Sweaty mess, no place to sit: overcrowding on Expo Line

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A crowded westbound Expo Line train on October 22, 2019. Photo by Danielle Chiriguayo/KCRW.

A ride on the Expo Line has become a fist-clenching affair: commuters’ faces and knuckles turn white at the prospect of running into their fellow rider when the train abruptly stops.  

LA Metro had cut more than 5% of train spending for this fiscal year, and it started cutting service on the Expo Line in June. That’s been having a huge effect on how thousands of Angelenos travel between Downtown LA and Santa Monica.

“When I took the Expo Line before, I almost always had a place to sit,” says UCLA student Nina Long. 


Commuters on the platform can’t enter the train because the vehicle is too crowded. Photo by Danielle Chiriguayo/KCRW.

Long commutes a couple of times a week, and she’s gotten used to seeing the overcrowding. “Sometimes folks get on, and they can just barely fit on the train. Like their backpack is hanging out the door and the door won’t close,“ Long says.

You can see more complaints on Twitter about “wall to wall bodies” and a “sweaty mess” on the trains. 

Another regular rider, 19-year-old John David Morgan, relies on the train nearly every morning on his way to class at Santa Monica College. To get to and from the Metro stations a bit faster, he uses his bike. But that can make commuting harder. 

“When I try to get onto the train to put my bike in, I don’t want to block a door or cause any inconvenience, so I usually have to wait for a few trains,” Morgan says. “But there’s a disparity between most of the trains. One train will be really full, and another train will almost be like no one [is] on it.”

An upshot to crowds

Annually, the Expo Line sees about 1.5 million boardings, and it is considered the most successful of Metro’s rail lines. Packed trains are part of that success, right? 

“Crowding is good, but only if you respond to it by providing more service because that means more people will travel, more people will benefit from whatever the trip is making possible in their lives,” says Jim Moore, who directs USC’s Transportation Engineering Program.  

Relief to come

In response to vocal commuters, LA Metro will restore previously cut Expo Line service starting November 4

For travelers going east, LA Metro will extend peak PM hours beyond 7:30. Hours for westbound travelers will extend past 8 PM. 

There’s even talk of prioritizing the Expo Line at stop lights. The train noticeably slows down at intersections near USC and Downtown LA. To help fix that, LA City Council members will vote Wednesday on whether to give the train priority over cars at these intersections, allowing the train to whiz past traffic.
What about buses?

LA Metro, like other transit agencies around the country, has seen a decrease in ridership over the last 10 years. 

To fix that, Moore suggests focusing on bus riders, who make up the  backbone of the system. Add more buses, integrate bus and train trips, and when a train gets popular, don’t mess with success.

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Credits

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Jenna Kagel

Reporter:
Danielle Chiriguayo