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Valley's Orange Line a Hit Out the Gate

An estimated 30,000 riders are drawn to a free trial run of the 14-mile busway, enough for MTA officials to add 13 buses for the test.

October 30, 2005|Caitlin Liu and Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writers

It was supposed to be a free trial run of the new Orange Line busway in the San Fernando Valley. But on Saturday, commuters were already using it to get to and from work, just as transit officials had hoped.

There were so many people drawn by curiosity that 13 buses were quickly added to the 28 that were taking riders 14 miles across the Valley floor. Officials estimated that 30,000 people boarded Saturday.

For those who didn't have the day off, the $350-million line promised a quicker and cheaper way to and from work.

"For me, it's better. It's faster," said Teoro Hernandez, a North Hollywood construction worker on his way to Warner Center in Woodland Hills, where he planned to catch another bus to get to his job in Thousand Oaks. "It's good that they put in this rapid service for us."

LaToya Brown, 23, a lab technician just coming off her night shift, said she believed the Orange Line -- with a stop across the street from her job -- would be easier than the two regular buses she was accustomed to taking.

Noel Leiva, in his 30s, said he would definitely start taking the Orange Line from his home in Lake Balboa to his job as a technology consultant for a post-production company in Hollywood.

"Traffic here is so bad, it takes 15 to 20 minutes just to get to the freeway entrance," Leiva said after disembarking from a bus at the Balboa Boulevard station. "I'm going to ride it regularly."

Leiva said his only complaint was he thought the buses would have traffic signal priority, and he was disappointed to learn the lights don't automatically turn green on approach. "Overall, it's pretty good," he said.

Rami Yahalom was so excited that he was in line by 5:45 a.m. He ran his hand over a gleaming metal bar on the first bus made available to the public.

"It's so posh," said his wife, Sylvia Woolhouse, as the bus pulled away from Warner Center. "This will be better than taking a car, beating traffic. There will be no traffic on this line!"

Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hope the line between North Hollywood and Woodland Hills will get Valley residents used to mass transit and encourage the development of more mixed-use projects along the route.

To help keep ridership up after the free weekend, the MTA will continue a marketing campaign, including billboards and newspaper advertisements, MTA spokesman Dave Sotero said.

"We're hoping people who experienced it today will want to take it again," he said. "I think people were pleasantly surprised by the route. We got a good reaction."

Although the buses were crowded all day, no problems or glitches in the system arose, Sotero said.

All that most passengers could think about was the fun of riding on the sparkling new silver coaches.

As they whizzed past apartment buildings, strip malls, office parks and green fields, riders admired the interior, which is designed to resemble a rail car, and puzzled over the accordion-like middle that allows the 60-foot-long vehicle to turn.

"It's like two buses connected together," said Mark Hain, a Woodland Hills sign-language interpreter, who said he might use the line to commute to his part-time job at Pierce College.

Daphne Gardner, 48, a bookkeeper, said the Orange Line "feels like a Disneyland tram -- the monorail."

"The bus ride -- look how smooth it is!" said Gardner, who lives in Los Angeles and took her two daughters along for a family ride. "It's so cool. It's so fast and it smells like new!"

Richard Radmacher, 56, an engineer who lives half a block away from the Orange Line's stop at Valley College, said he is thinking of taking it to his job downtown.

"That's pretty convenient," said the Valley Glen resident. "Then I can do other things [during my commute], like reading."

Ty Arendano, 38, an environmental safety manager for an insurance company in Glendale, said he plans to take the Orange Line from his home in Van Nuys to the Red Line subway next year when his office moves downtown.

"With traffic, gas and parking, this will be cheaper, in some ways," Arendano said. "For $3, you can't beat that." The MTA charges $3 a day for unlimited rides on all bus and rail lines.

But Junior Portillo, 27, a construction worker, said he found the Orange Line disappointing. Before the busway opened, the resident of South Los Angeles took the Blue Line and two buses to his job in Van Nuys.

But because the MTA cut some bus service to help pay for the Orange Line, Portillo now must transfer to an additional bus -- for a total of three, including the Orange Line -- to get to work.

"I don't think I'll ride it again," Portillo said. "I'll find another bus."

Mark Johnson, 62, a ball bearing salesman who lives in North Hollywood, pulled out an Orange Line schedule and looked at his watch.

"It's about five minutes late right now," Johnson told his friend, Gus Novak.

Novak, 79, a retired aircraft mechanic, said that he wanted to try the Orange Line just for fun but that he doesn't plan to use it much.

"I'm a sucker for the car," Novak said, adding, "If it gets a couple of thousand cars off streets, it's worthwhile."

Jack Murphy, a retired 77-year-old meteorologist, said he is worried about safety at the route's many intersections, which some motorists find confusing.

"To me, it's almost as dangerous as a railroad," Murphy said.

Free bus rides on the Orange Line will continue today from 5 a.m. to midnight.

The MTA will begin charging fares Monday, when the Orange Line begins its regular schedule of 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week.

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