Bad news for riders of Metro’s three most popular light rail lines: The transit agency is planning to cut service in the year ahead, causing trains to arrive less frequently during busy rush hour commuting times.
Metro’s Board of Directors today approved a proposed $7.2 billion budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins in July. The financial plan includes a nearly 6 percent reduction in rail service hours, with the largest cuts planned on the Expo, Gold, and Blue lines. The change will result in fewer delays, according to Metro.
Several directors questioned whether the service changes would leave riders discouraged or frustrated.
Board member Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker suggested that the schedule changes should account for a potential spike in ridership once the partially closed Blue Line fully reopens later this year (Metro expects the duration of an end-to-end ride to shorten by roughly 10 minutes once work is complete).
But Metro executive officer Conan Cheung told the board that the agency would monitor ridership throughout the year and could adjust schedules if necessary.
That means that for now, Expo, Gold, and Blue line trains will show up once every eight minutes during rush hour. Gold Line trains now arrive every seven minutes during peak hours, while Expo Line trains come every six minutes. Blue Line trains between Downtown LA and the Willow Street station came every six minutes prior to the line’s partial shutdown, which began in January.
Metro spokesperson Rick Jager says the changes will affect average wait times by one minute or less, while allowing for more reliable service on those lines. Having too many trains operating at once, he says, can create bottlenecks—particularly on surface streets, where trains share the road with cars and often get stuck at red lights.
The reductions will also allow for three-car trains to serve all three lines during peak hours. Some trains now run with just two cars, making for cramped, standing-room-only commutes.
Weekend service will also get slower, with trains arriving every 20 minutes until 10 a.m., when the time between trains would drop to 12 minutes. Right now, those 12-minute headways begin at 8 a.m.
Metro also plans to tweak its bus schedules in the coming year. Though the number of hours buses are in service is expected to rise 0.7 percent next fiscal year, that’s largely because of an increase in service for special events and temporary buses to be used during construction on other lines.
Meanwhile, the agency plans to shave off 75,000 hours of service on its high frequency lines.
Jager says this is a standard “shake up” based on the amount of use certain lines are getting. On its busiest lines, the agency schedules arrivals frequently enough that—in theory—no more than 30 percent of riders have to stand. If buses are meeting that standard comfortably, fewer trips may be necessary.