Already a Blot on the Blue Line

The first leg of Los Angeles' sparkling new mass-transit system won't start operating until next summer, but already it is plagued by vandalism. Local transit officials say that they will have the problem under control once the system opens, but promises are not enough.

The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission has spent more than $750 million building a trolley line from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles, and this so-called Blue Line will be the first leg of a regional mass-transit system that will eventually link up with the Metro Rail subway. As the first leg of the system, the trolley's success or failure will set the tone for the entire multibillion dollar project. It is not getting an auspicious start.

Stations under construction along the 22-mile route are already being defaced by hooligans with spray-paint cans, while thieves are stripping construction sites. Nobody who knows Los Angeles should be surprised. The trolley route runs through some poor neighborhoods swarming with youth gangs. So the transportation commission showed an incredible lack of foresight in not anticipating the problem and doing more to nip it in the bud. The commission recently contracted with the Sheriff's Department for additional patrols around the trolley line, but that is only a temporary solution and was done only after the problems were already out of hand.

The hard fact of the matter is that nobody with a modicum of sense will ride the trolley if they don't feel safe on it, so security must be a priority both in building and operating it. Hiring a few more officers for the undermanned Southern California Rapid Transit District police force or, worse, hiring private security guards, will not be enough. New York City recently spent $6 billion to clean up its subways, and it has 4,000 transit police to keep them safe. If transit officials here want people to ride their new system, they'd better be prepared to spend that kind of money on security, too. And the time to start is now.

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