Spurred by high gas prices and tourism, monthly ridership on the Red Line subway posted its biggest month-over-month gain since it began service in 1993, according to figures released Friday by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Average weekday boardings on the 17.4-mile line, which runs from North Hollywood through Hollywood and Mid-City to Union Station, hit 150,025 in June, jumping by 15,350, or about 11%, from May, agency officials said.
Those numbers follow an 8% increase in Red Line passenger counts from April to May. At the same time, combined ridership for the region's subway and two light rail lines hit a record 244,325.
"If people discover that they can save time and money, they are going to use public transportation," said MTA spokesman Marc Littman. "And with high gas prices, it gave them the impetus to give it a try."
MTA officials attribute the increase to new riders, including James Alvarez and Michael Hurley, strangers who shared a bench at a Red Line station Friday afternoon. Both men said they drove to work until about six months ago.
Hurley, 37, of Hollywood, said he got fed up with the $70 per week it took to fill up his big Lincoln sedan, not to mention the problems he had parking it at his Wilshire Boulevard video production company offices.
"Now I spend $42 on a monthly pass," said Hurley, who grew up with the subway in his native Brooklyn, N.Y.
But Alvarez, 38, of North Hollywood, has always lived in Southern California and never regularly used public transportation, until his '82 Camaro went into the shop for carburetor trouble.
"I had to take the subway for a couple of days, and now I ride it every day," said Alvarez, who works in telecommunications sales in Hollywood. "It's faster, more convenient and I save a lot in gas and parking."
Alvarez said his 30-minute commute has been turned into a cool, 10-minute underground jaunt, a situation sweetened by his company's recent pledge to pay the full price of his monthly pass.
The MTA has posted advertisements on its buses since May, urging commuters to try Metro once a week.
"Gas prices too high? Travel smart. Take Metro. Try it once a week and save," the ads read.
Longtime commuter Jack Jessup of Valley Village said he has seen more and more riders on the subway in recent months. He has even had to stand some nights during his trip home from downtown. The real hindrance to even greater ridership, he said, is the lack of parking spaces at the end of the line in North Hollywood.
"If I come after 8:15 on Monday morning, I can't get a parking spot," he said. "They could probably get a thousand more passengers just by building a parking structure."
The MTA is grappling with parking problems at both the North Hollywood and Universal City stations, despite a combined total of more than 1,500 parking places.
Efforts are underway to relieve pressure by adding bike racks and urging commuters to use public transportation closer to their homes or be dropped off at the station, Littman said. The agency plans to add 391 parking spaces near the Universal City station by December.
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Average weekday boardings on the 17.4-mile line that runs from North Hollywood though Hollywood and Mid-City to Union Station increased about 12% in June over the previous month. A look at weekday and weekend boardings:
Source: Metropolitan Transportation Authority