Like many residents of the San Gabriel Valley, I watched as progress slowly marched forward on the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension. The new light-rail line extended service from downtown Los Angeles to Azusa, from its previous terminus in Pasadena. Eventually, the Gold Line will run further east to Claremont, on Phase 2b of the extension.
I was excited. I had used the light rail in my hometown of Denver to get to downtown on a number of occasions. Maybe I could take this to my internship in Monrovia rather than sit in traffic on the 210—Interstate 210, for those unfamiliar with the California way of referring to every freeway as “the.” I wasn’t the only one that wanted relief on the freeways, many people in the San Gabriel Valley pushed for the nearly $1 billion extension, despite Metro rail lines never reaching so far into suburban bedroom communities before. It’s a new demographic, with a stretch of average to above average income areas being serviced continually, rather than the lower income, high-population-density areas that previously received rail service, according to the LA Times.
The plan was to leave from the Azusa Downtown station on Saturday morning at 10, for the 50-minute journey to Union Station, planning to walk to the (apparently) famous Olvera Street nearby the station and have lunch before returning home on the Gold Line.
My Girlfriend and I ended up catching the 10:15 train, although not without hassle, as I struggled to figure out how to use the machine to pay for the damn thing and almost missed the train.
The trained zipped out of the station headed south (well west, but it’s considered a north-south route) toward Irwindale and we took our seats.
I hear a recording repeat something about using a tapping card when boarding the train. My girlfriend hears it too, but we decide just to ignore it, after all, we paid.
Another young couple came and sat across from us as the train pulled out of the Arcadia station. We got to talking and found out they were doing the same thing we were.
“We just wanted to check things out. We normally just avoid going in to LA for fun,” Alecia Waters said. “Between traffic and parking, it’s not worth it to drive in.”
The four of us represent the type of passengers the Gold Line is hoping to attract. Metro projects 13,500 boarding a day from the extension by 2035.
“Part of why I’m doing this is to see how long it would take to get to the Wilshire and Western Station,” Waters’ boyfriend, Matt Lawson, explained. “I work near there, and the commute is normally over an hour, sometimes closer to two.”
We arrived at Union Station and headed down the steps, into the arms of fare inspectors. My girlfriend and I both looked at each other afraid that we were gong to be sent to Metro jail for not tapping our TAP card when boarding. The fare inspector took my card, tapped it, and handed it back. No Metro jail for me.
We set out for Olvera Street. We looked lost apparently, as someone tried to offer us directions. We thought we knew where we were going and declined the generosity.
“Thought” is the key word, as we went the wrong direction proving just how novice we were at taking public transportation. I whipped out my phone and got pointed in the right direction.
While walking, I thought to myself how nice it was to not have to worry about driving unfamiliar streets while having directions barked at me searching for parking.
We finish the short walk to Olvera Street, enjoy an overpriced lunch at what turned out to be a tourist trap, and return to the station to catch the train back to Azusa.
On the way back, I talk to a Jose Iglesias, a welder who works in Pasadena. He takes a bus to Union Station and catches the Gold Line to the South Pasadena exit.
“I’ve already noticed an increase in riders on weekday mornings coming into LA,” Iglesias says. “I’m thankful that I go against the rush.”
As the train headed back toward Azusa, I noticed a man with a push-cart full of bags. After a couple of stations, I asked him what he was doing.
“I go to the Trader Joe’s near the Sierra Madre station. I used to take the [Foothill Transit] 187 to get there, but now I take the train,” said Joe Worthington, a retiree living in Azusa.
“At my age, it’s easier than driving,” he explained.
I got off at the Azusa Downtown Station and walked the short block to my apartment.
Despite the mistakes that came with my first time using the rail, it was easy and convenient. Most importantly to Metro, it appealed to a variety of people in a way that buses can not.