All you need to know about Expo Line

Expo Line train testing, May 2016.

Expo Line train testing, May 2016.

Hey Steve, when you lived in Santa Monica between 1996 and 2003 and then later covered politics and transportation as a reporter, did you ever believe the train would one day make it to Santa Monica?

No. I thought there was a better chance of a planetary takeover by the apes.*

That’s not a very PR-like thing to say!

Well, there were so many insurmountable obstacles, namely the lack of funding and some loud and lawyered-up community resistance.

But a huge tip-of-the-cap to the L.A. County voters who decided in 2008 to tax themselves via the Measure R sales tax hike to build big transit projects. And, of course, we have to give a huge nod to the transit activists — namely Friends 4 Expo — who pushed for this project beginning in the late 1980s, when many future riders were still a Michael Bolton concert and bottle of wine away from existence. For the activists…

What time does the line open to the public?

Trains begin running on the new 6.6-mile extension at noon Friday. Metro is providing free rides on the entire Expo Line beginning at noon Friday and continuing until the end of service Saturday (which is actually early Sunday morning).

There are community parties at six stations on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Downtown Santa Monica, 17th St/SMC, 26th St/Bergamot, Expo/Bundy, Palms and Culver City. More info on free rides and parties here.

How much does it cost to ride the Expo Line?

Metro’s regular fare is $1.75 and that includes two hours of free transfers for those using a TAP card (which cost $1 and can be purchased at vending machines at all Metro Rail stations), the plastic reloadable fare cards used in L.A. County.

All Metro fares are here. You can purchase a TAP card online and/or apply online for discounted fares for seniors, disabled/Medicare recipients, students and low-income households.

Fun fact: the off-peak fare for seniors is 35 cents for those who ride between 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and 7 p.m.-5 a.m. That’s a sick deal!

Cuddling is more fun when you don't have to fret about traffic afterward! Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Cuddling is more fun when you don’t have to fret about traffic afterward! Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Any destinations near the Expo Line worth checking out? 

Here’s 24 of them, ranging from the beach to Apple Pan to the Motor Avenue Farmers Market every Sunday.

What’s the travel time on the Expo Line between downtown L.A. and the Downtown Santa Monica Station?

About 47-48 minutes. Trains will run every 12 minutes daily (except late at night) from about 4:30 a.m. to about 1:45 a.m. on weekdays and until 2:30-ish on weekends. Here’s the timetable:

Will train frequency and length increase?

Metro will monitor ridership and make changes as needed. One hurdle that has to be cleared: Metro currently has a shortage of light rail vehicles.

An order for more vehicles in 2009 fell through and it took until 2012 to place another order with a different manufacturer. The good news is that the new vehicles are arriving, are being placed into service and are nice — but not all the vehicles are here yet.

Will the Expo Line be crowded?

Very likely, especially at rush hours. Please see my colleague Anna’s post about crowding.

Is there parking at the new stations?

Three of the seven new stations have parking: Expo/Sepulveda (260 spaces), Expo/Bundy (217 spaces) and 17th St/SMC (67 spaces). Some spaces are reserved in the morning for monthly permit holders ($39); otherwise daily parking will be $2. See this post for more info on parking.

Why wasn’t more parking built? 

Most of the land along the Expo tracks is already developed. Acquiring property and building and maintaining parking would have cost millions more dollars on top of an already expensive project (about $1.5 billion). Some other things to consider:

In last year’s Metro customer survey, 23 percent of rail riders got to stations by driving or getting dropped off. 

•Parking is costly. Every dollar spent on parking is a dollar not spent on transit — Metro’s core mission.

During the planning process for the project, factors such as cost, available property, visual and traffic impacts and community feedback were all considered in determining the amount and location of parking along the line. Parking was built at the three stations where property was already owned as part of building the project. 

•Metro is looking to partner with the city of Santa Monica on additional parking opportunities.

Going forward, Metro is also building more rail lines in similar highly developed corridors; for example, there is no parking planned for the Purple Line Extension subway. That’s why Metro is emphasizing other ways to get to and from stations besides driving. The bus and bike connections along the Expo Line are as good as they come and that’s something Metro officials say they are eager to duplicate on current and future rail lines.

How do I get to the new stations without driving?

There’s a new bike path along the tracks that connects with existing bike lanes. And, each station is served by buses run by either Metro, Big Blue Bus or Culver CityBus. The walking environment around most of the stations is pretty good.

This lengthy post has a ton of information about bus routes intersecting the Expo Line, how to transfer between bus and rail and the number/location of bike racks and lockers.

What about getting to the stations this weekend?

Metro has partnered with Uber to offer $5 discounts to those using uberPOOL to travel to or from the new Expo stations and Culver City Station. All the details are here.

What’s the view like from the operator’s cab?

Like this:

How big is the Metro Rail system?

One hundred and five miles. And counting — three other projects are underway (Purple Line Extension to Wilshire/La Cienega, Regional Connector and Crenshaw/LAX Line). The Purple Line will eventually take the subway to Westwood, the Regional Connector ties together the Blue, Expo and Gold Lines in downtown L.A. and the Crenshaw/LAX Line will run between the Expo Line and the Green Line and include connections to a people mover to the LAX terminals.


How does the Expo Line compare to the streetcars in terms of speed?

The streetcars’ schedule show them running 16.88 miles from 6th & Main in downtown L.A. to Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica in 60 minutes. The Expo Line is scheduled to take 47-48 minutes to go 15.1 miles from 7th/Metro in DTLA to 4th/Colorado in downtown Santa Monica.

Bottom line: the routes were different until the section west of USC and Expo is a little faster, averaging 19 mph to the streetcars’ 16.9 mph. The streetcars had to contend with more traffic than Expo.

As a colleague pointed out, there are other benefits to transit: not having to drive or pay for the cost of driving/parking, gaining some potential time to do other things (read, etc.) and having more predictable travel times than driving.

If this King penguin chick could talk, it may say "Go Metro and please don't eat on trains." Photo by Amanda King, via Flickr creative commons.

If this King penguin chick could talk, it may say “Go Metro and please don’t eat on trains.” Photo by Amanda King, via Flickr creative commons.

Um, aren’t you leaving out another reason to take transit? 

Generally speaking, switching from driving alone to taking transit results in fewer climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions being poofed into the atmosphere, so says the Federal Transit Administration.

Or, to paraphrase my colleague Anna, Go Metro to help save vital habitat and ecosystems that penguins depend upon. Which reminds me — if looking for something to read whilst transiting, try this awesome Jonathan Franzen article in the New Yorker about his recent cruise to Antarctica. Franzen being Franzen, he manages to squeeze in a lot about the remote continent, a family secret and the importance of krill.

If rail to Santa Monica is so great, why did the streetcars go kaput in 1953?

Long story short: cars got really popular, freeways got built and streetcars were neglected and never modernized. In 1953, it doesn’t seem too many folks were concerned about what traffic would be like if Los Angeles added six million more residents and sprawled deeper in almost every direction. Whoopsydoodles!

A streetcar crossing Motor Avenue in Sept. 1953. Photo by Alan Weeks, Metro Transportation Library & Archive.

A streetcar crossing Motor Avenue in Sept. 1953. Photo by Alan Weeks, Metro Transportation Library & Archive.

About the same scene today with the Santa Monica Freeway in back of the rail bridge — the freeway wasn’t there in ’53. Motor Avenue’s waistline has also expanded since then.

Photo: Google Maps.

Photo: Google Maps.

Why does the Expo Line stop at some red lights between DTLA and Santa Monica?

The traffic signals are controlled by the cities where they are located — in the case of the Expo Line that means either Los Angeles or Santa Monica. Metro works with both cities to coordinate train schedules and signals. The cities, in turn, try to strike some kind of balance between getting transit, cars and pedestrians through intersections.

Why doesn’t the train run entirely underground or above street level? 

Mostly because of money, or lack thereof. Which is an issue everywhere.

Some other factors: Transit agencies aren’t allowed to run deficits; federal and state help on transit capital projects is limited, and; subways are brutally expensive to build. For example, the 3.9-mile segment of the Purple Line Extension that is under construction has a budget of about $2.8 billion. The 15.1-mile Expo Line cost about $2.5 billion.

Light rail at street level is pretty common in Europe and can be found in San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City and elsewhere in our region (Metro’s Blue and Gold Lines). In modern times, when regions want to build rail, they often build light rail.

One other thing that’s important. In 1998, Los Angeles County voters approved a ballot measure that prohibited sales taxes for transit from being used to build subways. The Expo Line and a bus lane on Wilshire Boulevard were seen by the Metro Board as viable alternatives until a Wilshire subway could be funded and built. For those interested, there’s a really good history of the project in Expo’s original environmental study.

The passage of the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase in 2008 made it possible for Metro to build both the second phase of the Expo Line and the Purple Line Extension subway. Metro is considering another potential sales tax ballot measure for more projects. More about that here.

What did the right-of-way look like before Expo 2 was built?

Like this:

Looking west from Westwood Boulevard in 2011. Photo by Carter Rubin/Metro.

Looking west from Westwood Boulevard in 2011. Photo by Carter Rubin/Metro.

And what it looks like now:

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

A full album of pics taken in 2011 is here.

What’s the best restaurant along the new Expo extension?

The chili verde at Gilberts. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

The chili verde at Gilbert’s. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

I’m partial to Fritto Misto at Colorado and 6th in Santa Monica, near the Downtown Santa Monica Station. Great food, it’s cheap and the portions are generous. Try the gnocchi with basil cream sauce.

Runner-up: Gilbert’s at Pico and 26th in SaMo. It’s a 15-minute walk from 26th/Bergamot Station. The yummy chili verde –>

Where do I get an Expo Line commemorative TAP card?

Beginning Friday at TAP vending machines at these stations and at Metro’s four Customer Centers. Cards will be available until supplies run out.

Where can I find more Expo pics for my blog, media website or social media needs?

Right here.

What’s the best way to get service updates and Metro news?

Follow Metro on Twitter. We have a general account that includes service updates and agency news, as well as an account that only features service alerts and updates. This blog has daily agency news. We’re also on Facebook and Instagram. We’ll be covering the opening this weekend across all our streams — we look forward to seeing many of you out there!

*Do not read this to mean that in any way I’m ruling out the apes. But perhaps this will delay things a bit 🙂

48 replies

  1. As a senior that has traveled extensively both abroad and in the US, I have experienced a great deal of train travel. Living here in WONDERFUL southern California since 1956 here too I have witnessed our transit system and am a big fan of Metro. Steve, please emphasize how very important a transit systemis for those that rely on public transportation. For example, the Red line takes patients and families directly across the street from Children’s Hospital. The same goes for City of Hope. These stations alone have made the painful situation to be endured somewhat easier. Then of course Metro accommodates those in those with disabilities a better chance of extending their range of activities. Steve, those of us that may have our own vehicles etc. should, nevertheless, have the experience of using Metro to truly appreciate what value it is for many others and what it can do for them as well. A personal experience of using Metro should encourage more participation. Lets not forget the ablebodied RETIREES (like me) that enjoy so much of what LA County has to offer. Thankyou, and so many others that are bringing the benefits of Metro to the front. Thanks, Gennaro “Jerry ” Pupa

    • Hi Jerry.

      I agree and hereby triple emphasize that transit systems are extremely important to the transit dependent!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. Q: Was the loud and lawyered-up community resistance wrong in their assessments of a potential line through their communities?

    A: Well that depends on whether you actually live in the community or just riding through them on the train. For example the noise impacts are far, far greater than what was predicted and the Expo Construction Authority’s ability to mitigate them have thus far proved ineffective. Those folks don’t sleep as well at night as they used to. Whoopsiedoodles! Fortunately for our riders, you can’t hear a thing from inside the trains.There were also claims that auto traffic would be problematic at the crossings. The jury is still out of that one. In fact, until the line is running at five minute intervals there’s really no way of telling how bad it will be but by then the horse will be long out of the barn so closing that door won’t make a bit of difference. Hey you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Am-I-rite? Speaking of eggs, Cora’s coffee shop is also within walking distance of the DTSM station…

  3. Steve: I’ve asked this question before but I’m still not clear on the answer. I want to be on the first train to go directly from downtown LA to Santa Monica. What time will that train leave 7th/Metro? Your previous answer – “no service before noon” – is unclear whether that means that the first train to Santa Monica will leave downtown LA at noon or if the first train to Santa Monica will leave Culver City at noon. Do you know which train it will be? Thanks.

    • I don’t know but I’ll try to find out. There could be extra trains waiting at Culver City that may start running first.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • Don’t take Westwood! That’s crazy. Once you’ve get to the other side of Wilshire come down on Veteran. It’s a far more negotiable and safer street for cycling. All the major cross streets are regulated by crossing lights and it will let you out right by the Westwood/Rancho Park Station. Westwood Boulevard is a suicide run on a bike.

  4. “Under the new contract with Kinkisharyo, 28 of the new rail cars are scheduled to be delivered by 2015 and a total of 62 by May 2016. If the four options are fulfilled, the delivery of the 235 total rail cars would be complete by Feb. 2020.”

    Has Kinkisharyo delivered the 62 cars yet?

    • Hi Warren,

      On most recent update, Metro has received 32 cars, with a new rail car arriving approximately every 7 to 10 days. However, not all of the new cars are operational as they need to be “burned in” and tested extensively before they can safely be placed into revenue service.

      Anna Chen
      Writer, The Source

  5. Soon, I will not remember what this area looked like. Lived there ten years ago and would always go through Westwood Blvd and see the right of way. I was a 33 bus soul to DTLA. That will be my mantra too “Young whippers get rail… I remember riding the 33 from Sawtelle to Hope St; with no shoes, in the snow….” lol

    It took me a while (some studying too), but I realized I was looking at old train lines. Now they are active again!

    Maybe I shoulda moved to Rancho Park when I had a chance. Place is lookin tip top awesome now. I’ll be sure to take a train to Irish Times in Palms too!

  6. Really need to make sure people understand that the line won’t open until noon on the 20th. So many, like myself, planned on taking it into work that morning. Glad my friend saw this and sent it to me or I’d be Ubering it from Culver City.

    • What are you talking about Carl? The countdown clock on the Metro web site clearly shows that the Expo Line is scheduled to begin service to Santa Monica promptly at the stroke of midnight on May 20! (Metro: Please change that clock so that it counts down to noon, not midnight.)

  7. Very excited about this. But I do hope Metro will publicize widely that service between Culver City and Santa Monica will not start until noon on Friday. Many people, including myself, on hearing the start date was May 20, planned on beginning top take it into work that morning. That will not be possible with it starting at noon. Let people know. Thank goodness a friend saw this and alerted me to it. Or I’d get to Culver City and have to Uber to Santa Monica.

  8. Thanks for this round up.! Very handy and well done. But you were perhaps too kind to the petty bourgeois ( yes, both petty and bourgeois) of Cheviot Hills who blocked the expo line with the help of then councilman Zev Y. And then you didn’t nip at the hands of those who killed the Red Car- the old street cars. Those assassins were a partnership between a tire company, an oil company and a car company. Can’t imagine why they would oppose public transportation. Yes there was the advent of cars, but my grandparents and aunts and uncles- who had an automobile- would take the Red Car from Whittier to Santa Monica to have a Sunday dinner with relatives, or to Long Beach to swim. It was a well used service, strangled in a mercantile maneuver.

    • Actually, the Red Cars were never the victim of a conspiracy. They were the conspiracy. Henry Huntington bought what was then the biggest transportation system in the city, The Los Angeles Railway (LARy), and then incorporated it into a new company called Pacific Electric. Huntington also started building hundreds of subdivisions on the periphery of Los Angeles, and used Pacific Electric trains—bright red trolleys—to connect the subdivisions to downtown Los Angeles. So he developed the Red Cars for his benefit, not the city’s.

      • Yes they were built and expanded to aid in constructing sprawling suburbs. But the coup de grace in the 50’s was by an auto/tire/oil partnership. Same thing happened on the Bay bridge in SF. The train that was built as a way to encourage sprawl morphed over time to being a needed form of transit that was very expensive to replace.

  9. @Steve – Is the first public train on Friday out of SM’s 4th Street Station at noon or when the system opens at 4:30am? I definitely want to be on that train! Thanks!

    • Hi Ryan;

      Noon or shortly thereafter. Train service begins at the new stations at noon. Free rides on the entire Expo Line begin at noon. Service between DTLA and Culver City begins at its normal time early Friday morning.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  10. Hi Steve;

    It has been driving nuts reading about how slow the Expo Line is, because it has to stop at red lights. But it is my understanding that the amount of lights the train has to stop at are just at a few crossings along the 15 miles of the line. Could you tell me how many lights the train actually has to stop at?

    Thank you

    • Hi Mike;

      I don’t have the exact number. Most of the street-running segment where the trains follow traffic signals is on the first phase between Pico Station and Western Avenue and then between 17th Street and 5th Street in Santa Monica. Some trips the train does better than others.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  11. Can the next step be integrating interagency transfers onto the TAP cards? It’s frustrating to have to use CCB or BBB to get to Metro when many of the drivers don’t understand the manual transfer process, and Metro bus service, especially north-south, is essentially non-existent on the west side.

  12. Party at the Palms!!!!

    Everybody come out and have a blast with us at the Grand Opening of Palms Station on Saturday May 21st.

    Free rides all day!!

    The fun starts at 10:00am and goes till 4pm!
    There will be food trucks, clothing and jewelry vendors, pony rides, a rock wall, live music, face painting, a bouncy, a bike valet, arts and crafts, a massage station, and speeches by some of our city leaders @ 10:30am.

    Come join us for a fun-filled Saturday!

  13. Now that the expo line with be running, at some point Ill be attempting a day trip. Beginning with the gold line in Azusa, into Union Station, transfering to the redline then to the expo line. Continue with the expo line to the western terminus in Santa Monica, finally transfering to the metro line #534. the #534 goes from Santa Monica, north, along the pch, ending at Trancas. Doing some photography along the way and lunch at Trancas market, then returning, retracing the route back to Azusa. I’m curious as to how this will work out, stay tuned 🙂

  14. […] On Friday, May 20, the Expo Line light rail extension to Santa Monica will open to the public at noon for passenger service – and will provide a car-free connection from Azusa to the beaches in Santa Monica by way of the Metro rail system. To celebrate the new extension, here are two videos released by Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Sheila Kuehl and long-time rail fan Alan Weeks. For more information on the Expo Line extension to Santa Monica, visit Metro’s The Source blog. […]

  15. Don’t believe the off peak fare discount is available from a TAP machine on the platform, like it is on the bus.

    Fun fact: the off-peak fare for seniors is 35 cents for those who ride between 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and 7 p.m.-5 a.m. That’s a sick deal!

    • Yes the off peak fare works, but you have to load stored value to an orange TAP card. The correct fare would be deducted based on the time the reader was tapped.

  16. I love the train.

    Problem is getting to it.

    Expecting people to depend on bicycles is ludicrous, particularly for people 55 and older.

    It takes me longer to get to get a bus from my house to the station than to ride to either downtown or the pier. A LOT longer. And I live less than two miles from the Crenshaw stop.

    Metro has about 25% of the work done, but if you think the bus service is “as good as they come,” you’re delusional.

  17. Yes, I would take the La Brea bus to the Expo line but that bus line is not great. Particularly after 6pm it runs no more than once every 25 minutes or less. What good is an Expo line running every 12 minutes if the bus to get there runs much less often.