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Monday, Jun 5, 2023

Orange Line: Victim of Its Own Success

As I’ve said before, I’m an Orange Line rider and an Orange Line fan. Finally, Los Angeles came up with some decent mass transit a bus line that has its own dedicated road, stops only 13 times as it goes across the Valley and during rush hour has a new bus come by every five minutes. Yes, it still had to cross intersections at regular public streets but it all seemed to work out fine after the first several accidents when the line opened three years ago. The Orange Line made commuting easier for people going to their jobs and for businesses that need their employees to be on time. I take the line at least once a week, sometimes two or three times. That’s not bad for a guy in a suit and tie. We’re a rare breed on the busways of Los Angeles and a segment of the population that the MTA wants to attract. I live near one end of the line at the Chandler subway in North Hollywood and work at the Business Journal at the other end of the line in Warner Center. It was all great until a few months ago. The buses started to get really crowded. Whether it was due to the spike in gas prices or a better awareness of the Orange Line, I don’t know. At the end of summer 2008 the buses are crowded all hours of the day. I will go to the office sometimes at 7 a.m. they’re crowded. I’ll come home sometimes at 8 p.m. or later they’re crowded. I stand up half the time. And the buses seem to be getting slower. It’s supposed to take 45 minutes to cross the Valley on the Orange Line. It’s five minutes longer than that many times. That may not seem like much, but if I’m spending 50 minutes traveling I might as well be in my car and in control. And if I leave the office after 7:30 at night, buses come only every 20 minutes. And they can be late. And then they’re crowded. The point of all this: I don’t really want to ride the Orange Line anymore under these conditions. A champion of the service has become disillusioned. And considering this city’s track record on mass transit, I’m skeptical things will be fixed. Too bad for me. Too bad for other workers and too bad for businesses. And that’s the reason I’m writing this column. I still believe effective mass transit can really help our economy. The traffic gridlock we have now will kill the economy. If you have people like me who were beginning to embrace mass transit go back into our cars, we’re doomed. So I called the MTA and talked to Richard Hunt, the San Fernando Valley service sector manager who oversees the Orange Line. He listened to my complaints and it really seemed like he wanted to make things better. He said that Orange Line ridership has ballooned way above their projections to 26,900 riders a day. They had only planned for 17,000 a day by 2009. “We’re in catch-up mode,” he said. They need the MTA board to approve funding to add more capacity to relieve the overcrowding. This would enable them to run more buses during off-peak hours. But the best they can do is have the buses run every four minutes any time of the day. Anything less than that will disrupt the signal timing on the streets that the buses intersect. It seems the Orange Line is a victim of its own success. It’s good that transit officials seem to be on top of things. I’ll keep a positive attitude that they’ll work things out. The MTA board and other officials in Los Angeles who decide our transit future should take note that most of us want effective mass transit. The Orange Line ridership numbers show that. Let’s not make this another lost opportunity. I want to stop feeling blue about the Orange Line. Business Journal Editor Jason Schaff can be reached at (818) 316-3125 or at editor@sfvbj.com .

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