May 16, 2011

Our View: Taking the temperature of the turnstiles – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

The link to this editorial could be found here.

If the turnstiles at the Metro Gold Line stations tell us anything, it is that the naysayers should not be listened to.

Those who've commented, sometimes repeatedly, including some Westside pols, that the Los Angeles-to-Pasadena Gold Line is not carrying its weight in passengers might want to eat their words. Ridership has steadily increased each year for the past five years since 2006. As of March 2011, there were 35,544 daily riders – well beyond the original ridership projections of 26,000 to 32,000 when the line opened in July 2003.

It took time to build loyal riders, that's for sure, starting at 16,000 and only reaching 20,000 in 2008. But then, at each rise in gasoline prices, ridership has jumped.

Which brings us to our next lesson: Keeping the cost of riding the light-rail low is crucial. In our newspapers' recent special report, one commuter said paying $1.50 for a one-way fare vs. paying $20 a day to drive his van convinced him the train was more economical. It became a no-brainer.

Saving money is the No. 1 reason single-occupant riders give for switching to light rail or the bus. Though the evidence is anecdotal, Staff Writer Hector Gonzalez found a correlation – a direct relationship – between pump prices and ridership. This year, as gas prices crept beyond $4 per gallon, ridership has reached new highs.

The other characteristic from our report was that each time new riders were drawn, they stayed. Right when gasoline prices crested at $4.63 per gallon in 2008, ridership climbed from 18,000 to 20,000. The ridership rose again from March 2010 to March 2011, from 31,544 to 35,544. Both occurred during times of rising gas prices.

The trick for Metro will be to keep these riders. The best way to do that is not to raise fares even if gas prices were to go down – if only slightly – which appears to be happening.

A second reason for the increase in ridership is convenience. For many commuters in the San Gabriel Valley, the Gold Line is not convenient. Either its too far from their homes or it doesn't go to their workplace. But when the Gold Line added the Eastside line in November 2009 from Little Tokyo through East L.A. to Monterey Park, ridership went up. Translation: For more commuters along the western 60 Corridor, riding the Gold Line to a job in downtown L.A. or (with a transfer) to mid-Wilshire or Hollywood became convenient.

Finally, these ridership numbers are selling points for funding the second-phase of the foothill extension, from Glendora to Montclair, which could get built, after phase 2A, now underway from east Pasadena to the edge of Glendora, is completed.

Washington, D.C., are you listening?