Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)’s new light rail extension to Santa Monica may prove to be one of the Authority’s surest bets on a transit line.
The Expo Line extension between downtown Los Angeles and the beach city opened this week. It cost $1.5 billion and took about nine years to build and Metro is confident it will be worth the investment. Metro’s return on its investment comes down to ridership —to both offset the cost of the train line and spread the benefit of public spending to the largest group possible.
Despite recent declines in L.A. County transit ridership, Metro sees the new beach train as an investment that will help turn the tide and positively contribute to ridership. Metro predicts ridership will more than double in the next 15 years — from about 29,000 to 64,000 rides per day.
“It’s really dependent on … having enough concentration of people and jobs within a half mile of stations,” said Ethan Elkind, University of California, Berkeley professor and author of “Rail Town,” a book on the history and future of L.A.’s trains.
Where jobs are concerned, the new train looks very promising, said William Yu, UCLA economics professor. The line connects the burgeoning tech industries of the beach cities and downtown, runs near UCLA and USC, two of the biggest employers in L.A. County and hits major entertainment centers like Culver City’s Sony Pictures.
Elkind says L.A. County needs to bring more people closer to the train line. “The best thing you can do is put in affordable housing — that type of investment is really critical to creating thriving, compact neighborhoods” that use public transit.
Metro also needs to convince taxpayers to get behind its proposal for additional sales taxes to fund $120 billion in transit projects over 40 years.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti believes the newly opened rail lines can usher in an era for Los Angeles as a modern-day rail town. “It takes a couple of years for the network to come together and this is an incredibly spread-out city. But I think in the next decade you’re going to see not only the options to never get into a car but to get where you want to go on transit,” the Mayor said.