New Metro staff report on transit line renaming

Click on a map to see larger

Long-time Source readers know that one of the more intriguing challenges ahead for Metro is figuring out what to call its rail and bus rapid transit lines. This presentation and this staff report explain the issues and show some alternatives, mostly using letters or numbers to identify bus and rail lines.

Going forward, one thing is certain: the Metro system is growing and something will have to change with the current names. Why? Metro has two projects under construction that are joining tracks from different lines. The Crenshaw/LAX Line includes a junction with the Green Line, while the Regional Connector is joining the Blue, Expo and Gold Lines.

There are other issues with the current naming system:

•It’s inconsistent. Most names are based on colors (Blue, Red, Gold, Purple, etc.) with one exception — the Expo Line, which is shown on signage and maps as a lighter shade of blue.

•The current map is tough for those who are color blind.

•As the Metro system grows, continuing with color names will mean selecting line names based on shades of color (i.e. Lime, Rose, Aqua, Olive, Lavender, etc.) that will sometimes be difficult to distinguish from one another or decipher on maps and signage.

Metro staff have already done a fair amount of research. With approval from the Metro Board of Directors this month, staff would like to continue with more research this fall and then return to the Board with a renaming proposal that is clear, concise and befitting of a system that will be serving residents and visitors alike in the coming years (including visitors for the 2028 Summer Olympics and Paralympics).

What do you think readers? Any preference?

Finally, a couple caveats on the map in the presentation — because I know some of you will ask or already chewing upon it on social media.  

•The East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor will be a light rail line between the Orange Line and the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink Station. Planning continues on the Sepulveda Transit Corridor with several types of transit under consideration, including heavy rail, light rail, monorail and rubber-wheel trains.

•On the West Santa Ana Branch Corridor project, two routes in downtown L.A. are under study. One would go to Union Station, the other to the downtown core.

49 replies

  1. Maybe a letter and keep the color? H/Red for Hollywood. W/Purple for Wilshire. E/Aqua for Expo. L/Blue for Long Beach, it’ll be like Paris, transitions easily, and works on two levels.

  2. just leave the way they are. It is not worth to waste money on renaming our transit lines. I think color is good enough for riders, don’t make it so complicated and confusing.

  3. I think the best solution would to be to use numbers for the rail lines and lettters for the express bus lines along with the colours. Using letters for the bus routes distinguishes the express buses from the standard numbered bus routes.

    The result would be similar to Paris’s system which differentiates between heavy and light rail lines while using colours.

  4. Agree with the above that the letters scheme is likely the best option. Numbers are already occupied by buses and naming based on color is a dud unless you want to run Metro Crayola. Would like to see the letter used for the most logical association of the line, such as W for Wilshire (Purple), H for Hollywood (Red), E for Expo, S for Silver or perhaps X for (eXpressLanes), and then use the old colors as background or foreground identification. So for example, the color of the line could remain the same with the signs using those background colors so that passengers need to only glance at the signs instead of actually having to read them.

    I love to Aqua color of the Expo line, but it probably needs to go to stop the confusion with Blue, which makes 7th/Metro a bigger mess than it has to be every day.

  5. I like the “colors and names combination” map. It’s not quite as good as London or Tokyo, two of the best subway systems on Earth, but it’s pretty close.

    Why would we want to imitate NYC, a subway system with a bad reputation?

    • This was my thought as well. I have no idea why people believe the NYC Subway is “the model” of rail lines. If anything, far from it.

  6. I think Metro should consider renaming their rail lines similar to BART. For example: Santa Monica-East LA Line, Long Beach-Montclair Line, North Hollywood-Downtown LA Line, etc. It totally makes sense to identify a system through locations served and would also leave behind the confusion from learning new letters and/or numbers.

  7. Our current issue is Blue vs. Expo. This causes confusion at 7th/Metro every single day, because Expo is colored aqua (but is not called the Aqua Line), and aqua is a type of blue (madness!!!). Both of these issues will go away when the Regional Connector opens, and the Expo Line becomes part of the Gold Line.

    The proposed change is about the future. We only have a handful of colors we can use as names. (Note that Yellow and Brown as names might offend some people.) So it doesn’t make any sense to keep naming routes after colors.

    Using English non-color words for names is a simple solution, but letters and numbers are simpler. Since buses are numbered, I think we should use letters for rail.

    On signs, they can use a full rainbow of colors. As long each colored circle has a letter in the middle, we won’t have any problems.

  8. Why “overthink” this? LETTER the trains (limits the maximum number of routes to 26 though!), and keep the buses as NUMBERED ROUTES (as they currently are!). On the other hand, the trains DO technically have “numbers” (Lines 801-Blue Line, Line 802 (Red Line), etc. Keep them as that, and publicize accordingly. This is NOT rocket science!

  9. Of all the proposals above, I think the most logical solution is the Letters With Colors options. (Since buses already use numbers) As long as the letters clearly remain the primary identifiers for each line, the secondary color it’s identified with almost becomes irrelevant, but still good to have, just to create some separation when reading the map.

    However, if it were up to me, I would completely omit the Silver and Orange lines (and other “bus lines”) from this naming system, and give them standard bus numbers. It doesn’t make sense for any bus to be treated like a rail system on the Metro Map, and frankly, it’s very misleading to people who aren’t as familiar with the system.

    • Why should BRT lines be left off the map? The Orange and Silver lines are on generally par with rail in terms of speed and stop frequency, and the point of this map is to show which parts of the county can be reached quickly on transit. I know that buses are sometimes a bumpier ride, but this is really the only difference and shouldn’t be a reason for any able-bodied person to avoid BRT. And we already have the circle/square distinction to account for this. We need to encourage people to ride transit as much as possible, and the more destinations on this map, the more appealing our network becomes.

  10. It was pretty silly to name the Orange & Silver Lines colors when they are actually buses and not rail. Both lines should have had numbers from day one.

  11. Another note: Aviation/Century/LAX (96th) should just be the new Aviation/LAX and the current Aviation/LAX becomes Aviation/Imperial

  12. BART has started to use colors now, particularly since it’s getting a lot of new cars. They’ve always distinguished their routes by color, but didn’t identify trains with them. But now they’re saying things like this is an orange line train.

    I agree with Tony, I don’t think letters vs. numbers is a big issue. People in New York just call the routes with “the”–“the 1,” “the E,” “the L” etc. It’s fine to show different colors on the map, but I think LA is reaching the maximum number of easily distinguishable colors as route identifiers.

  13. The German Example seems straight forward and easy to understand. I would also say that a combination of numbers and colors would be ok too.

  14. And BTW, New York uses letters & numbers for historical reasons (numbers are the old IRT lines, while letters are for everything else). There;s little problem delineating between numbers & letters.

  15. I prefer letters (colors get confusing when there’s three shades of green, for example), but whatever is used, don’t use the name “West Santa Ana Line” if it’s not actually going to Santa Ana. It will just confuse people.

  16. All of this aside, the Kinkisharyo P3010 destination signs needs an update. The line colors needs to be altered. Make the Blue Line’s darker blue to squash the current confusion.

  17. Numbers with Colors would work best for our International travelers.. otherwise use Letters with Colors to differentiate from the numbered bus lines.

  18. Steve: The maps all show Alternative 1 of the Green/Crenshaw operating plans. Has this decision been made, or is Alt 1 just considered the leading candidate for the operating plan? (In case you care, Alt 1 is by far the best choice, IMHO.)
    Your message on June 28 said that “The Metro Board discussed the item at their meeting and asked staff to come back to the Board this fall with more options to consider.”

  19. I’d prefer numbers of all the options listed.

    But if that is to complicated, perhaps follow the German example.
    S1-S20 for Light Rail
    U1-U20 for Subway
    B1-B20 could be BRT lines
    C1-C20 could be for Metrolink commuter rail.

  20. Either colors or letters. Every other major transportation system in the world does this, yet Metro needs to waste money on a study that will tell them the same thing? This study has to be the worst use of taxpayer money.

  21. PLEASE DO NOT use numbers. We already use numbers for buses.

    Each rail line should have a letter name. For instance, “A” for the Red Line, “C” for the Blue Line.

    Each train should display its letter name plus the final stop. This is to indicate direction, plus any alternate terminus. For instance, “A-Union Station”, “B-Wilshire/Western” , or “C-Del Amo”.

    Of course, each letter should be associated with a color, for displays and signage.

    NYC has been using letter names for decades, and they know how to handle a large number of rail lines, not to mention tourists speaking many languages.

    (I am aware that London and Tokyo use place names. I would argue that these are very tourist-unfriendly.)

    • I could not agree more with metrocenter. That is exactly how I would design a system.

    • “I am aware that London and Tokyo use place names. I would argue that these are very tourist-unfriendly.”

      How exactly?? And how is LA any different now??

      I had a friend who went to London about a year ago and had absolutely no issue getting around and is very inexperienced with Public Transit.

      I was in Tokyo recently and while perhaps understanding the language did help I absolutely had no issue and if anything the place name on the train actually helped me confirm where I was heading. Google Maps and Apple Maps are also huge benefits as well. And I missing something I can’t see??

      I don’t think letters on rail lines are suddenly going to make LA a more tourist friendly place.

      If anything letters are the main reason why I don’t want to use the NYC Subway. Sure having the terminal destination will definitely make a difference, but if all I see is a Letter, then it is no different than what we have now.

      One last thing: The BRT lines and Rail Lines need to be separated period!! No ands, buts or ifs. Did Metro not realize that would confuse people that the Orange Line and Silver Line are actually bus lines when giving them colors?? Having Letters on both BRT and Rail CAN probably contribute to that problem.

      • “How exactly?? And how is LA any different now??”

        This was in response to one commenter, who suggested that numbers are better than letters, since visitors from Asia would not understand our letters. I am simply arguing that a single letter to identify a rail line is almost equivalent to using a single number, *and* is easier for a tourist than language-centric names.

        I have not had any problems with any transit system I’ve used around the world. Metro should design the system for locals first and foremost, since most users of the system are locals. In any country, the tourists have to make an effort and learn the local system.

        The primary reason for switching to letters is to give Metro flexibility in the way they route lines, and to decrease our reliance on the names of colors (many of which are similar to each other, or have cultural connotations.)

  22. Go with numbers. It’s simple, efficient, and easier for people who don’t use the Roman alphabet. Koreatown is in the heart of the Metro system, and we know many tourists will be visiting from Asia over the coming decades who will be eager to ride our flashy new transit network. We obviously need to wait for a wider and more rigorous quantitative study but I’d expect the results to be similar. I’m not sure why visually impaired folks preferred letters over numbers but I doubt the preference is as strong as the preference for numbers among Koreans and others (though please correct me if I’m wrong).

    The platform conflict is not that big of a deal – change it to A and B but it should really have a destination (and perhaps a geographic direction too – most of these lines go north/south or east/west). The bus number conflict is more challenging, but luckily there are few bus routes at those low numbers and they could be easily changed. Reserving 1-19 for the rapid network, we could make the following changes:

    2 becomes 22
    4 becomes 24
    10 becomes 50
    14 becomes 34
    16 becomes 36
    17 becomes 27
    18 becomes 38

  23. Combination of colors and letters definitely work for me. Though subtle colors like Aqua do get confusing. (I remember being color-coded for jury duty and being in the Teal group; I had to look it up). Geographic line names is kinda helpful (not strictly endpoints, though if the endpiont is compelling then go for it).

    It’s been a bad couple years for riding BART, which names line for its endpoints, then change the endpoints every year or two a they add extensions. When running for a train I have to figure out in a couple seconds if I want to go to Antioch (when I really want to go to Rockridge on what I still think of as the Concord line). (BART also has a tendency to name its stations for places they don’t reallly serve, like North Concord/MARTINEZ.

  24. I don’t get it, What’s wrong with the Combination map?? Stop focusing on letters, colors and numbers that don’t give me any detail about the geographical (or territorial) area the lines serve. How is the (A/Blue Color) Train or (2/Green Color) train supposed to help me identify where a train is supposed to eventually take me??

    West Santa Ana Line, North Hollywood-Universal Subway Line, Hollywood-South Bay Line, NoHo-Pasadena Line, Vermont BRT Line, Vermont Subway Line, LAX-East Valley Line, Pasadena-Montclair Line, Long Beach Line, Santa Monica Subway Line, Expo Line, Norwalk Line, etc. This gives me an idea of where I will eventually end up, or in the case of Vermont, what corridor it is primarily using.

    • Maybe a hybrid like SF MUNI does with J-Church, N-Judah, etc. We could have A-Long Beach-Montclair, B-North Hollywood, C-Wilshire, etc. I always look to NYC to compare how confusing a system is. They do it pretty well with the letters and numbers on maps and in stations with the destination on the actual trains themselves.

  25. MTA riders must understand the MTA has experimented with several color schemes on it’s rail cars most of which have been light rail. The original color scheme was Blue & White for the Long Beach line and entirely White for the Green Line. I believe they have settled on Silver or Grey for all rail cars with Yellow safety strips on the ends. Passenger must not rely on the rail cars colors but instead in the Side Sign indicating it’ destination. The only line I have taken on more than one occasion is the Red Line mostly from Union Station. i never boarded a Purple Line by mistake. It’s not that difficult if one can read the simple message on the Side Sign.

    As a former RTD Bus Operator I was always amazed at passengers asking which line I was operating. It was clearly displayed in both the Heading and the side sign. A question as to an exact destination was understandable but what line I was operating seemed clearly stupid. However the one confusing issue that was forbidden when the Rapid Lines were first created is Red Buses being used on local lines and Orange buses being used on Rapid Lines. Having four different bus colors not only is confusing but adds to the confusion of assigning buses to Line Assignments and perhaps the spare factor.

    I have never been a fan of that ugly Orange the MTA chose to paint their local buses and at one point silver numbers painted on silver roofs. Then of course we have Red Buses, Silver Buses and yes Blue Buses on a couple of Express Lines that don’t operate via Downtown L.A. It’s my opinion all the buses should be painted one color and not necessarily Red. I don’t believe any agency within L.A. County has Yellow Buses and a return to that color scheme would be an improvement with the addition of Dash Signs and a different color Heading Sign for each type of service. In addition with each service change at least twice a year many buses are returned to the paint shop to change their color scheme to match their needed change in assignments.

    • I used to feel this way too, but one must understand two things: Everyone cant see things far away, and also everyone is not literate, so I understand why people can sometimes be confused. I used to think it was a lack of critical thinking skills as well, however, it is MTAs responsibility to make the system fool proof. The Wilshire Vermont problem is an interesting one.

      In my opinion, letters are fine. Big, giant, bold letters. Colors should have nothing to do with the system in my opinion. Theyre too subjective to mistakes. The a 8 series makes more sense than colors. I.e 801,802,803,804… Except for the fact that these could be confused for departure times.

  26. This has got to be braindead easy for tourists, casual riders and new riders. The core will quickly figure out any new scheme and be able to traverse the system without too much trouble. (That is, we’re not labeling for us.)

    In my less-than-two-years commuting by rail, I can’t tell you how many times I witnessed confusion at or near 7MC with the two “blue lines” – when I could interrupt and jump in and clarify, I would, but that wasn’t always possible and sometimes people would walk away and get on the wrong train, often tourists. I have also jumped on unmarked trains, missed announcements, asked others which train I was on and get wrong answers depending on people’s understanding of our color schemes. So as much as I love the Aqua for Expo (hopefully a nod to the 2005 Heavy Trash prank), it has proven to be confusing.

    If New York can do it with less than 32 (including numbers and leaving out at least H, I, O, P), hopefully we can create a system in L.A. that simplifies things down to a single character, preferably using symbols to indicate Rail vs BRT, so that if a line is later converted from BRT to Rail we need only change the shape. As for colors, no idea. New York uses them in some manner that I don’t know enough about New York to quite understand but seem to be more of a shorthand for regular users than for tourists and casual users.

    • I’m a native New Yorker who knows the color scheme. It evolved over the years. In the “modern era” (e.g., 1960s – on) the initial scheme was give each line its own color. That got very confusing. In the 1980s, the scheme took its current form by coloring based on the trunk in Midtown Manhattan where Blue = 8 Ave.; Red = 7 Ave.; Orange = 6 Ave.; Yellow = Broadway; Green = Lexington. Then there are outliers for lines not entering midtown (brown for Jamaica lines; silver for the L; and light green for the G which nevre makes it into Manhattan); and silver (again) for shuttles. The bottom line is by consolidating colors in midtown, the map got a lot clearer & easier for tourists to read.

  27. Why not run the North Valley BRT Line or the Orange Line through to Pasadena? Understood that Orange Line will someday be LRT, but the North Valley Line could continue through to Pasadena, eliminating the need for transfers (and one more line name). I prefer letters but I would prefer that the names be grouped in a logical way, not just in the historic order that some portion of the line opened. Like the Downtown-service lines are A-D (starting with the Wilshire subway as the A train, Red B and Blue C), Valley-centric lines F-H, Westside/ Southbay J-M, etc.

    • Not a bad idea actually!!! The Colorado BRT can actually continue as both the Nordhoff BRT and Orange Line, as once the bus hits NoHo, every other bus can head at a different direction.

      But knowing Metro they probably will not experiment with that.

  28. Go with letters like NYC. Metro already has an operating plan with letters assigned to the various lines: A=Blue (including Pasadena-Foothill Gold), B=Red, C=Purple, D=Green, E=Expo (including Eastside Gold), G=Orange, J=Silver, K=Crenshaw/LAX. Future lines could just continue the alphabet: N=WSAB, Q=Van Nuys/Sepulveda/LAX, R= Lincoln BRT, V=Vermont BRT.

  29. I feel that the MTA went about this the WRONG way from the start. ALL RAIL lines should have had a letter and ALL BRT lines should have had a number. The existing system is NOT going to work, in the future, because we are going to run out of colors. If we continue using colors, What would we name the East Santa Ana branch? What color we use for the East San Fernando Valley Line? What color would we use for the Sepelveda Pass/LAX line? What color would we assign to the Crenshaw/LAX line?
    I say now is the time to make the changes, before the 2028 Olympics. In order to avoid confusion, We should start with re-naming ALL RAIL lines using letters, instead of colors. When we have finished doing that, we should make sure that ALL BRT lines receive a number.
    The present system just doesn’t work, especially for people who are color blind.
    Start making the changes NOW! DON’T WAIT! The sooner that this is completed, the better!

  30. I have been on the Expo line several times (in Downtown LA) when I was asked for directions from other passengers. Every time, it turned out that the passengers were attempting to board the Blue line and got on the Expo line by accident because it was “light blue”. It is simply too confusing. It’s time for a change.

  31. Good Lord. Leave them the way they are. So what if Expo is not a color? Now hard would it be to call an eastbound train Expo/Gold? Rename the north branch of the Gold Line the Rose Line. A Long Beach-bound train from Pasadena could be called Rose-Blue.

  32. Just switch to letters or numbers, or both.

    The name Aqua Line was considered for the current Expo Line many years ago, since it went towards the sea. I’ve forgotten the official reason it was rejected.

  33. The bus lines are numbered. As difficult that the clowns at the MTA may find it, use letters like L.A. Railway (LATL) used in the past.

    • The LARY/LATL street car route letters indicated where they ran, e .g., R (3rd Street), J (Jefferson), P (Pico), S (San Pedro Street), V (Vermont), A (Adams Blvd,), U (USC), etc. The Pacific Electric rail lies were all identified by the territory they served.

      Metro could do the same as LARY,, e.g., L (Long Beach), W (Wilshire), N (North Hollywood,, M ((Santa Monica), A (San Santa), C (Crenshaw), etc.

      Long lines such as the future Long Beach-Glendora could have different letters depending upon direction, e.g., G *(Glendora), E (East LA). etc.

      All bus line numbers can continue follow the current pattern, except 700s for Metro Rapids only and 800s for true BRT lines, e.g., Orange Line could now be Line 802, the Silver Line could now be Line 803, etc.

      • “The Pacific Electric rail lies were all identified by the territory they served.”