Metro: Transit officials list regional connections and rider safety as goals for the next year. Emily Sawicki

With an extensive list of new projects both under consideration and underway, LA Metro leadership shared a rosy outlook for the future of the transit agency during its annual State of the Agency address at Los Angeles Union Station on Thursday morning, July 7. 

While Metro Board Director Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker went so far as to declare LA Metro “the best public transportation system on the globe,” other speakers at the event were a little more grounded while discussing current issues, expansion, improvements and what lies ahead.

New LA Metro Board Chair Ara Najarian, who commenced his one-year tenure at the helm of the agency during the event on Thursday, emphasized regional connectivity and rider safety among key priorities for 2022-23. 

“This is a recognition that mobility doesn’t end at our county borders, and we all must think and act regionally,” Najarian said during his remarks, pointing to both the Crenshaw/LAX line (to be known as the K Line) as well as the three new downtown LA stations that will soon complete the “regional connector” tying together the Gold (“L”) Line from Santa Monica to East LA and from Azusa to Long Beach.

“The regional connector is truly a missing link in our rail system,” Najarian, a longtime Glendale city council member and current chair of the Metrolink regional light rail system, added.

The Thursday morning event came just days after LA Metro announced it would be rolling out a new Transit Ambassador program, bringing aboard 300 new employees (at the cost of $120 million) beginning this fall, to provide non-law enforcement resources for riders.

Outgoing Board Chair Hilda Solis, LA County First District supervisor, called it “one of the most significant programs Metro has ever launched,” during her statement on Thursday.

“Transit Ambassadors are unarmed uniformed workers that will help riders with directions, alert police of a threat, point people to homeless services and keep an eye on vulnerable people, and check that seats are clean and passengers are safe,” Solis described. “Transit Ambassadors will be our eyes and our ears on the system and will help build a sense of community amongst our riders. We hope that Transit Ambassadors will make our riders’ lives a little bit easier.”

During her comments, LA Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins announced a goal of bringing ridership back up to post-pandemic levels within the next 12 months. According to the CEO, LA Metro’s current daily ridership is about 789,000, which would need to hit 1.2 million riders each weekday to reach pre-pandemic levels. 

Wiggins said the agency would work to reach that goal by opening more than 10 miles of new rail service, continue restoring bus service that had been slashed due to the pandemic, and offering additional support for Metro employees. She also said the system would be adding more new staff resources beyond the 300 Transit Ambassadors.

“In addition to these ambassadors, Metro will double the number of homeless and mental health outreach workers on our system, improve lighting on our system, deploy additional unarmed security officers and continue to deploy over half of our security and law enforcement staff at night to help keep our customers and employees safe,” Wiggins said.

An influx of cash from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan has served to bolster the LA Metro budget, but that funding only runs through the end of the year. On Tuesday, July 12, LA County Supervisors have an item on their weekly agenda to formally request Los Angeles be given priority for federal transit funding in the lead-up to the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

emily@smdp.com