For some, the opening of the Expo light rail line means an easier commute to work or school. For others, it’s a chance to ride mass transit to Staples Center or to visit the museums in Exposition Park.
But for Ayanna White, a 31-year-old mother of four, including 3-year-old twin boys, the new rail line could give her something precious -- an extra hour of sleep each morning.
“It means a lot. To you, maybe not, but to me it means the world,” said White, who lives within walking distance of the line’s current western terminus at La Cienega and Jefferson boulevards.
Each morning, White drives her two older children -- ages 11 and 9 -- to school and then returns home to prepare the twins for preschool on her way to work. But if the older kids could catch the 6:47 a.m. train and be at school about 7 a.m., Mom might be able to get some extra sleep.
“They’re excited about it, because they won’t have to wait for Mommy” to take them, White said, adding that she planned to ride the train with her two older children Monday to make sure the route is safe and the timetable plausible.
Nearly two years behind schedule and almost $300 million over budget, the first phase of Los Angeles’ newest rail line opened to White and the rest of the public Saturday with free rides between downtown and the outskirts of Culver City. The first train left the station just before 5 a.m.
Passengers boarded in increasing numbers by the hour and took pictures of the route on digital cameras and iPads. There was music, food and other vendors at special celebrations at many of the stops, including 7th Street/Metro Center and Expo/Crenshaw.
“One, two, three, go Expo!” cheered county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at a ribbon-cutting ceremony later Saturday morning. “This is a long time coming,” said Ridley-Thomas, who is also a member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board.
The rail line runs 7.9 miles from downtown to the station at La Cienega and Jefferson in about 30 minutes. Officials said a 0.7-mile extension to Culver City will open sometime this summer.
In four years, when officials plan to open the second phase of the line, passengers will be able to ride all the way to Colorado Avenue and 4th Street in Santa Monica, within walking distance of the beach.
Rides on the Expo Line are free all weekend, but Ridley-Thomas warned that come Monday, “you’re on your own, the fares kick in.” One-way tickets are $1.50, day passes are $5.
While there was plenty of celebration Saturday, one group staged a rally during the opening over what it sees as a threat to affordable housing. Some activists worry that low-income residents will be pushed out by new mixed-use developments along the route that could drive up rents.
“We’re raising awareness around affordable housings as it relates to transit issues,” said Tafari Bayne of TRUST South LA. “We saw a pattern at previous train stations across the country about rent around newly built light-rail stations.”
Some of those who rode the train Saturday said that although they lived by the new line, it was impractical for them to use it to commute to work.
Firefighter Jonathan Theodore, who lives in Culver City and works in Lincoln Heights, said that it takes him only about 15 minutes to drive to the fire station early in the morning and that if he took trains he would have to transfer at least twice.
Nevertheless, he and his wife, Marisol, wanted to ride the line and “see how it can benefit us, benefit our pocket, make things greener.” They pondered using the line in the future to go to the California Science Center or to transfer to the Red Line to get to Universal Studios.
But jazz musician LeRoy Downs, who lives near Culver City and works east of downtown, said he hopes he can use the line frequently to get to his job as a researcher.
It takes him about an hour to drive to work now, and even though it may take just as long on the train and subsequent shuttles that include transfers, “at least that’s my time of peace,” he said.
“If it all works smooth,” Downs said, “the car’s going to be sitting.”