As the Metro bus lumbered through South Los Angeles carrying passengers headed to work or school, Jesus Navarro could barely keep his eyes open after finishing a graveyard shift in Westwood.
The slender 30-year-old security guard with a long, black metal flashlight poking out of his backpack wasn’t worried about nodding off. Line 305, which zigzags diagonally for about 20 miles across Los Angeles, carries him home, and he doesn’t have to change a seat.
“It’s a blessing that you have one bus … that can take you from point A to point B,” Navarro said. “I’ll take this until they kick us all out.”
That might be sooner than Navarro thinks.
County transportation officials have been trying to eliminate or reduce service on the 305 and other bus lines for more than a year. They have already tackled some lines and last week approved a report that could clear a federal government hurdle allowing them to institute further cuts.
Officials cite a number of reasons for the reductions: the pending opening of the east-west Expo Line light-rail service, low ridership, budget concerns and routes that duplicate others. They say the changes will go into effect about the time the Expo Line opens, which is expected this spring.
Overall, the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been looking to eliminate nine bus lines and scale back 11 others through cuts in weekend service and other reductions. A total of 305,000 service hours — about 4% of all bus hours — would probably be chopped at a savings of $23 million a year, officials said.
Critics say the reductions will fall hardest on minorities and low-income riders who depend on lines like the 305 as a vital link between South L.A. and the job-rich Westside.
One thing Metro could have done is shift funds from rail, highway and other county transportation efforts to preserve service for some of the system’s neediest riders, said Sunyoung Yang, lead organizer for the Bus Riders Union.
“Instead, they chose to do it on the back of immigrant domestic workers, working-class students and unemployed South L.A. residents,” Yang said.
The 305 snakes northwest from the Rosa Parks Station in Willowbrook through South Los Angeles in a repeating pattern of west and north jogs until it reaches West Hollywood. The bus then turns into Beverly Hills and loops into Westwood, a tour lasting about an hour and a half.
“You get three socio-economic levels,” said driver Terry Bell, 49, who was taking a break at the southern end of the line before taking commuters north.
“I call this the highway from the heights to the ‘hood,” he said.
The passengers are a diverse bunch: Westside house cleaners, patients heading to UCLA or Cedars-Sinai hospitals; students going to grade school and college.
“If they cut this line, that means those going all the way to UCLA, instead of riding one bus, they’ll have to ride three,” said Paul Beaman, another driver working the route last week.
Initial plans to cut the 305 and some other lines hit a series of roadblocks late last year, including delays in the Expo Line opening. Federal transit officials were also critical of Metro for failing to adequately consider the cost, convenience and effect that service reductions and other decisions would have on riders.
The subsequent Metro analysis approved by the board found that there were negative impacts on some riders in part because service cuts would mean commuters who previously took nonstop trips would have to take multiple buses and pay more for transfers.
Nevertheless, the agency said the reductions were justified because of financial needs, and other budget-balancing measures could be worse.
In addition, ridership on the 305 and some other lines is about half the bus system’s average and alternate service via L.A.'s transit grid is available nearby, officials said. They also said they added service in some areas and reversed the decision to cut a batch of other lines after a series of public meetings.
For instance, they argue that riders traveling from Watts/Willowbrook to UCLA can use the north-south Blue Line rail service into downtown and transfer to the east-west 720 bus line on Wilshire Boulevard.
Julio Chavez, 22, prefers cutting that urban corner on the 305 line.
The Florence-Firestone resident has been riding the 305 for four years to get to the Westside, where he works in food service and takes extension courses at UCLA.
Rents are too high to live in Westwood, he said. With the 305 line, he walks about three blocks to the stop near his home and steps off on campus.
When the Expo Line opens and the service is eliminated, he’ll have to find another bus, wait for connecting routes and spend additional time and money getting where he needs to go.
“It would be a big mistake to take this bus,” Chavez said while riding the line Friday. “It just zigzags all the way across from the east to the west.”