver city, etc.

Was it worth it, yes. Is it enough, no. The problem with the metro in LA is that it doesn't connect the city. HUGE HUGE (large majority is nowhere near the lines (WEST LA!). You can't half do this. Give up on subway for starters (expensive) and do light rail that connects. If I live in Westchester, and I work in downtown LA...forget about it. Venice to Gardena, Torrance to Santa Monica.... Traffic sucks, lets do this!

These rail lines are lines to nowhere. Create lines that go somewhere and people will use them. Construct lines that go to Disneyland, Dodger stadium, Anaheim stadium and all the way toLAX. We need leadership with vision.We don,t need lines that end in El Segundo!

Yes, it is worth it. LA just has to keep at it. Think LONG term. If LA keeps building light rail, and subway lines, eventually it will be a terrific place. But this is going to take many more decades. Keep going, your grandchildren will thank you.

if LA wants to become a true 21st century city, it really needs to step up its transit game. Take a look at cities like London, New York, San Francisco, Chicago...they make LA look like a joke.

The LA rail systems needs to AT LEAST double in coverage for it to really attract a large population of regular passengers. Why don't they bring in engineering consultants who have worked on these projects in other said cities??

With good public transportation, I think LA will realize a second boom because people will be able to go where they want, when they want, without sitting in traffic for hours on end, get drunk on one side of the city and make it home without putting anyone at risk (except their livers).

I think its worth it.
My mom rides the gold line to work,i ride the red line its cool LA is finally getting the picture even if its not showing right now i think its great.


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