Review of Los Angeles Metro Route 501 and Gold Line Extension to Azusa

Azusa Citrus College Station Platform
The platform at Azusa Citrus College station. Christopher MacKechnie

Review of Metro Route 501 and Metro Gold Line Extension to Azusa

More than any other city in the United States, Los Angeles has accomplished a great deal of transit expansion in a short period of time, thanks to Measure R and the America Fast Forward program.  In the fall of 2016 officials plan to seek an additional tax increase to build another $120 billion worth of projects.  Effective marketing for this increase will be in the form of two light rail extensions that will open in the first half of the year – the Expo Line extension to Santa Monica, expected May 20, 2016, and the Gold Line extension to Azusa, which opened March 5, 2016.

  In conjunction with the Gold Extension opening was the introduction of the first new major Metro bus route since the Orange Line – Route 501, an express route from North Hollywood Station to Del Mar Station.  Since the Silver Line was a rebranding of existing Metro services (albeit a successful one), I do not count it as a new route.

On Saturday March 19, 2016, I toured both Route 501 and the Gold Line extension.  Here is my review of those two new lines.

Route 501

As of March 2016, Route 501 is a contract-operated bus line that travels from North Hollywood Station to Del Mar Station from 5 or 6 AM to 9 PM seven days per week.  Service is every fifteen minutes during peak hours and thirty minutes at all other times.  Mostly operating express on the 134 expressway, the bus makes a couple of stops in the Burbank entertainment district and downtown Glendale.

Operating with spiffy new buses outfitted with a special color scheme, on a mid-Saturday afternoon with average traffic the trip was completed in about thirty-five minutes.

  Since I traveled on a weekend, it would be unfair to compare the ridership I experienced with the expected 1,750 weekday passengers.  Also, a new route can take up to two years to fully develop ridership-wise.   However, I have never traveled on a Metro bus with as few passengers as the ones that were on my roundtrip on Line 501.

  In the eastbound direction, there were three other people on board; in the westbound direction, there were four other people on board.  Certainly extensive marketing will be needed to ensure success of the line, which provides an important crosstown connection between two major Metro Rail stations.

In terms of the stop spacing, I found the locations to be well-chosen.  I would perhaps consider adding a stop at Lankershim and Vineland so that North Hollywood residents do not have to go to North Hollywood Station to board.  While some Eagle Rock residents have complained that Route 501 does not stop in their area, the freeway off-ramp configuration at Figueroa Street does not allow for an easy on/easy off for the bus like it does in Glendale.

Gold Line Extension

The first notable thing about the Gold Line extension is that not all the Gold Line trains travel to the new end of the line in Azusa.  At all times of the day, half the trains end at the former terminus at Sierra Madre Villa.  As a result, service to Azusa is every twelve minutes during the peak periods, fifteen minutes during the weekdays and weekends, and twenty minutes at night.  Shortlines, trips that do not serve all the regular stops on a route, are very common in transit because they increase efficiency by focusing more resources on the busy parts of the route.

  However, this efficiency comes at a cost of operational flexibility.  I boarded a short line trip so I could deboard at Sierra Madre Villa to see how many people on the train actually wanted to continue eastward – the answer, nearly all of them!  Undoubtedly the initial confusion over why the train was stopping will fade over time, although Metro Blue Line travelers continue to be flummoxed by the Willow and Del Amo short line trips on a daily basis.

Since the Gold Line extension follows an abandoned former railroad corridor, the effectiveness of the station locations depends on the whims of the original planners.  Arcadia and Azusa get optimum stations in the heart of their downtowns, while the Monrovia station lays about a mile and a freeway south of their charming downtown district.  In Monrovia, the last mile problem is solved by a shuttle.

  It is hard to imagine the Irwindale station being anything other than a place to park and ride, while the Citrus College / Azusa Pacific University station, due to the commuter nature of those two schools, will likely be busy only when class is in session.  As the distance between Sierra Madre Villa and Arcadia Stations is significant, perhaps there will be an opportunity for an infill station, say at Baldwin, in the future.  Overall, I was impressed with the crowds on the train - it may not be long before the shortline trips have to be converted to full-length trips to accommodate ridership.  The ridership on both the Orange Line extension to Chatsworth and the Gold Line extension to Azusa demonstrate the significant latent demand for better transit in low density areas of Southern California not previously believed to be worthy of better transit.