The MTA board voted Thursday to build a new station at Aviation Boulevard and 96th Street, which will eventually link to Los Angeles International Airport. The proposal was not what Mayor Eric Garcetti originally hoped for. He wanted a separate spur off the Crenshaw Line that would connect to an intermodal facility.
The station approved Thursday is a much cheaper alternative, which probably won't have all the bells and whistles that Garcetti had envisioned. Nevertheless, it is a rail connection to LAX, and Garcetti heralded it as a key step in the direction of building a world-class airport.
Assuming that LAX and MTA can continue to cooperate on this, the rail link could open around 2022. That leaves one big unanswered question: Will anybody use it?
As the saying goes, predictions are hard, especially about the future. Nevertheless, MTA has made its best effort to guess how many people will take the train to the airport. The answer:
Now, nothing gets Angelenos more riled up than suggesting that they won't actually take the train to the airport. Given that, it's probably for the best that MTA buried its ridership estimates deep inside a staff report. But there it is, in all its bureaucratic modesty:
“[A]lthough the Metro Green and Crenshaw/LAX Lines have high ridership, they are not expected to attract high ridership to LAX as compared to other modes of airport access.”
Just how low are the expectations? MTA's consultant estimates that 1,790 passengers will take the train to the airport each day in 2035. The good news, if you can call it that, is that ridership would actually have been lower with Garcetti's more costly alternative.
You have to do some math to figure out what that 1,790 figure represents as a share of total passenger volume. The Southern California Association of Governments projects that LAX will carry 78.9 million passengers in 2035. If you multiply 1,790 by 365, you get 653,000 train-to-LAX passengers per year. Divide that by 78.9 million, and you get .00828, or 0.8%.
It sounds low, and it is, but it's not that much lower than transit ridership at other U.S. airports. According to USA Today, the typical “modal share” for trains at U.S. airports is about 2-5%. But Los Angeles is much, much bigger than the average U.S. city. And, in case you hadn't noticed, it has a fairly rudimentary train system. So, maybe the projection is not that unreasonable.
So how will people get to the airport in 2035? By car. According to the study, 57% will take personal vehicles, and another 33% will take taxis, limos or shared ride vans.
And the most popular public transit option in 2035? The good old Flyaway bus.
This is not to say that the train-to-LAX link should not be built. It is to suggest that expectations be kept in check until MTA can plan, fund and build a more comprehensive rail network.