In Defense Of Shutting Down Underperforming Expo Line Stations

The media coverage of the Expo Line to Santa Monica’s slow travel speed has been increasing.  KPCC radio ran a segment describing the slow speeds and desire to give the trains signal priority in downtown Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, my proposal to have Metro consider shutting down under-performing stations generated some pushback.  I’ll summarize the main arguments against here:

1) It’s too soon.  The line just opened, and the stations may yet generate more ridership if we just wait a while.

My response: with something like ridership, it’s not just a matter of “getting the word out” or waiting for people to eventually figure out that the train is good for them.  Ridership instead is a function of the land use around the stations and how densely packed the area is with jobs and housing.  In the case of under-performing stations, the land use isn’t going to change right away.  So while we wait for new developments, why continue serving the station if it slows the ride for everyone while providing relatively little benefit?

Bonus benefit: shutting the stations gives the locals an incentive to actually permit new construction.  Right now, they have no incentive to do so and instead every incentive to cater to the usual “parking and traffic concerns” homeowner crowd.

2) It may hurt ridership overall to shutter the stations, and it’s supposed to be a “community” line — not a downtown-to-downtown line.

My response: I agree it may hurt ridership, which is why I suggest that Metro study the closures.  If the relative improvement in travel times doesn’t produce enough new riders to cover the decrease in ridership from the closed stations, then it’s not worth pursuing.  Case closed.  But it may also require a temporary closure to get real-world data on ridership impacts.

And let’s not forget, downtown Los Angeles and downtown Santa Monica are major destinations that require speedy service between them.

3) Sheesh, the line just opened.  Don’t jump to conclusions so quickly.

It may seem like a hasty conclusion, but the fact is that many of us foresaw this issue years ago. From my book Railtown (published 2014, but this passage was written in 2012):

Travel timeFurthermore, the Expo line was deliberately over-stationed precisely in order to slow the whole train.  Again from Railtown:

OverstationedSo I understand why some people thought this call was a hasty over-reaction.  But the reality is that this issue has been brewing for a long time.  And now that the public is finally riding the line, they’re experiencing the consequence of many poor decisions made over the years.

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