By Kevin Modesti, December 19, 2013
A much-publicized study about the commuting habits of people who live
near a new L.A. light-rail line has confirmed the assumptions of
It would be even more valuable if it swayed mass-transit skeptics. But the new data
may not change the impression that Los Angeles’ growing light-rail and
subway system is useful to few residents. Namely, those who have to
travel from and to places that happen to be along the lines.
University of Southern California study monitored the travel of 103
households within one-half mile of six stations along the Expo Line,
which runs 8.7 miles from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City.
Researchers showed that after the line opened in 2012, those residents
reduced their driving by an average of 10 to 12 miles a day, or about 40
percent. The residents also walked more, presumably to and from the
That suggests Metro Rail’s four light-rail lines
— and plans for more — are good for vehicle traffic, for the
environment and for people’s fitness. It suggests Angelenos will use
mass transit if it’s available. And it might suggest the city should
spend more public money on more public transportation.
fast, said Adrian Moore, vice president of policy and an expert on
transportation issues for the libertarian Reason Foundation. When we
phoned him this morning to get a less-often-heard point of view, Moore
said the USC research is credible but doesn’t eliminate some important
The problem remains, Moore said: “We’ve spent incredible amounts
of money to change the behavior of very few people.” Thirty percent to
40 percent of the L.A. region’s spending on transportation goes to
public transit that serves less than 1 percent of the population.
Moore’s other big question: Were the residents whose transit habits
changed after the Expo Line opened just average Angelenos — or “the
sorts of people who are going to take light rail”? (Note the lead
anecdote in a Los Angeles Times article about the study.)
Moore said the issue isn’t whether people will use nearby light
rail. It’s whether L.A. can install enough light rail to serve enough
“We don’t oppose transit spending,” Moore said. “We just oppose dumb transit spending.”
proponents will need more than this study to win over those who say
that in a city built around cars, trains are not the way to go.