L.A. Residents Divided on Subway Completion


By a slim majority, Los Angeles residents are opposed to construction of the Metro Rail subway and believe it is unrealistic to expect the rail system will ever reach those who most need public transportation, a Los Angeles Times poll has found.

Just over half of the 1,143 adults interviewed in the city from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 said they would rather see money now earmarked for completion of the $5.9-billion project diverted to putting more buses on the street.

The poll revealed that Los Angeles residents are divided about the subway by race, sex, age, income and geography. Latinos are the subway’s strongest supporters, while blacks and whites are mostly opposed to the rail project.

When asked simply if they favor or oppose the subway, 51% of city residents said they were opposed, 45% said they favor it and the remaining 4% either did not know or said they weren’t aware of the project.


By a nearly identical margin, 50% said they believe it is unrealistic to expect that the subway system will ever reach most of the people who need to use public transportation, while 44% said it is realistic.

Susan Pinkus, acting director of the Times Poll, said the survey, which has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, shows there is ambivalence among city residents toward subway construction.

“People are wondering is it feasible in a city like Los Angeles to have an underground subway,” Pinkus said. “There isn’t strong support either way.”

Residents of South Los Angeles were the most likely to say they favor the subway’s completion. Central Los Angeles residents initially said they were opposed, but switched sides when given a brief description of the project’s pros and cons. Westside residents were narrowly split, and residents of the San Fernando Valley were opposed to the subway in either case.


By solid margins, the survey found that men like subway trains and women don’t. Young adults were most inclined to favor the subway, while senior citizens were opposed.

Said Crenshaw district resident Ruby Walker, a poll respondent who agreed to a follow-up interview: “I’m 73 years old, and as Mrs. Walker, I have no intentions of traveling underground in Los Angeles. I don’t feel it would be safe. I don’t feel our ground is firm enough.”

But Ruben Castillo, 19, a plumber in Sun Valley, strongly favors building the subway because he does not want to see the job left unfinished. “There’s already been a great deal of money put in it. You started it, might as well finish it,” he said. “If people use it, then it would be a good idea to extend it.”

The continuation of subway construction drew narrow support only after interviewers offered arguments for and against the project. When told that subway supporters believe it will serve many city residents in a fast and clean way and alleviate some traffic congestion despite concerns about the cost, 52% said they favored the project and 43% said they opposed it.

Pinkus said the more direct question was the most telling, however, because it revealed how residents feel without presenting the pros and cons.

Instead of allocating funds for completion of the subway, 51% of city residents said the money should be used to put more buses on the street; 43% disagreed. Blacks, Latinos and, to a lesser extent, whites all agreed on diverting money from completing the subway project to provide more buses.

Said Walker: “Forget the subway and put more buses on. You wait 30 minutes for a bus. That’s stupid!”

Fifty-nine percent of the women questioned agreed with her response favoring buses. But 53% of the men disagreed that officials should shift subway funds to buses.


Support for the subway is higher in parts of the city more dependent on mass transit. After hearing the arguments, residents of South Los Angeles strongly backed building the subway by a 61% to 34% margin. Central L.A. residents favored the subway 56% to 38%. Westside residents were divided, 48% to 46%. But in the San Fernando Valley, residents opposed the subway 53% to 43%.

The poll found that scarcely more than one in four residents has ever ridden the subway, which now runs 5.3 miles from Union Station to Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue. The survey shows 37% of Latinos, 28% of blacks and 20% of white residents have taken the subway. Men and young adults are far more likely to have taken the subway than women and those age 30 and up.

A majority of those polled said they are closely following news about the subway project, which has suffered major construction mishaps downtown, beneath Hollywood Boulevard and in the Santa Monica Mountains. The project has also been plagued by cost overruns that have sent the price tag soaring about $2 billion over original estimates.

The subway is scheduled to open its doors in Hollywood for downtown-bound commuters in 1998, and in North Hollywood in 2000. Budget problems acknowledged by federal authorities Thursday will delay a subway extension to the Eastside until at least 2004 and to the Mid-City area until 2009.

Asked about the Times poll results, Mayor Richard Riordan said Thursday that his views are similar to those of people surveyed. “I do believe we have the money to complete the North Hollywood line,” the mayor said. “But beyond that the subway should not be on our radar screen.”

Riordan said “bus service fills 95% of our public transportation needs and long-term, it’s not going to be any less than 90%.”

His challenger, state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) opposed completion of the subway line to the Valley. “The subway is a fiscal tapeworm that is eating up . . . precious money that could be used for light rail and buses,” Hayden said. He said the poll results reflect a serious shift in public opinion away from the subway project.

Disappointment over the MTA’s ability to deliver on promises has fueled distress about the agency. When asked about the agency’s performance, 43% of those polled said they disapproved, while only 38% said they approved. Another 19% did not know their view on the performance of the $3-billion-a-year agency that is building and operating the county’s subway, light rail and bus system.


Asked if they would use the subway regularly if it were located nearby, respondents were virtually divided--47% said they would and 49% said they would not.

Sixty-one percent of the Latinos questioned said they would take the subway often. But in a dramatic contrast, 62% of white residents surveyed said they would not ride the subway regularly. Only 35% of white residents would. Blacks were evenly divided at 49%.

The gender gap was also huge, with 61% of the men saying they would use the Red Line regularly. The same percentage of women said they would not ride the subway.

“I honestly believe that a subway tends to deteriorate a city’s safety level,” said South-Central resident Clara Castillo, 22. “I know as a single female, who has to travel, I would feel less safe riding an underground subway than an aboveground bus.”

She also said she avoids using public transit because she considers it time-consuming and unreliable. And like many Angelenos, she adores her car, a new Mustang.

“I put in six years in public transportation. I did my time,” she said. “Now, I’m contributing to the gridlock problem. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But I have a selfish love for my own car.”

A majority of Central and South Los Angeles residents said they would ride the Red Line regularly, but Valley and Westside residents said they would not.

Fifty-eight percent of those earning between $20,000 and $40,000 a year said they would use the subway regularly. They were the only income group where a majority would use the subway often.

Young people like the subway. Almost two-thirds of those 18 to 29 said they would take the train. But they were the only group of adults in which a majority of those interviewed said they would ride the rails.

* SUBWAY FUNDING REQUEST: Clinton asked for less money than in past years. B1

* CUSTOMER SERVICE: MTA officials advised on how to satisfy riders. B2


Transit Poll

Half of the L.A. residents surveyed think it is unrealistic that a subway will reach the people who need it most, and a narrow majority would rather spend the money on more buses.

Is it realistic to think that a subway will reach most people who need public transportation?


Realistic Unrealistic Don’t know All 44% 50% 6% Whites 35% 63% 2% Blacks 51% 42% 7% Latinos 48% 43% 9% Westside 35% 61% 4% Valley 41% 58% 1% Central 50% 44% 6% South 45% 41% 14%



Agree or disagree: Instead of spending more to complete the subway, use the money to put more buses on the streets.


Agree Disagree Don’t know All 51% 43% 6% Whites 47% 45% 8% Blacks 56% 37% 7% Latinos 53% 45% 2% Westside 48% 44% 8% Valley 50% 44% 6% Central 58% 35% 7% South 44% 51% 5%



Subway Poll

Just over half of L.A. residents surveyed said they do not favor building a subway.

* Do you favor or oppose building a subway in Los Angeles?


Favor Oppose Don’t Know All 45% 51% 4% Whites 41% 55% 4% Blacks 38% 59% 3% Latinos 50% 47% 3% Westside 47% 49% 4% Valley 41% 55% 4% Central 43% 51% 6% South 52% 45% 3%


Source: Los Angeles Times Poll


How the Poll Was Conducted

The Times Poll contacted 1,143 adults in the city of Los Angeles by telephone Jan. 29 through Feb. 2. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges citywide. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and unlisted numbers could be contacted. The sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and area of city. The margin of sampling error for all adults is plus or minus 3 percentage points; for certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors, such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.

Times Poll data can also be accessed on the World Wide Web at