Martin Perez has two reasons to celebrate today. First, it's his 50th birthday, and, second, he plans to join the crowd of passengers expected to ride the new Gold Line Eastside extension for free on its first day of service.
"My friend already called me, 'Hey, let's check it out to go downtown,' " said Perez, an Eastside resident who works for a demolition company.
Los Angeles County's latest light-rail line, the $898-million Gold Line Eastside extension opens to the public today after being formally dedicated Saturday morning.
Beginning Monday, it will cost $1.25 to ride the six-mile extension from downtown L.A. through Boyle Heights and into East Los Angeles. An all-day pass is $5.
On Saturday, elected and transportation officials gave speeches lauding the new train service.
"When I was on this train a few minutes ago, going through downtown and Boyle Heights, and here in East L.A., all the memories came back -- the memories of your boyhood, the memories as you go into manhood," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who grew up in Boyle Heights. "I'll tell you something, I couldn't be prouder of this community today."
Mary Louise Sevilla, 67, a resident of East L.A., worried about the safety of the Gold Line as she pointed to children playing flag football at David Wark Griffith Middle School, across the street from the new East L.A. Civic Center station.
"Hopefully, the kids understand that they have to look both ways before they cross," she said. "You know how kids are."
Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina said she is concerned about the lack of gates and fencing to keep pedestrians off the rails and the lack of Spanish-language safety signs. Yet she said she was "elated" by the opening.
Frank Villalobos, the lead architect for the project and president of Barrio Planners Inc., said it will take time for drivers and the public to get used to the new train service.
Transportation officials expect 13,000 boardings a day by the end of the first year. Villalobos said he thinks ridership will surpass that because of the amount of jobs downtown, the current economic conditions, the cost of fuel and because people are trying to be more environmentally friendly.