In the Los Angeles of 2019, buses don’t get a lot of love.
Though Metro is now reworking its entire bus system, giving routes and schedules a systemwide update for the first time in over two decades, the agency is losing bus riders at a rapid clip—and proposed bus-only lanes aimed at improving service are facing vocal opposition from drivers.
Sixty years ago, things were a little different. This advertisement, which ran in advance of the Fourth of July weekend in 1959, emphasizes the strength of LA’s bus system at a time when the city’s once-bustling streetcar lines were being slowly taken out of service.
The ad celebrates Los Angeles’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, an ancestor of Metro. Prior to the agency’s formation in the 1950s, public transportation throughout the Southern California region had been privately operated—primarily by the Los Angeles and Pacific Electric railways.
By 1959, the MTA had taken over both companies, and was in the process of shutting down the iconic trolley lines that once served as LA’s primary mode of transit.
At the time, agency leaders were planning a futuristic monorail system that would provide rapid connections between key parts of the urban area. But to attract riders in the meantime, the MTA had to sell them on buses.
That’s probably why the agency evidently began referring to vehicles traveling on key routes as “funliner buses.”
According to the map, “funliner” routes traveled to other popular weekend destinations, including the Greek Theatre (and the Old Zoo at Griffith Park), the Hollywood Bowl (which the mapmakers appear to have placed in Sawtelle), the Hollywood Park racetrack, Santa Monica’s long-lost Pacific Ocean Park, and, of course, Disneyland.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is here listed as the place to go for baseball because in 1959, construction hadn’t yet started on Dodger Stadium. Much like the Rams today, LA’s brand-new team played in the venerable Exposition Park stadium prior to moving into their state-of-the-art new home.
Another promotion from the summer of 1959 suggests that riders board “FUNLINER bus number 51” to the annual Neptune Days festival at Redondo Beach.
In the 1970s, a private company tried to resurrect the “Funliner” concept with express bus service from the San Fernando Valley to the beaches of Malibu. That project never materialized. A similar beach bus concept from MTA’s successor, the Southern California Rapid Transit District, ran for one glorious summer before funding for the program ran out.
Today, Metro is renewing efforts to ensure transit takes people to parks, beaches, and hiking trails—not just to job centers and commercial districts.
Meanwhile, the Expo Line stops within a few blocks of the Coliseum on its way to Santa Monica, and LA’s DASH buses will get you to the Greek Theatre. The Dodger Express provides free rides to Dodger Stadium on game days from Union Station. And Metro’s 460 bus offers express service from Downtown to Disneyland seven days a week—certainly worthy of “funliner” status.