Southern California Rapid Transit District (1964-1993)

The Southern California Rapid Transit District (also referred to as RTD or SCRTD), was the successor to the original Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority after that agency virtually went bankrupt.

It was created by an act of the California State Legislature in 1964, and took over all of the bus service operated by MTA.

Creation

SCRTD was created on August 22, 1964 to serve the urbanized Southern California region, including Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, Orange County, and Riverside County.

SCRTD replaced the major predecessor public agency, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority, and ten different private bus companies in the Southern California region.

SCRTD was placed in charge of creating a heavy rail public transportation system for Southern California, and for planning for bus improvements.

In 1973, SCRTD shed parts of its operations outside of Los Angeles County.  They were taken over by other agencies including what was then the new Orange County Transit District (now Orange County Transit Authority), although it continued to operate inter-county service to Riverside and San Bernardino until the formation of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA).

LACMTA continues to operate a line to Disneyland in Orange County and one route that serves Thousand Oaks in Ventura County.

In 1974, the El Monte Busway was opened — a bus-only lane later converted to a high-occupancy vehicle lane.

Downtown Terminal

During the 1970s until late in the 1980s, SCRTD operated a main downtown terminal in the basement of the Greyhound bus terminal at 6th and Los Angeles Streets.

Because of the positioning of mirrors in the single entrance/exit ramp, buses entered the ramp and drove in on the left hand side of the ramp (standard American practice is to drive on the driver’s right side of the road or on a ramp), where at the bottom, a display lamp would indicate which of the 15 berths the bus was to terminate at.

Most routes used the same berth except when there was construction. When the bus was to leave, it would exit out the same ramp, also driving out on the driver’s left-hand side.

The terminal also had a rule, indicated on all signs leading to the bus berths, that cash payments were not accepted on buses in the terminal; a person had to either have a monthly pass or purchase tickets on the ground floor (one floor above the bus area).

Tickets were simply standard paper coupons with amounts of 10 cents to $1.00, and could be purchased at any time, not merely when one was taking a bus.

Tickets were accepted on all SCRTD routes at all times, and could also be purchased at various locations around the region, although SCRTD buses accepted cash everywhere except when departing from the downtown terminal.

SCRTD eventually discontinued use of the Greyhound bus terminal in the late 1980s, and resumed having connections for buses on the various streets in the downtown area.

A similar practice occurred in Long Beach for the small number of routes that left its downtown area.

SCRTD operated a small office on Ocean Boulevard, required tickets to be purchased, either there or in advance, and prohibited acceptance of cash payment for buses leaving the stop in front of its Long Beach downtown terminal.

When the City of Long Beach introduced the consolidated transit mall, SCRTD discontinued the use of its own terminal, and allowed persons to pay cash on buses leaving the downtown Long Beach Transit Mall.

Animosity

SCRTD was essentially the “800 pound gorilla” as far as transportation in Southern California.

It operated all service in the city of Los Angeles, and operated some service to neighboring cities.

Many of the local bus agencies operating in the county (all of them either owned by a municipality or operated on its behalf) either had a “live and let live” or an out-and-out hostile relationship with SCRTD.

One of the rather serious rivalries was between Long Beach Transit and RTD. SCRTD had wanted to take over, to some extent, all or part of the operation of Long Beach Transit.

However, it was considered that SCRTD would probably stick to covering the major areas (“cream skimming”) and might let service languish in the less profitable areas, as witness some of the problems that some of the poorer areas in Los Angeles (such as Watts) had had in getting reasonable bus service.

As a result of the animosity, a kind of pettiness grew between the two agencies. One example of which is, of all the bus agencies which operated in Los Angeles County: Long Beach, Norwalk, Cerritos, City of Santa Monica, Culver City Municipal Transit, Orange County Transit, and SCRTD, all of these agencies would allow any of the other’s employees to deadhead free, if in uniform (or had identification issued by their agency), except that SCRTD and Long Beach would not allow each other’s drivers to ride free on their buses.

Restrictions and Expansion

Two features of transportation in Southern California were the local restriction, which prohibited any public carrier such as Greyhound or Continental Trailways from selling one way or round-trip bus tickets between any two points within the same area that SCRTD operated.

Also, because of the dispute between SCRTD and Long Beach, SCRTD was prohibited from picking up passengers going southbound anywhere within the City of Long Beach south of Willow Street on Long Beach Boulevard, and was not supposed to discharge any northbound passengers anywhere on Long Beach Boulevard south of Willow Street, e.g. buses going southbound were to be “discharge only” south of Willow, and were to be “embark only” going northbound if south of Willow Street.

Over the years, SCRTD made a number of strategic purchases and trades to extend service.

The original bus line operating between Long Beach and Santa Monica was operated by Greyhound.

SCRTD purchased the franchise from Greyhound, broke it in half, kept the portion running from Long Beach to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), then took the portion from Los Angeles International Airport to Santa Monica and sold or traded it to the City of Santa Monica Municipal Bus line in exchange for the right to run buses from Downtown Los Angeles into Santa Monica.

As a result, persons traveling from Long Beach to Santa Monica would take an SCRTD bus from Long Beach to LAX, then transfer at the airport to a Santa Monica Municipal bus.

Transfers

Another different practice involved the issuance of “interagency transfers” where a rider was switching between one bus line (bus company) and another.

SCRTD issued one transfer, which was good locally on its own system for all of its bus routes and functioned as an interagency transfer for credit toward the fare on a different bus line.

All other bus lines issued an “interagency transfer” different from their own local transfers.

It was believed that the reason for this was that SCRTD actually printed the interagency transfers and sold them to all the other bus lines.

In the early 1980s, Long Beach Transit would also break from this system, and would have ticket printers installed on every bus to issue interagency transfers (drivers would, in case the printer failed, keep a book of the standard interagency transfer for just such emergencies.)

For a six-month period during the middle 1970s, SCRTD, and possibly other transit agencies in the county, received a massive subsidy, cutting prices for bus trips from 60¢ to $1.25, depending on the route, to 25¢ on weekdays and Saturday, and 10¢ on Sunday, for all trips anywhere within Los Angeles County.

Trips outside the county remained the regular price.

During this period all transit agencies in the county discontinued issuing transfers. When the subsidy ended, prices returned to the original amounts, and RTD resumed issuing transfers.

Renumbering

Bus routes in the county originally had various identifications.

The route from Long Beach to Los Angeles, which operated most of the route as an express service along the 7 Freeway, was known as the 36F (for “Freeway Flyer”).

Other routes had various numbers that at times seemed somewhat random, as they were added to the system when RTD had absorbed earlier systems.

For example, routes 107, 108, 109, and 110 were in the Pasadena area, as they had been originally part of Pasadena City Lines, while routes 106 and 111 were elsewhere in RTD’s system.

In the mid-1970s, RTD began to group their routes by region.

For example, routes in the 400s (such as 423, 434, and 496) served primarily the San Gabriel Valley, while those in the 800s (801 or 829, for example) served the southern Los Angeles County area.

In addition to renumbering, most of the routes were modified into a more logical grid system, following major thoroughfares and moving route termini to near other routes to allow for efficient transfers.

In theory, most residences were no more than a quarter-mile away from any bus route.

In 1983, RTD would institute a new, massive renumbering system, while keeping the earlier grid pattern. The new numbering system is as follows:

  • Routes 1-99 — Buses which ran locally into downtown Los Angeles
  • 100-199 — Buses which ran primarily east and west but not into downtown
  • 200-299 — Buses which ran primarily north and south but not into downtown
  • 300-399 — Buses operating limited service
  • 400-499 — Buses which ran express into downtown Los Angeles
  • 500-599 — Express buses not running to downtown
  • 600-699 — Special Service

As a result of the renumbering, the 36F became the 456.

The local bus running from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles became the 60.

The bus from Long Beach to LAX changed from 66 to 232.

The local route from Pasadena to Pomona, numbered in the 1970s as route 440, became route 187, while a parallel route (numbered 434) that went from City of Hope in Duarte west through Monrovia, Arcadia, Pasadena (to Jet Propulsion Laboratory), La Canada Flintridge, then to downtown Glendale, was renumbered 177.
Probably due to the success SCRTD had in clarifying where its routes went by the renumbering, Long Beach Transit would also change its numbering system as well.

Foothill Transit would also keep the line numbers that it inherited from SCRTD, and later from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Los Angeles County Transportation Commission

The LACTC was formed in 1976 resulting from the requirement that all counties in the state form local transportation commissions.

Its main objective was to be the guardian of all transportation funding, both transit and highway, for Los Angeles County.

The creation of the LACTC required RTD to share some of its power.

The governing structure of the LACTC favored suburban communities instead of central city interests.

Metro Rail

In 1980 voters passed Proposition A, a half-cent sales tax for a regional transit system. The measure succeeded after proposals in 1968 and 1974 had failed.

The map that accompanied the initiative showed ten transit corridors with the Wilshire subway line the cornerstone” of the system, according to former SCRTD planning director Gary Spivak.

County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn was one of the key supporters of the proposition, declaring, “I’m going to put the trains back.”

Hahn ensured that his South Los Angeles district received the first dollars for a light-rail line on the old Long Beach Red Car route from Los Angeles to Long Beach, after seeing the success of the San Diego Trolley. (This would become the Blue Line.)

In 1985, local residents formed a coalition of homeowner groups opposing the project. On September 11, 1985, Congressman Waxman added an amendment to that year’s Federal Transportation Budget removing all subway construction funds, citing safety concerns after an unrelated methane explosion in the Fairfax District.

By 1986, thanks in part to last minute lobbying by SCRTD president Nick Patsaouras, compromise was reached between Waxman and Representative Julian Dixon.

The deal allowed funding to go through as long as it did not pass through the Wilshire corridor.

With a Wilshire corridor alignment prohibited, the Red Line was reprioritized and routed north up Vermont, the next highest projected ridership corridor, to Hollywood.

Because of the change in alignment, there is now a 1-mile (1.6 km) stub on Wilshire between Vermont and Western.

On October 27, 2005 an independent group of experts stated that there was no significant problem with methane explosion.

Congressman Waxman then proposed legislation to lift the federal ban on subway construction in the Wilshire Corridor, which passed.

By 2007, this lifting of the ban, along with several other factors such as traffic congestion, lessening racial prejudice, increasingly progressive and environmental attitudes, have rekindled interest in what has come to be known as the Purple Line.

However, a separate measure passed locally in Los Angeles has prohibited use of Metro’s local sales tax revenue on “new subway construction”.

This has deterred Metro from building underground, although a small underground section of the Gold Line Eastside Extension is being built with other sources of money.

In the following years, several light-rail and subway lines were opened:

  • In 1990, RTD opened the Blue Line, a 22 m (35 km) line that is the region’s first modern light rail line.
  • In 1993, the first segment (known as MOS-1 for Minimal Operable Segment 1) of the Red Line opened running from Union Station to MacArthur Park. 3 years later, the Red Line was extended to Wilshire/Western in Koreatown. Until late 2006 when the Wilshire branch of the Red Line was re-designated as the Purple Line, the Red Line was Los Angeles’s only heavy rail subway line and Metro’s only mass transit line aligned entirely within Los Angeles’s city limits.

SCRTD pioneered experimenting with alternate fuel buses in what the Transit Coalition derisively called “the fuel of the month club.”

At the start of Metro’s existence, there were buses running on ethanol, methanol, regular diesel, low-sulfur (clean) diesel, and CNG. Battery-operated buses and trolleybuses were proposed but never operated in regular service.

Merger

The successor agency to RTD is the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“LACMTA”). LACMTA is the product of the merger of RTD and the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC).

RTD and LACTC officially merged on April 1, 1993.

Initially, the agency retained the locations of the predecessor agencies in Downtown Los Angeles, but later moved to the 25-story Gateway Plaza Building adjacent to historic Union Station in 1995.