Commuters balk at transit proposals 

Archie Alingran said he was “probably an unorthodox speaker” and read his prewritten comments that detailed his frustration with recommendations that were “throwing 799 commuters under the bus” in favor of local ridership. Perry Smith/The Signal
Archie Alingran said he was “probably an unorthodox speaker” and read his prewritten comments that detailed his frustration with recommendations that were “throwing 799 commuters under the bus” in favor of local ridership. Perry Smith/The Signal

More than a dozen residents came together Tuesday to express their concerns about what they called the city’s attempt to expand weekday or weekend service at the expense of its commuter line to downtown Los Angeles. 

Some called the morning service on the 799 line to downtown Los Angeles a “lifeline,” expressing safety concerns about their alternatives and upset the city is looking to cut a service they rely on, as the city looks to increase local ridership.  

Santa Clarita Transit officials said they began work with a consultant earlier this year to evaluate its transportation routes, as part of a regular review of public transportation plans. 

City officials said they’re looking at ridership data as well as rider feedback to create more efficiency and potentially expand service. 

Santa Clarita resident Jerome Hernandez heard about the potential changes to his line from a fellow rider, Sheila Washington, who had printed out information about the proposals and handed it out to fellow riders, he said in a phone interview Wednesday.  

Hernandez said after he saw the proposals, his “knee-jerk reaction” was to go to City Hall to share concerns, but he had never been to a meeting before and inadvertently showed up alone to last week’s Planning Commission meeting. The Planning Commission was sympathetic, but recommended he come back the following week. 

Santa Clarita Transit users share their concerns over recent proposals with Adrian Aguilar, the city’s transit manager, after Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Perry Smith/The Signal

Hernandez said when he mentioned his mistake to some of his fellow commuters, most replied the same way: “Everybody goes, ‘Oh, OK, so we’re gonna go to this one,’” he said, referring to the group at Tuesday’s meeting.  

Hernandez said he didn’t reach out to any of the commenters about showing up, but he did recognize them all from either his morning or afternoon commute to his information technology job downtown. 

They gathered behind each other while several made comments Tuesday. He said none of them had heard about the city’s outreach. 

An attorney who commutes to Downtown Los Angeles for work said the commuter bus is the “one of the main things keeping it feasible” for her to do her job and live in the Santa Clarita Valley. 

Another commuter named Archie Alingran said he was “probably an unorthodox speaker” and read his prewritten comments that detailed his frustration with recommendations that were “throwing 799 commuters under the bus” in favor of local ridership. 

The local commuter bus takes riders to their place of business, he said, with “no danger of rushing, running, tripping, breaking bones, just to catch the next connecting line, trying to avoid getting confronted by mentally unstable characters and their excrements — just after thoroughly prepping and cleaning oneself to be in a professional office environment.” 

“Too harsh?” he continued, “that’s the Union Station and connecting lines’ dark reality,” he said, adding that the reality surrounding homelessness downtown is awful, and so is the state of security surrounding public transportation outside the city. 

In response to all the in-person feedback and questions from council members, City Manager Ken Striplin again confirmed Tuesday that cutting the downtown Los Angeles route was an option being discussed.  

However, he also said right now the city was working with its consultants on the information-gathering phase.  

Any changes would likely take place in phases and wouldn’t be implemented until at least the next fiscal year, 2025-26, due to potential budget implications that would need council approval, according to Adrian Aguilar, the city’s transit manager. 

Aguilar also said city data indicated the ridership numbers for that route have been down since the pandemic. 

Hernandez said he regularly rides either the 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. bus and it’s regularly pretty full in both directions. 

“I want everyone to know there have been no final decisions made — there has been no final conclusion to that report,” Striplin said Tuesday to the public commenters. “I can tell you that the metrics that were mentioned — it’s not just based on surveys, it’s based on actual ridership and actual data.” 

He said the city is still going through the public-outreach process, and the plan is not expected to be finished for council review until the end of summer.   

The data presented last month by the city’s transportation consultant indicated about 800 bus commuters and 500 residents had taken part in the survey.  

The No. 1 reason given by residents when asked what would increase local ridership among Santa Clarita Transit users is more weekend service (30%), according to the presentation by the consultants, leading some to believe the city’s strategy was to cut their line to boost local numbers. 

More weekend service was also the second reason (20%) given as to what would make commuters use the service more, with the No. 1 reason (34%) being more frequent weekday service. 

While Santa Clarita Transit also endured a two-month bus strike between MV Transportation and its drivers’ union last year, officials said the strike’s resolution is not related to the transit master plan. 

“When we negotiated the new 2.5-year contract with MV back in December, we allowed MV to subcontract a portion (20% max) of the dial-a-ride service to a subcontractor to reduce costs,” Aguilar wrote in a message shared Wednesday. “This, combined with the adjusted billing rates to the city, were the ‘efficiencies’ MV needed to reach a labor agreement with the union.” 

Aguilar added that another reason for the proposed elimination of the service to downtown was, in part, because Metrolink significantly increased its service levels and now operates hourly service from Santa Clarita to Downtown L.A.  

“Rather than replicate the service provided by Metrolink,” he wrote, “the concept is to take the 799 resources and reallocate them to where this is a greater need. The input received during this phase of our public outreach along with any new data such as current ridership levels will be reviewed by the consultant and used to develop the draft recommendations.” 

The council members largely appeared to understand the commuters’ concerns, with a reaction Hernandez described as “encouraging.” 

While Councilwoman Marsha McLean said she was a “huge advocate for Metrolink,” she also had to express sympathy for riders dealing with what she called “really bad problems” with the system. 

“But when 13 people come, all for one purpose — and thank you so much for coming because that’s what we’re here for, is to hear you — I hope we’re going to give a lot of consideration to the commuter buses,” McLean said, “and make sure that we are able to accommodate people who rely on them to get to work.” 

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