Advisory: seating area at Union Station now open only to Amtrak and Metrolink passengers


UPDATE, 1:50 P.M. WEDNESDAY: Metro is working on creating a smaller waiting area for BoltBus and Megabus customers. 

Los Angeles Union Station patrons may have noticed a change that went into effect Monday: the seating area at the front of the facility is now available only for passengers with tickets to board Amtrak or Metrolink trains within two hours of their departure times.

Union Station is owned by Metro and agency officials say the change was prompted by an increased number of homeless individuals who have been using Union Station as shelter — an average of 135 per night in recent weeks (numbers were higher over the summer). That, in turn, has at times created extremely unpleasant sanitary issues in the seating area that in some cases posed a health threat to passengers using the station.

Metro had been receiving complaints about the number of homeless in the station for quite some time and over the past summer began trying to find some remedies to the issue, said Ken Pratt, the director of Los Angeles Union Station Property Management for Metro. That has included bringing in workers from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority who have been meeting with homeless individuals to try to connect them to shelters, potential housing opportunities as well as psychological and medical care.

The new rules for the seating area are part of a pilot program. Security guards will be checking tickets in the seating area. The seats are not open to Metro riders because Metro bus and rail service at the station is frequent compared to long-distance and commuter rail offered by Amtrak and Metrolink.

The pilot program comes as Metro is beginning more work to restore Union Station, which opened in 1939. In coming weeks, some of the seats in the waiting area will be removed so that wood and metal materials can be reconditioned.

“All this really comes down to this question: who does Union Station really serve?,” Pratt said. “Our customers were being accosted and couldn’t even use the restroom at times because people have been camping in there. We really are trying to do this on two fronts — not just enforcement, but with outreach to homeless in the area surrounding Union Station to bring people to services they need and services to individuals. We are trying very hard to figure things out and working to solve this problem in the right way.”

Categories: Inside Metro

61 replies

  1. It’s true that this policy is directly counter to the Union Station Master Plan’s idea of getting more people using the station. Attempting to keep out “the undesirables” (the term of contempt which preceded “homeless”)out of public places is nothing new. William Whyte talks about Manhattan office building plazas trying to do that in the 1960’s. They made the plazas unattractive to undesirables, and the measures they took made them unattractive to everyone. Public spaces serve the whole public, or they wind up serving none of it.

    In this case, seating times and locations are being restricted to attack “undesirables”, thereby making the station less usable to many varieties of non-homeless folks. Same dynamic.

    The solution if there are “too many undesirables” is to get more regular folks into the station, so the regular folks set the dominant tone. And German train stations have showers for folks who want/ need them. But we wouldn’t want to actually provide a service, we’d just want to curse the people who don’t have access to it.

    I don’t know if Metro has a legal obligation to allow everybody to sit in the station. I’m not a lawyer, but I could see a suit about this based on equal protection. What right does Metro have to chase some people out? Even if there isn’t a legal obligation, there certainly is a moral one.

    As each place chases the homeless from pillar to post, where would you have them go? I guess this is what we do during the “Holiday Season” in the age of the Tea Party.

  2. Inkster pointed out that “Metrolink passengers could easily be waiting an hour or more for the next train and clearly need adequate seating more than someone waiting for frequent Metro Rail service.”

    I think that’s exactly the core of the problem. Amtrak and Metrolink riders should be provided with better things to do inside Union Station to kill time than just sit at the seats and do nothing until departure. For the most part, aside from the few restaurants and the Famima convenience store, the train station is boring with nothing else to do. Build a museum or a mini-supermarket, a mini-Best Buy, or an In ‘N Out inside the station.

    The problem with LA is that they build train station and operate them in as unitaskers. A train station should be built as multitaskers, a place where it’s full of retail spaces, luggage storage spaces, food court, convenience stores, information booths, museums, art spaces, movie theaters, built like a mini-mall so people have things to do as they wait for their train, not sit around and do nothing until the train departs.

    Move the seats to the platforms. Then, build better retail space inside the main hall. Create a better passenger experience by building things where they can kill time before their train leaves. When it’s almost time to go, they check the digital signs and head to the platforms and wait there for the last few minutes before departure.

    The whole train station experience has to change. Every city in the world runs this way.

    Luggage storage areas are also a good idea. If travelers arrive way too early, they can drop off their luggage in a storage area and head out to Olvera Street, Chinatown, or Little Tokyo nearby and kill time there instead of doing nothing at Union Station.

  3. Paul C.
    Union Station is a major train station. While I have never been to Asia I have traveled extensively in Europe. The major train stations have enclosed platforms. The secondary stations like here in the United States are not enclosed.

    Concern Metro Rail. The lines are all Light Rail and one Subway. All this lines run more frequently than AMTRAK and METRO LINK. At least you have a canopy protecting you, bus riders have only the protection of bus shelters at major stops or what’s available from the local business adjacent to the stops.

  4. Paul C, where exactly is all this “platform seating” supposed to go? The platforms simply were not designed to be wide enough for seating because there wasn’t supposed to be much waiting going on there. That’s what the waiting room was for. Union Station was originally only intended for long distance train passengers. The entire station is now way over it’s design capacity with local commuter trains and Metro Rail in addition to Amtrak service.

    There are already a few benches out on the platforms and they fill up quickly. The Metrolink platforms often fill up with people waiting for a train and get very crowded very quickly as people disembark into a crowd waiting to board. With electrical equipment, the ramps/staircases, and canopy columns there just isn’t much room for additional seating without severely impacting pedestrian flow. And unlike Metro Rail passengers, Metrolink passengers could easily be waiting an hour or more for the next train and clearly need adequate seating more than someone waiting for frequent Metro Rail service.

    That being said, I do think the new policy is fundamentally flawed. It’s too restrictive on a public space owned by a public agency. There’s an assortment of valid reasons to use the seating area for both passengers and non-passengers. There just needs to be better enforcement of existing rules against “camping” in the waiting room, bathing in the restrooms, and other undesirable behaviors.

    Public rights come with public responsibilities. If you are creating a health/safety hazard for other station visitors, you forfeit your right to be there. Security should be empowered to escort problem visitors (homeless or otherwise) away from the waiting area – either to their train/bus or out of the station entirely.

  5. mike dunn,

    What you say makes no sense at all. There are plenty of rail stations in Europe and in Asia that are outside with canopies and they all have passengers waiting at the platform.

    Furthermore, every Metro Rail rider does this everyday. We wait at the platforms rain or shine, heat or cold, and even cope with dangerous levels of noise pollution from the cars on the 105 on the Green Line stations.

    If Amtrak or Metrolink doesn’t like the homeless hogging up all the seats, they can buy the seats and move them to the platforms, not cordone off those seats so there’s a de facto caste system in place where Amtrak and Metrolink riders can sit but Metro Rail riders can’t.

  6. Why can’t the train passengers wait on the platforms like in Europe some ask? In Europe, the train stations in major cities have enclosed platforms. Passengers are not subject to the elements. The platforms at Union Station is outside with only a canopy over each platform. Using this logic the homeless would be inside out of the cold while AMTRAK and METRO LINK passengers would be delegated to sit in the cold. I guess if you hid your ticket you could stay inside.

  7. The transient issue was never a problem in the many years that Catellus operated the station. Sure, some homeless person might be there during the day but the number was reasonable, and at night they got tough with enforcement. What changed?

  8. You can no longer wait for someone from a incoming flight at the gate. Times have changed. It’s not the MTA’s fault that the homeless have discovered a new venue to work the system. Transporting them day and night on their buses has become almost impossible due to the amount of luggage they carry and the lack of acceptable hygiene.

    ( a homeless patron with two trash bags) MATCHING LUGGAGE :-))

  9. Why should Metrolink and Amtrak passengers be treated differrently than Metro Rail riders? We wait at the platforms to ride the Red and Gold Lines, they could do the same.

  10. @John Mandel

    Every other country in the world’s train systems operates that way. The build dedicated waiting areas at the platforms, not the main station area. They work perfectly fine.

    It’s time we do the same. Union Station is too crowded so making better use of the station space itself is needed.

  11. Ticketed passengers only? What about those of us who are waiting to pick up an arriving Amtrak passenger or waiting for a train with a departing passenger ?

    My wife’s family lives on the East coast and, yes, she is one of those people who is afraid to fly. Thus she makes frequent trips to and from the East Coast via Amtrak.

    In the best of traffic conditions, we live 2 hours away from Union Station. Because I can never be sure what traffic I might encounter on my way to drop her off to catch a train, or to pick her up, we always leave home with an ample time cushion. If we don’t encounter traffic, we may arrive very early for her train (assuming too that her train is on time). What am I supposed to do, stand…or leave her there to wait alone?

    There’s also the fact that rail travel via Amtrak can be, shall we say, rather fickle. Freight trains are often given track order priority over passenger trains which can make passenger trains hours behind schedule. Again, what am I supposed to do when I arrive to pick her up only to find that her train is running late? Am I not allowed to sit? Do I have to stand or go wait in the car?

    Granted, I have seen times when the majority of the chairs are occupied by “campers”, and when the place was so “funky” I wouldn’t have wanted to sit down, but they need to figure out a better solution than this.

  12. This is ridiculous. I also noticed that Calwatch says to close the station at 11:30 pm but doesn’t realize that Metro runs past midnight and people might want to sit….then again Metro obviously doesn’t care either.

    The station is owned by all of the people of LA, Metro should not predispose that they can decide that they want to exclude the majority of the people who use the station. They should hire more sheriffs or security to patrol the station. It is pretty obvious when someone is sleeping, dozing off and those who are on their smartphones, drinking, eating etc.

    Terrible policy.

  13. For everyone:

    Metro today said it is working to add a smaller waiting area for BoltBus and Megabus passengers.

    Steve Hymon
    Editor, The Source

  14. I object to Metro riders with proof of fare/valid bus pass being excluded from the seats inside Union Station, and if I’ve stopped by the Starbucks inside the station, as I’m on my way to the subway, you can just go ahead and arrest me for sitting down to drink my overpriced $5 iced coffee.

  15. Back in the old times, we used to have public baths everywhere so that people who didn’t have access to baths (i.e. homeless) can keep themselves clean.

    Public baths are still used widely in Hungary and in Japan. Perhaps we ought to bring public baths back so that the homeless can have somewhere to go to take a bath rather than use public restrooms.

  16. The Phantom was surprised to see that the designated seating areas and enforcement were nowhere to be seen this morning. Things are back to normal, including most of the chairs being occupied by “campers.”

    • The new policy remains in effect. The cordoning was taken down for a little while to accommodate a film shoot.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  17. Bolt and Megabus are called “curbside” bus services for a reason. They offer lower prices because they do not maintain terminals. You wait for them at the curb, just like you do in Chicago and other cities. At least the weather is warmer in Los Angeles.

  18. Some of you guys got it right. The main lobby SHOULD BE the ticketing area–remodel the lobby so that bus and train ticket vending is there, and also have a few ticket stations and machines at other points for transfer riders.

    Move and add seats to each individual platform, and have Metro staff or security check ticket at each platform entrance to weed out loiterers and criminal elements.

  19. No, “public agencies” are not pro-forma homeless shelters. Their purpose is to provide the services and amenities for which they are designed. If you want to use the argument that the homeless have citizen rights, then you must also accept that they have citizen responsibility. As a resident of Downtown, I’ve experienced firsthand the dismal conditions at Union Station (not to mention the Central Library). Public and private organizations spend much money and effort downtown to help the unfortunate among us—perhaps not enough, but that is a different argument.

    Allowing passengers to wait on platforms would be chaos. Comparing Union Station to LAX is ridiculous. Shall we allow airline passengers to wait on the aircraft ramps rather than in the comfortable and safe waiting rooms? As for fast food diners, vendors make no pretense toward providing dedicated dining areas.

    Union Station should not be made the kicking horse for greater social problems. Metro’s response is both sensible and sensitive.

  20. There already are rules on the books banning people from being their “without lawful transportation purpose” and closing the station from 1 am to 4 am. Close the station earlier if necessary (around 11:30 PM to correspond with the last Metrolink train of the night) and use one of those portable metal gates to bar access to the main hall, but during the day, the homeless aren’t really much of an issue. Panhandling and solicitation is already banned with existing regulations.

    I thought Union Station was closed overnight anyway, so I wonder why the homeless are still a problem. Enforce existing rules rather than creating new rules which just harrass patrons.

    A few weeks ago when MTA had the Colburn Hall recital, I watched the performance while sitting in one of the Union Station chairs. Yes, there were apparently transients nearby, but they did not bother me as I listened to the music. Now MTA will no longer be able to hold performances like that, or the recent opera, if they are going to get tough on sitters.

    Dana while I won’t necessarily comment at the MTA Board you can certainly make your opinions known to the board and to MTA staff. The management staff’s email addresses and addresses for many Board members are posted in the “About Us” section of the MTA web site.

  21. That’s not a problem at all, anyone should be able to take a seat and relax in the station for one, also I could understand the homeless staying at union station especially during these cold nights.

  22. LA, like the rest of the country, has not adequately addressed the need for shelter, social support services, and substance abuse treatment for the most vulnerable among us. This is the real problem. I also recognize that it is absolutely crucial that we as a society make rail commuting and travel an attractive option for more people as an environmentally sustainable alternative to the car and airplane, which contribute an outsized portion of GHGs. On my last Amtrak trip about a month ago, my family and I had to stand for more than 45 minutes while we waited for our train because no seats were available in the waiting area, and in the restroom much of the space in front of the sinks was taken up by people bathing. I don’t begrudge the homeless a decent place to rest and bathe, but a train station should not be their only option. The only way I’d support this policy, therefore, is if agents of social services agencies are made available to assist any homeless in a dignified manner and provide them with appropriate alternative shelter.

  23. Who will be going to the next Metro Board meeting, wait a long time and use the one minute alloted for general public comment to state concerns about this policy? I thought so…

    Many homeless folks are very settled in their lifestyle and don’t want to get help or stay in shelters. Ride an owl bus if you want to see a moving hotel. The scary guy that boarded a bus last night at Wilshire/Figueroa and likely homeless makes it hard to be so sympathetic after being at the receiving end of nasty smelly behavior. BILLIONS have been spent on homeless services over the years and it mostly seems to make sure folks stay dependent and keep employed the homeless advocates. OK, Chrysalis actually works to help people improve their lives, so how about all you folks hand wringing donate to it during this season of good will? I am sorry I already maxed my giving for now with a gift to Operation USA for typhoon relief but it is still a good cause.

  24. Here’s what I don’t get. Why should Amtrak and Metrolink riders have to be in the main hall seating areas to begin with? Why can’t they be at the platforms instead?

    Do just like the airport. Electronic boards show what platform the Amtrak or Metrolink train is departing from, have those who are getting to those trains head straight to the platform and have them wait at a dedicated area directly at the platforms.

    That’s what every other city in the world does. You go to Europe or Asia and you look up on the sign which platform the train leaves and you head straight to the platform and wait there instead, not mingle around the main hall!

    What it is today is like having all air travelers mingle in the main airport area and are not allowed past the TSA to go to their boarding gates until it’s time to depart. Ridiculous!

    America is totally backward minded when it comes efficiently managing train travel. Can’t they just learn from cities all over the world that get their act together? Is it American pride that we think we’re better than everyone else that we refuse to admit that we suck at coordinating transit?

  25. Seems there has to be a policy option that allows bona fide transit users to use the station while directly dealing with actual sanitation, safety, etc issues directly as sanitation and safety issues.

    The current broad policy unfortunately lumps lunch customers of the Union Station food concessionaires in the same category as sanitation challenged overnight campers.

    Is there a plan to ban the food customers from the patios as well?

  26. Can the old ticketing area be opened up? Also, I think it should be open to Metro passengers as well.

  27. Ricky makes a huge point. The late night San Joaquin bus connection from BFD to the (next morning’s) Pacific Surfliner has nearly a 3 hour layover at LAX. I use this service often, and was (pleasantly?) surprised to find the waiting area “cleaned up” on my last journey. However, if the 2-hour limit were in effect, then i too would have been kicked out to the street as a fare-paying passenger.

  28. Sorry but I disagree with most of the above comments. There’s a huge amount of space in Union Station nowhere near the seats that could be used by homeless people. Union Station is owned by a public agency; homeless people are members of the public. There are agencies in town that would help keep things clean (the same goes for the rest rooms). All it takes is some innovative work by Metro management.

  29. While I understand the practical objectives of the new policy and that it can be difficult to craft a rule that is not deemed to be arbitrary for homeless people, it also seems to run directly counter to the entire Union Station Master Plan process, which is celebrating Union Station’s role as a public space. If we are simultaneously trying to promote the beautiful building as a place to gather, meet friends after work, etc., preventing the “public” from sitting in the most beautiful space on the property is not exactly conducive to that purpose. I know I sit there for spells between meeting to check email, wait for other people, and similar things. At a policy level, that is the type of use that Metro is encouraging for the station.

    And not including Flyaway customers, MegaBus & BoltBus, and low-frenquency Metro and muni services is just cruel.

  30. At Penn Station in both NYC & Newark, NJ, the seating areas are for ticketed passengers for Amtrak, NJ Transit [and Long Island Railroad in NYC’s Penn Station which has a separate waiting area]. Subway riders in New York, as well as light rail travelers in Newark are not allowed in those waiting areas. I believe it’s the same case in Philadelphia at 30th Street Station and in DC at Union Station.

    I’ve never been to Los Angeles, but let me remind everyone writing on this post that it is a pilot program. It’s a work in progress and I’m sure Metro, Amtrak & Metrolink will improve on this as the program marches on.

  31. Well, there are a lot of seats outside the building of Union Station or you can sit at Gateway Plaza, which is the east of Union Station if you want to.

  32. While there are plenty of arguments that one could make against this policy, I have to say that the quality and cleanliness of the station has improved in just the few short days that this was implemented. I do agree that riders who ride MegaBus, BoltBus, Flyaway, as well as other municipal operators should be considered. Remember though that this is a pilot program, not a permanent implementation. One thing that has not been addressed that I believe needs to be examined are the issues surrounding homelessness itself. The fact that people have gotten so desperate that they feel that a downtown train station needs to become home really says a lot about the way in which society takes care of its people. At the risk of sounding preachy, it really is important for those of us who live comfortably to take a hard look at what we can do, even if just on a small level to reduce homelessness at the core and empower people who may require additional assistance to collect and empower themselves.

  33. After being panhandled twice within my 30 minute change from Flyaway to Gold Line, this can not come soon enough. And the mens room always smells like a sewer. The proper steps of course are to have organizations try their hand at moving some of these folks into proper facilities/ treatment etc. Followed by a more visible security watching for problems. I do like the staff in the jacket and ties handling directions and questions. This need to be a team effort of all the employees at the station. It did seem to be much better when it was privately owned. You don’t see this at the airport.

  34. Sometimes when I transfer between the Red and Gold Lines, I will stop at Wetzel’s or Ben and Jerry’s and grab a snack and people watch in Union Station for 15 or 20 minutes. It’s nice to be able to sit and relax for few minutes between trains if I’m in no particular hurry to get somewhere. Sad to see that I won’t be able to do that anymore.

  35. It’s about time ! The station is for rail passengers, not a homeless shelter. You’re not allowed to camp out at LAX, so it shouldn’t be allowed at Union Station either. Good move Metro !

  36. Quite a cruel move imo during the coldest week of the year. I understand there are some safety and sanitation concerns, but there are a number of other solutions more humane. Plus, local transit riders would like to sit down too. Only a handful of the seats were being used tonight when I went by, the rest nicely roped off and empty.

  37. The City spent millions on that Grand Park, and coulda done something for all the homeless !!!

  38. Alternatively, you can move those seats to the platform so that Amtrak and Metrolink riders can sit and wait at the platform instead of main station area, so that the main station area can be used to add more shops. More shops = more sales taxes = more revenue to the city to help transit funding.

  39. The MTA owns the station but is also one of the local funding agencies for the other big tenant, METRO LINK. By allowing the homeless to camp out in the station only encourages their lifestyle. This is not a new problem only a expanding one. I recall a elderly couple always there. At first I thought they were waiting for a Amtrak train but then it became clear they were staying there regularly. They didn’t appear to be homeless and the only other answer was they kept missing their train.

    These people are not necessarily mentally ill. They are smart and know how to work the system. After earthquakes they are the first to check into emergency shelters. They know what buses run all night, what movie theaters stay open late and what businesses will allow them sleep on their property. Personally, while renting a house in West Hollywood, I discovered a homeless person living under it which he gained access thru a gas meter door.

    While some, perhaps most don’t choose to be homeless it’s my opinion they have adopted it as a way of life. No rent, no utility’s but usually a cell phone and bed roll.

  40. @Steve Hymon
    I’m totally confused by this article. It seems like there’s a total lack of fact checking here.
    -The photo you attached says that the seating is for “AMTRAK PASSENGERS ONLY” (with no mention of Metrolink)
    -The article mentions a two hour time limit, the sign in the photo says it’s a 3 hour time limit.
    -Most importantly, no where in the article do you mention that there is no time limit for passengers who are connecting to another train. Understand that Amtrak’s Sunset Limited arrives 5:35am (and can arrive earlier than that) and that some passengers connect to the Coast Starlight that doesn’t leave until 10:10am. That’s a 4 hour, 35 minute layover.

    I’m sure this policy was created to make sure they always have a safe place to sit… not to chase them away. But it the policies need to be crystal clear and this article and the signs need to accurately reflect the policy.

    • Hi Ricky;

      The photo only shows the south half of the waiting room. I’ll double check the time limit and see if it’s different for Amtrak and Metrolink.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  41. I agree with the reads that the seating areas should be opened to all transit riders as long as they are not sleeping there or posting a health or security threat. I set there for almost an hour when I missed the Line 485 or and the Big Blue Bus. The long distance buses to S. D., S. F, LAX. and Vegas don’t run every hour. If Metro REALLY wants to provide law enforcement & education outreach. Similar policies should be established in ALL stations, elevators, etc. Metro cannot selectively pick and choose its “enforcement & education” efforts to single out legitimate transit riders.

  42. Glad to see Metro keeping those non-Metrolink and non-Amtrak riff-raff in their proper place. Why should the proletariat who chose to take Boltbus to San Diego, Foothill Transit to Montclair, or Metro (Red/Orange) to Chatsworth or either to El Monte dare inhabit the same space as someone who paid 3-4 times as much as the monied elite who can afford the finer things including journeying by rail? And those ruffians who dare get to the airport early when the FlyAway bus is still running hourly; Let them stand!!!!

    Travel by rubber-tire? Ewwww, Gross!

  43. And it’s not that people “can’t” use the restrooms or seating area, they CHOOSE not to. Big difference. And as for the question, “who does Union Station really serve?” Does Metro not receive federal funds, does the station not serve the people of and who visit Los Angeles? Anybody who purchases a ticket should be able to sit anywhere they’d like. As for the homeless population, Metro owns the station, not Amtrak…does that mean the public has a say (the public = Metro’s 13 member-ed Board of Directors, which is includes the Mayor and Governor)?

  44. Metro should make the rule NO sleeping or staying in the area with/without a ticket and destination for more than half an hour. When people arrive early, they need a place to sit. Homeless people should not be allowed to sleep in this area under any circumstances because of sanitation. there should be a loitering law enforced. no staying here for more than half an hour. or be questioned by secuirty and ticketed and fined if you are loitering/ being homeless/ residing with no plan for your future

  45. Now the Homeless will buy a ticket and sleep. This didn’t prevent homelessness from being in that area.

  46. On a second note… I noticed the seating in front of Subway, Starbucks, Wetzel’s has been removed. I hope this is permanent and not just for cleaning or something. The area is much more open and it’s definitely easier to get around and through now.

  47. Seems to me that the seats should be open to Metro Riders… as they are the most prevalent group of people who use the station (I believe) and Metro is the owner of the station. Shutting out your own riders is quire ridiculous.

    While Metro trains and busses are frequent, many riders arrive at the station earlier than they need to be on their way and grab a snack and relax. Or, they arrive at the station via Metro and are waiting for someone to meet or to even pick them up.

    I do understand the concerns and limiting the seating to someone with a valid “transportation purpose” as proved by ticket or fare. But, that should most absolutely include Metro fare.