Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (1951-1964)

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (sometimes referred to as LAMTA or the “first” MTA) was a public agency formed in 1951.

Its original mandate was to perform a feasibility study for a monorail line which would have connected Long Beach with the Panorama City district in the San Fernando Valley via Downtown Los Angeles within one mile of the Los Angeles riverbed.

LAMTA was empowered to formulate plans and policy for a publicly owned and operated mass rapid transit system that would replace the crumbling infrastructure of privately owned and operated systems with amendments to the original legislation in 1954 and 1957.

The Governor appointed the LAMTA’s seven-member Board of Directors in consultation with local officials.

In 1957, the legislature gave the LAMTA the authority to purchase and operate existing privately-owned bus lines with capital provided by the sale of revenue bonds.

The agency acquired the Los Angeles Transit Lines (successor to Los Angeles Railway and Los Angeles Motor Bus companies), Metropolitan Coach Lines (successor to Pacific Electric Railway and other independent bus companies), and Asbury Rapid Transit System to create the first publicly-owned and publicly-governed transit system in Los Angeles, effective March 3, 1958.

The LAMTA Act of 1957 stated:

“It is hereby declared to be the policy of the State of California to develop mass rapid transit systems in the various metropolitan areas within the State for the benefit of the people.

A necessity exists within Los Angeles County for such a system.

Because of the numerous separate municipal corporations and unincorporated populated areas in the metropolitan area, only a specially created authority can operate effectively.

Because of the unique problem presented in Los Angeles County and the facts and circumstances related to the establishment of a mass rapid transit system therein, the adoption of a special act and the creation of a special authority is required.”

Prior to the creation of a public agency to operate transit services in Los Angeles, the California Public Utilities Commission approved all fare and routes modifications, line by line.

The new LAMTA now had the power to approve those changes at the local level.

During its tenure, the LAMTA presented three major mass rapid transit system proposals for Los Angeles County, including the now infamous monorail plans.

The LAMTA’s final plan was knows as the “Backbone Route.”

It consisted of elevated rail from El Monte to downtown, continuing on as subway from downtown to Century City along Wilshire Boulevard.

The agency even held two groundbreaking ceremonies in 1962:  On January 12th at 1st and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, and on January 23th at Wilshire Boulevard and Linden Drive in Beverly Hills.

 Governor Pat Brown and the media attended the January 12th ceremony, touting the project as vitally important.

Unfortunately, without adequate powers of its own and without state and federal funding partners (they hadn’t been formed yet), the Backbone Route project went nowhere.

In 1964, the State Legislature recognized that they had granted limited authority to the LAMTA to solve the transit problems of the Southern California area.

As the LAMTA was currently constituted, it would be unable to deliver the needed comprehensive mass rapid transit system.

It did not have the power to levy taxes for any purpose whatsoever, its Board did not wield sufficient political influence to build broad public support, and it did not have the right to acquire real property by eminent domain.

While it could issue revenue bonds, it did not have sufficient revenue sources to implement a large-scale system with broad local support.

This agency was also created to develop a monorail system along the Los Angeles River.

In 1958, The Authority was allocated state funds to purchase the Metropolitan Coach Lines and the Los Angeles Transit Lines for $33.3 million, thereby marking the transition from private to public ownership and operation of transportation in Los Angeles.

The Long Beach line was discontinued under this agency on April 8, 1961.

The rest of the street cars on the five remaining lines were discontinued by March 31, 1963.

Miscellaneous bus companies acquired by LAMTA and their beginning service dates:

  • Crosstown Suburban Bus Lines (South Los Angeles County, 1961)
  • Foster Transportation Co (Alhambra, 1962)
  • Riverside City Lines (1963)
  • Glendale City Lines (1962)

The agency’s powers were expanded in 1954, authorizing it to study and propose an extensive regional transit system.

In 1957, another expansion of the agency’s powers authorized it to operate transit lines, and it subsequently purchased the bus and streetcar lines then being operated by Metropolitan Coach Lines, which had taken over passenger service of the Pacific Electric Railway in 1951, as well as the bus and streetcar lines of the Los Angeles Transit Lines, successor to the Los Angeles Railway.

The MTA began operating the lines on March 3, 1958, and continued to do so until the agency was reorganized and relaunched as the Southern California Rapid Transit District in September 1964.

During the MTA’s tenure, the last remaining rail transit lines in Los Angeles were abandoned and replaced with bus service, the last former Pacific Electric line in 1961, and the last former Los Angeles Railway lines in 1963.

Rail Line Parent Company Abandoned
Bellflower Pacific Electric 1958
Long Beach Pacific Electric 1961
San Pedro via Dominguez Pacific Electric 1958
Watts Local Pacific Electric 1961
J Line Los Angeles Railway 1963
P Line Los Angeles Railway 1963
S Line Los Angeles Railway 1963
V Line Los Angeles Railway 1963