Metro Orange Line

The Metro Orange Line is a dedicated transitway operated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority which opened on October 29, 2005. It travels fourteen miles between Warner Center and the North Hollywood Metro Red Line subway station in the San Fernando Valley. The Orange Line is designed with characteristics similar to an urban light rail system such as a dedicated right-of-way, more broadly dispersed stations approximately one mile apart, platform ticket machines for faster boarding, public art, park-and-ride lots, and other amenities. It is branded as part of LACMTA's light rail system in which each line has its own color.

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Name and branding

Because of its many differences from a standard bus service, the authority has branded the transitway as part of the region's network of light and heavy rail lines. It appears on the Metro Rail System Map. Orange Line vehicles, called Metro Liners, are painted in the silver and gray color scheme of Metro Rail vehicles. Likewise, it is one of the authority's two bus lines that have been marketed with a color designation rather than its line number (901).

The Orange Line is rarely referred to by its line number, but it sometimes appears on documents and destination signage.

The transitway's color name, the Orange Line, refers to the many citrus trees that once blanketed the San Fernando Valley. The name was adopted in January 2004 by the Board of Directors. In the planning stages the transitway was known as the San Fernando Valley East-West Transitway, and later the Metro Rapidway.

History

The majority of the Orange Line is built on part of the former Southern Pacific Railroad Burbank Branch right-of-way. This had passenger service from 1904 to 1920, with stations at several locations including North Hollywood and Van Nuys. It had Pacific Electric Red Car service from North Hollywood to Van Nuys again from 1938 to 1952.

The right of way was purchased by the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (now Metropolitan Transportation Authority) in 1991 along with several other rail road right of ways across the Southland for future use in transportation projects.
The California Legislature passed a law in 1991 introduced by Alan Robbins which prohibited the use of the corridor for any form of rail transit other than a "deep bore subway located at least 25 feet below ground". Later Los Angeles County passed Proposition A in 1998, promoted by supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, which prohibited Metro from using its county sales tax funding to build subways anywhere in the county.

With subway and light rail now off the table the only option left to develop the transit corridor was to build a busway. $44.8 million dollars of Proposition 108 money,(the Passenger Rail and Clean Air Bond Act of 1990) was used for the purchase of the Right of Way. Because this voter approved bond specifically states that this money is to be used for rail infrastructure and operation the California Transportation Commission is entitled to repayment of said funds in current dollars unless the Orange Line is converted to rail within ten years of completion of the busway which would be 2015.

Construction began in September 2002 and the line opened 3 years later, on October 29, 2005. The 14-mile substitute for light rail cost $324 million, much less than light rail would have. During construction the contractor experienced several delays. There was a dead body found tucked in a barrel along the alignment and toxic soil had to be removed. In July 2004, the California Court of Appeal ordered the temporary halt to construction. This was the result of a successful appeal by a citizens' group known as C.O.S.T (Citizens Organized for Smart Transit), which claimed a network of Rapid Lines should have been studied as a possible alternative to the Metro Orange Line. The 30-day shutdown cost $70,000 per day.

After opening, ridership grew rapidly, exceeding predictions, and the Orange Line now operates at capacity during part of the day. An extension of the line to Chatsworth began construction on June 23, 2009.

Environmental impact reports and cost benefits of alternatives

On October 22, Metro issued a Revised Final Environmental Impact Report (RFEIR) that concluded that the Metro Orange Line was superior to each of three Rapid Bus Alternatives studied in the revised report. The RFEIR studied:
  1. Three East-West Rapid Bus Routes Alternative (Sherman Way, Vanowen Street and Victory Boulevard)
  2. Five East-West Rapid Bus Routes Alternative (Sherman Way, Victory Boulevard, Oxnard Street, Burbank Boulevard, and Chandler Boulevard)
  3. Rapid Bus Network Alternative (as submitted by Citizens Organized for Smart Transit, this network of nine Rapid Bus routes would consist of three east-west routes and six north-south routes)
The revised FEIR examined the environmental impacts, costs and benefits of each Rapid Bus alternative and concluded:
  1. The Metro Orange Line would attract substantially more new riders than any Rapid Bus alternatives.
  2. The Metro Orange Line would result in the greatest system-wide travel time savings.
  3. The Metro Orange Line would maintain the most consistent travel time, which would not be compromised over time as the result of increasing traffic congestion.
  4. The Rapid Bus alternatives would all have lower capital costs than the Metro Orange Line because of their minimal construction requirements. However, because the Rapid Bus alternatives would attract fewer new riders than the Metro Orange Line, the Rapid Bus alternatives exhibit poor cost-effectiveness measured on a per-new-rider basis.
  5. The exclusive transitway operation of the Metro Orange Line has distinct land use benefits that would encourage transit-oriented development at/around stations and is consistent with adopted local planning documents.
  6. Operating costs for the Rapid Bus Network Alternative would be up to $10 million more each year than the cost to operate the Metro Orange Line

Operations

Parking lots

Many stations have large, free Park and Ride lots available (see List of Stations for stations with parking and their capacity.) Some lots offer 'paid reserved parking' where spaces are reserved until a certain time of day for commuters displaying a parking permit purchased from LACMTA. After that time, typically 11AM, the spaces become available to all commuters.
The large North Hollywood parking lot fills by early mornings by inward-bound Red Line users and outward-bound Orange Line users. Parking lots at various Orange Line stops along the route often have more spaces available, but at peak transit times, Orange line buses are occasionally unable to collect more passengers at these intermediate stops.

Vehicles


The large buses, which have been dubbed "Metro Liners" by the LACMTA, are twenty feet longer than the standard forty-foot bus, and carry up to 57 passengers, which is about 50% more passengers. The buses are articulated in the center due to this longer length. They have three doors for faster boarding and alighting. Vehicles have no fareboxes because the Metro Orange Line operates on a proof-of-payment system, like the Metro Rail network.

Ridership


The line had 25,428 average daily boardings in October 2008. In September 2008, 27,987 average weekday boardings set an all time record. In many peak periods, coaches depart the North Hollywood station completely full with little standing room for riders wanting to board at points west.

Ridership has continued to increase since the Orange Line's first full month of operation in November 2005. Metro reported 548,111 boardings for June 2006, 652,875 for June 2007, and 679,578 for June 2008. This is an increase of 24% in two years. Metro's newer Gold Line (light rail) saw a 47% increase in boardings, while boardings on Metro's older, established light rail lines had modest increases over the same period. Studies of its use suggest that most riders are long haul and in fact travel east to or travel west from the Red Line subway service. This "extension" effect of Red Line service is more "traffic productive" than the more typical boarding and dropping off of a passenger along the bus line. Creating better service, with higher frequency or longer coaches on the Orange Line, may further stimulate traffic on the subway.

Metro Orange Line Branch Route 902

On December 13, 2009, Metro began service on the Metro Orange Line Branch Route 902. Branch Route 902 travel from Pacoima to North Hollywood Station and vice versa via limited service on Burbank & Lankershim Blvds (having 2 stops: Valley College and Van Nuys Stations) and local service on Van Nuys Blvd. Metro hopes this will alleviate Metro Orange Line congestion from patrons travelling from Van Nuys Station (the second busiest station on the Orange Line) to North Hollywood Station and vice versa during weekday rush hour.

Future expansion

On June 23, 2009 construction began on a four-mile extension from Canoga northward to the Metrolink station in Chatsworth. The LACMTA board approved the plan on September 28, 2006, and it is expected to be completed in 2012 at a cost of $215 million. This continues to follow the Burbank Branch railroad right-of-way.

Another possible extension of the Orange Line proposed by transit advocates, including members of The Transit Coalition, is an extension from North Hollywood station to Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, which would approximately go north on Vineland Avenue and east on Vanowen Street to the airport, to connect with the Metrolink station.

In January 2007, Metro began testing a new, longer 65-foot bus on the Orange Line for a test during the summer as a way of expanding capacity on the line. The agency had to receive a special waiver from Caltrans to operate the bus for testing purposes, since current state law only allows the operation of buses 60 feet or shorter. 65 foot buses have a seating capacity of 66 passengers and can accommodate 100 passengers. Officials have also looked into possibly using 80-foot buses for future expansion.

When purchased in 1991, the MTA originally considered the route for use as either light rail or a Red Line extension, and both of these ideas have been floated repeatedly by critics (see below). A rail route would allow longer vehicles, higher speed limits, and greater frequency.

Conversion


Critics point out the possibility of converting the Orange Line to a light rail system. The conversion would be relatively cheap – former mayor Richard Riordan described it as the "least expensive rail alternative" of the lines under consideration. However, there are significant legal and political challenges. Metro is currently prohibited by law from converting the Orange Line to any form of rail other than a deep-bore subway. Due to a 1998 proposition, Metro also cannot spending the sales tax revenue on deep-bore subways.

Many people have criticized the LACMTA for removing railroad tracks that were already in place for a significant length of the Orange Line's route, tracks which could have been revitalized and used as part of a true light rail system.
There is also concern that the Orange Line will soon reach its engineered capacity. During peak hours, the signaling system is designed to balance the Orange Line buses with vehicle cross traffic. Adding more buses would either require running convoys of two or more buses or shorter green times at cross streets. The other alternative would be purchasing bi-articulated (80 foot long) buses as long as the state law can be changed or another exemption can be obtained from CalTrans to allow them. The maximum capacity of bus rapid transit lines and light rail lines are similar, but North American transit operators have little experience operating high capacity bus rapid transit systems.

Meanwhile, the transitway is wearing out faster than expected. On December 12, 2006, Metro closed the transitway between Tujunga Avenue in North Hollywood and Fulton Avenue in Valley Glen (at the Valley College station) to repave the transitway surface that Metro says is showing signs of wear. The closure was expected to last approximately two weeks to rebuild the busway's crumbling pavement. Buses were to be detoured onto surface streets during the closure. No similar problems have occurred with the track on Metro's rail lines, which cannot be detoured.

From early October to mid December 2008, Metro again repaved portions of the transitway to repair wear on some segments of asphalt and upgrade the pavement to accommodate future traffic growth.

List of stations, from East to West


Stations
Connections
Parking
Date Opened
North Hollywood
Red Line
Metro Local: 152, 154, 156, 183, 224, 353, 363, 656
Metro Liner: 902
951 Spaces
October 29, 2005
Laurel Canyon
Metro Local: 156, 230, 656
n/a
October 29, 2005
Valley College
Metro Local: 156, 167, 656
Metro Liner: 902
LADOT Commuter Express: 549
LADOT DASH: Van Nuys/Studio City
n/a
October 29, 2005
Woodman
Metro Local: 154, 158
n/a
October 29, 2005
Van Nuys
Metro Rapid: 761
Metro Local: 154, 156, 233, 237, 656
Metro Liner: 902
LADOT DASH: Van Nuys/Studio City
City of Santa Clarita Transit: 793, 798
776 Spaces
October 29, 2005
Sepulveda
Metro Rapid: 734
Metro Local: 234
1,205 Spaces
October 29, 2005
Woodley
Metro Local: 164, 237
n/a
October 29, 2005
Balboa
Metro Local: 164, 236, 237
LADOT Commuter Express: 573, 574
270 Spaces
October 29, 2005
Reseda
Metro Rapid: 741
Metro Local: 240
522 Spaces
October 29, 2005
Tampa
Metro Local: 242
n/a
October 29, 2005
Pierce College
Metro Local: 164, 243
373 Spaces
October 29, 2005
De Soto
Metro Local: 164, 244
City of Santa Clarita Transit: 796
n/a
October 29, 2005
Canoga
Metro Local: 164, 165
LADOT DASH: Warner Center
City of Santa Clarita Transit: 796
612 Spaces
December 27, 2006
Warner Center
(off dedicated busway)
Metro Rapid: 750
Metro Local: 150, 161, 164, 245, 645
LADOT DASH: Warner Center
City of Santa Clarita Transit: 791, 796
n/a
October 29, 2005