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Concerns Over Transit Safety: Recent town hall covers LA Metro’s budget priorities

LA Metro hosted a telephone town hall on March 28 to hear from residents about how future funds might be allocated. Many riders who called in expressed concerns regarding safety, cleanliness, reliability and accessibility.  

“We must ensure that we are spending money in places where it creates the greatest value,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “This is where you come in; we want to understand your priorities and needs regarding the Metro system. That’s why we are all here tonight.”

In the past 12 months, LA Metro has worked to restore its transit service to pre-pandemic levels, hiring almost 1,000 new transit operators to provide frequent and reliable service and deploying hundreds of new personnel, including Metro ambassadors, custodians, maintenance workers, transit security officers and homeless outreach workers.

In December 2022, LA Metro restored its bus service levels with higher frequency for over 50 Metro bus lines. The Metro plans to roll out additional bus lanes on corridors such as Roscoe and Sepulveda Boulevards in the San Fernando Valley. 

The new regional connector, a 1.9-mile light rail line, will soon open in Downtown with three new stations at Little Tokyo/Arts District, Historic Broadway and Grand AvArts/Bunker Hill. The connector will allow light rail riders to travel through Downtown without changing trains. For instance, this will allow riders to travel from Pasadena to Long Beach or East LA to Santa Monica without changing trains. 

In the next fiscal year, LA Metro plans to increase peak and off-peak train frequencies, restoring a 10-minute peak service on the subway lines, an 8-minute frequency on light rail lines, and an off-peak frequency of 10 minutes for all rail lines, replacing the current 12 to 15 minutes off-peak frequency. 

Still, like the rest of the county, LA Metro is grappling with broader societal issues such as homelessness, the opioid crisis and mental health. These were issues brought up repeatedly during the town hall by concerned riders. 

Additionally, the C Line along the I-105 will connect with the new Krenshaw K Line and will be linked near LA Metro’s new LAX area rail station, where the Metro rail network will connect with the new LAX automated people mover. The new LAX transit center will open at the end of 2024.

 Since the pandemic, LA Metro has taken extreme measures to ensure clean facilities. Cleaning crews pressure wash the floors and stairs two to three times a week. All stations are cleaned twice daily, and 13 select hotspot stations are cleaned around the clock; crews remove trash and debris, sweep floors, mop elevators, spray odor-eliminating products and wipe down and disinfect benches and surfaces. In addition to stations, trains and buses are cleaned and disinfected daily. LA Metro has begun installing stainless steel surfaces on the subway cars and vinyl seats in all trains and buses for effective cleaning. 

One caller expressed concern over the frequency of the significant local lines in the San Fernando Valley, citing that trains “approximately run once an hour.” The caller asked Metro officials to consider allocating taxes toward increasing the frequency of the major lines in the SFV. 

Metro officials responded that the usage level on each route determines the frequency of Metro lines but would consider the issue when dispensing the new budget.

Another rider called asking about plans to extend the K Line to SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. 

Officials relayed that there are bus routes that link the Inglewood K Line station to the stadium. The city of Inglewood is in the early stages of planning to connect the K line to the stadium, intending to have the project completed by the 2028 Olympics.

A few residents mentioned safety concerns, citing drug use on the Metro as a major factor.

“Although most riders use Metro every day without incident, we know that there are fears and concerns that we need to address. Our region is suffering from an opioid addiction crisis,” said Gina Osborn, LA Metro’s chief safety officer. “Nevertheless, there should be no open use of illegal drugs on the system, and there should be absolutely no tolerance for assault on riders and our operators or any other crimes on our system.”

In February, LA Metro began an enforcement campaign to reduce illegal drug use on public transit, and law enforcement has since made 205 drug-related arrests. Since the start of the campaign, reported incidents of drug-related activity have declined by 87%. The Metro board recently approved funding for 48 additional transit security officers.

Addressing the homeless crisis within LA County and the Metro system, LA Metro’s Deputy Chief of Staff Elba Higueros said, “The homelessness crisis continues to challenge the Los Angeles region, and Metro is not immune to the effects. As ridership fell during the pandemic, there was a noticeable increase in people experiencing homelessness seeking shelter on the Metro system. … We’ve heard from our customers through various channels, surveys, social media comments, call centers and community meetings that homelessness is a top priority area to improve their experience aboard Metro.”

The proposed solution is to invest heavily to provide resources to unhoused people seeking refuge on public transit. Metro aims to partner with the county to bring homeless outreach and multi-disciplinary teams onto the transit system. The homeless services providers will work seven days a week and direct those experiencing homelessness to resources and housing like the Homeless Management Information System, county services, hygiene kits, meals, clothing, medical treatments, addiction support, mental health evaluations, sobering centers and crisis beds.

“We know that change will not happen overnight. We know that every single person who chooses Metro should have a dignified experience when on their trip,” Higueros said. “This is not a problem that we are equipped to solve on our own, and the ongoing regional collaboration to bring solutions will be the only way that we can swiftly respond within the framework of our reimagined public safety vision. We ensure that we are compassionate to those experiencing homelessness who are subjected to trauma daily. We’re also deploying strategies that focus on making the transit system a safer place to travel.”

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