With Cancellation of Light Rail Line to LAX, Leaders Should Consider Other Transit Alternatives

Last week the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) announced that the Crenshaw Line extension to LAX airport would not be built due to cost and safety concerns. LAX officials are worried that a rail extension would require extensive tunneling underneath the airport that would be both cost prohibitive and potentially dangerous for airport users. The lack of a direct connection between the airport and the county’s transit system has been a sore point for many Angelenos over the years.

There are other official alternatives to a rail extension into LAX. The most frequently discussed is construction of a circulator train similar to the AirTrain in San Francisco’s airport. AirTrain cost $430 million to build, considerably less than the estimated $3 billion it would cost to build a rail extension, but still not pocket change. While the train would help airport circulation, transportation officials should also consider several other promising low-cost solutions.

One such possibility is reforming the FlyAway bus service. The FlyAway buses offer riders trips to and from LAX for $7-10, depending on the stop. Unlike a proposed circulator train which requires substantial capital costs, the FlyAway makes a small operating profit and would only need a modest investment to be improved.

The FlyAway buses could benefit by being expanded to other parts of the Los Angeles metropolitan region. Transit on the FlyAway buses could be made faster if they were given access to the newly built Express lanes.

Even small administrative changes such as expanding payment options using the transit access pass (TAP), the region’s transit fare system, would help improve the FlyAway service. FlyAway already accepts the EZ Transit Pass, a monthly plan on the TAP. Expanding payment options for all TAP card users would encourage casual riders to opt for FlyAway buses. Expanding the availability of buses with on-board Wi-Fi service and ensuring all FlyAway lines have on-line ticketing would increase ridership as well.

FlyAway provides limited remote check-in on some of its routes. This allows passengers to have their bags directly transported to their flights and get their boarding pass before departing for the airport. Expanding this service to the other FlyAway lines would make the service an attractive method of getting to and from the airport.

Another alternative solution is reforming the taxicab industry in Los Angeles. Reforming the taxicab industry would not require any taxpayer funds. Currently the industry is heavily regulated and the number of taxicabs cannot meet the on-street demand. This means that the small number of taxicabs on the road have been able to charge absurd fares of $2.70 a mile, not including countless surcharges. An illegal taxicab industry has flourished to meet the excess demand but few Angelenos, let alone visitors, wish to rely on the black market to provide for their transportation.

Allowing greater competition in the taxi industry by removing restrictions on the number of taxicabs operating would see a simultaneous decrease in fare prices and an increase in ridership. This would not only make travel to and from LAX easier, but would improve Los Angeles travel in general.

Ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber have gradually entered the market, but the Los Angeles City Council may ban them in the near future and LAX officials currently prohibit their use in the airport. (Traditional taxicabs dislike ridesharing services because they provide unwanted competition.) Los Angeles would benefit by encouraging the expansion of ridesharing services instead of hindering them.

Angelenos have been waiting for decades for a light rail route to LAX but it is doubtful such a route will ever exist due to its high cost and safety concerns. Things are not entirely bleak though! Alternative solutions, such as reforming the FlyAway service, curtailing the taxi industry’s monopoly or allowing the expansion of ridesharing services exist to improve LA’s transit problems.