El Monte Station: Past, Present and Future

El Monte StationThe old El Monte Bus Station, which used to resonate with the roar of buses, is now eerily quiet.

Instead, the buses have moved to a temporary bus terminal in one of the station’s former parking lots. There are two bus islands; one for MTA buses, the other for Foothill. On days when the weather is too hot, too cold, rainy, etc. the distance between the two islands seems reminiscent of the “great gulf” of Luke 16:26. A policeman stationed in a cruiser barks out “Use the crosswalk!” to anyone daring to jaywalk between the two islands.

And that’s the way it will be for the next two years, while Metro builds a new improved terminal.

The El Monte station opened in 1973, as part of the El Monte Busway HOV lane project. The station, which served (then-)RTD and Greyhound buses, quickly became the busiest bus station west of Chicago. There were eight bays around the circular station; buses were assigned to a bay “on the fly” by RTD clerks using a PA system. There was also a RTD ticket office where passengers could buy tickets and passes, and pick up copies of bus schedules.

The station was very popular with commuters, who would park their cars in one of the parking lots, then hop on a bus for an eleven-mile, 20-minute ride to downtown Los Angeles. The parking lots had to be expanded several times in order to meet demand.

For the carless, the station served as probably the most important transfer point in the San Gabriel Valley. In addition to the express services to downtown, local and express buses fanned out eastward to West Covina and Pomona, northward to Pasadena and Sierra Madre, and southward to Whittier and La Puente. In recent years an express bus (#577) started operating to Long Beach.

But as time went on, and transit agency budgets got tighter, the condition of the station got worse and worse. Bathrooms became unspeakably dirty and used for other than their intended purposes. Originally, there were plans to put a restaurant in the building, but a set of snack machines—one particular machine offering cigarettes right next to the potato chips and candy bars—was the only food service ever provided. RTD once attempted to provide video screens with bus departures; these were vandalized and removed. Eventually, MTA, facing a budget shortfall, closed the ticket office in the station, leaving people with no way to get information or buy passes. In 2003, Foothill Transit reopened the ticket office, as one of its “Transit Stores.” Foothill also provided funds to spruce up the station a little bit.

Although the bus station did a great job of handling about 1,200 buses per day, it had its limitations. One time, a RTD double decker bus hit the overhanging roof near the station platform. From then on, double deckers were only allowed to use Berth #6, where the roof was a safe distance away from the curb. When Foothill Transit started its Silver Streak express service in 2007, the curb had to be modified to accommodate their 60-foot articulated buses.

In 2006 MTA added six new bus bays in the parking lot just west of the main station. Most of the buses initially serving the new stops were local lines using smaller buses (Foothill #269, etc.), making the new facility reminiscent of the “Kids’ Table” at Thanksgiving dinner. But eventually other routes used it as well. At any event, it was a bit of a walk between the new stops and the main terminal, so connections between routes became more complicated.

The new, improved, El Monte Bus Station is scheduled to open sometime in 2012. It promises additional bus capacity, airport bus service, bicycle lockers, enhanced security, and (we all can hope), clean restrooms.

Until then, don’t forget to “Use The Crosswalk!”

Sources:

Hebert, Ray. “RTD Shuffles Deck.” Los Angeles Times, Feb 28, 1986

Scauzillo, Steve. “From the Editor’s Desk: Foothill Transit Heard My Call” San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Dec 29, 2001

Rubin, Karen. “Bus Station Blues.” Pasadena Star News, Jan 22, 2002

“Scauzillo, Steve. “El Monte bus station’s last days” , San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Sept 16, 2010. http://www.sgvtribune.com/opinions/ci_16095237

http://www.metro.net/projects/elmonte/

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