I love trains, let me declare that at the outset. So when the new Expo Line light rail opened (finally!) at the end of May in Santa Monica connecting us to downtown Los Angeles, we gathered up a group of intrepid adventurers from the newsroom and headed there after work.
This should’ve been a breezy 45 minutes on a gleaming new train, a trip where we stared out the window at all the cars standing still on the 10 Freeway before being dropped into the middle of a bustling metropolis.
Instead, we had a comically bungled experience where we encountered a rising din of discontent from Metro riders.
The train we boarded broke down about three stops from our departure station on Bundy. Then the next train — which arrived on the opposite track, so a bit nervewracking — was packed to the gills. No room for most of the folks who’d been kicked off the broken train.
We waited for the next train but this time we pushed our little crew into the very-crowded car. Which was when a raucous discussion broke out among frustrated passengers, which I recorded while teetering over a man in a bulky wheelchair.
Everybody had more or less the same complaints: the trains are too crowded, they don’t feel safe, there’s too much being shoved into the cars — bikes, for example — and there are too many shady characters.
“My issue with the train right now is they rerouted all the buses because they’re trying to get everyone to take the Expo, but now that everyone’s taking it, it’s crowded,” said Rodnisha Ford, who works in Santa Monica. “There are hazards. People have bikes, there’s wheelchairs which is okay, but not all at the same time. We need some type of regulation.”
A contractor who declined to give his name was steaming mad. He’d worked all day and had to wait for several trains to pass until he could find room to get on.
“Since the day they opened it up, it’s been like this and they haven’t changed or added any new cars or anything like that,” he said. “This is truly a safety hazard. I have to wait at least three or four times before I get on. I’ve seen people pushing other people like in the YouTube videos, and I’m just not going on, you know?
Stacy, who is a home care provider, had this to say: “I’ve taken other public transportations, but I’ve never had this issue, I mean sometimes it’s crowded, I expect that, but I just started taking the train last week and this is my first day experiencing it like this, and this is not good. I’ve waited 3 trains to get on this one, and not only that, I found this train on the other track, which was bad.”
She said the train she took in the morning had broken down too.
Don Salmon, who runs a clothing store in Santa Monica, was frustrated beyond measure. “I’m switching back to the bus. Here it’s drunk people, crazy people, it’s a turn-off. At first I was excited about it. I thought it would be much better. But it’s rude, disrespectful people. It’s crowded, bikes block the way. I spend 10 hours a day at work – I want a seat. I’m deeply disappointed.”
At that, another man piped up: “You all need to be ashamed of yourselves for being the second-largest city in the country and this is what y’all call a train,” he said, declining to give his name but saying he’d moved six months ago from Chicago.
“I’m just stating the obvious, you should be able to communicate without stepping and stomping over people, but the way they got it in line there’s just no other option, and if you stopped and waited you’re going to see the same thing for the next two or three trains until rush hour’s over.”
Hard to argue with the man.