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!
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?
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.
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!
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.
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?
And what it looks like now:
What’s the best restaurant along the new Expo extension?
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?
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 🙂