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Riders Are Making a Beeline to Shuttle Buses in Glendale

May 06, 1997|JANE SPILLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Remember the phrase, "Sit back, relax and leave the driving to us"? A lot of people are doing that these days in Glendale, boosting ridership on the city's Beeline shuttle bus to 1.7 million riders last year.

The small, quiet buses that connect neighborhoods to downtown Glendale and Metrolink trains have become very popular with residents.

"I love The Beeline," said Glendale resident Toni LaMotte, who gave up driving when she retired. The Beeline picks her up within a block of her home and takes her to her choice of three grocery stores. Her family would like her to move to Laguna Hills but she doesn't want to. "I have everything I need here," she said.

Glendale has two sizes of buses in its 23-bus fleet: 20 footers that hold 21 people, and 30 footers that accommodate 42. They are small enough to maneuver on narrower residential streets, quieter than larger buses and run on clean-burning propane or compressed natural gas.

About 50% to 60% of Beeline riders have no car or only one vehicle for the family, said Jano Baghdanian, traffic and transportation administrator for the city.

"It's easy to live here," said a young woman with a shopping bag as she waited for the Beeline outside the Glendale Galleria on a Saturday morning. She's out of work and looking for a job in Glendale. The MTA bus costs $1.35, and "that's too much," she said. So, instead, she uses the Beeline, which costs 25 cents.

The city launched the Beeline in 1984 after the passage of Proposition A provided transit funding. The city was in the midst of a building boom during which the population zoomed from about 140,000 to 180,000 in five years.

Some other cities struggling to reduce traffic congestion also are focusing on the need of residents to get around. A growing trend is local transit where you don't have to transfer, said Terri Slimmer, transit manager for Pasadena and chairwoman of the Local Transportation Subcommittee of the MTA.

"We go to smaller buses so that it's easier to run through the neighborhoods," she said. "Quite a few people are complaining about the large buses now."

Pasadena expanded a downtown bus shuttle program to residential neighborhoods last year. Called ARTS, or Area Rapid Transit Service, it has provided free service to 851,000 riders in its first 10 months.

Slimmer's committee is examining better ways to use Prop. A and C funds. Many cities now use Prop. C money for roadway improvement and for rail stations. Glendale is unusual because it spends its transit dollars on systems to get people around, Baghdanian said. The city spends about $2 million a year to operate the Beeline, which brings in $250,000 in revenue. It spends an additional $400,000 on a Dial-a-Ride program for senior citizens and the disabled.

Can public transportation be made so convenient that people who do have cars will leave them at home? Beeline driver Souren Khoaverdi said that a lot of riders leave their cars in the garage to ride the system.

"A person who lives near the line and wants to go the Glendale Galleria is crazy if they drive," one rider said.

In addition to the existing services, Glendale's new Town Center plan envisions a Transit Square--an "on-street" downtown transit hub encompassing several blocks where buses will converge and disperse to different routes. The idea is to reduce car trips by making transit convenient and support a downtown redesigned with a pedestrian promenade and a two-acre park surrounded by open-air dining.

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The only recurring complaint heard about the Beeline is the lament, "I wish it ran on Sundays."

Still, no matter how good the transit, you can never get everybody out of their car.

"I love to drive," Ana Granillo said. "It's my hobby."

She never takes the Beeline, though she says her kids, her mother and her sisters use the buses all the time. Granillo even drives the three blocks it takes her to get to work. "I could drive all day," she said, and in fact she does: the No. 4 line on the Beeline.

Jane Spiller can be reached at jane.spiller@latimes.com

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