On December 12, 2009 I took a ride on the LADOT Commuter Express #534. This is a “reverse commute” line that leaves Downtown LA in the morning for Century City and returns to LA in the afternoon. It’s also unique as it runs entirely along surface streets (primarily Olympic Blvd); no freeway travel involved.
This line has an interesting history. The Northridge Earthquake of 1994 damaged the Santa Monica Freeway to o the point of impassibility. While the freeway was being rebuilt, MTA ran a limited stop emergency route, #634, between Downtown LA, Century City and Santa Monica. Later that year, LADOT took over the route, cutting it back to end in Westwood. From time to time, I’ve caught eastbound trips from Westwood, and they tend to fill up in Century City. I wondered how these buses perform on westbound trips out of LA.
I was rushing to catch the 6:53 Metrolink out of Rancho; this would be the last train that would connect with a #534, due to leave Union Station around 8:10. Just as I reached the ticket machine, I heard the Metrolink horn. I had to play the machine like a piano to get a ticket in time, but I was successful.
The Metrolink train was the one I used to ride all the time; It filled up steadily until, at Covina, nearly every seat was taken. Once at Union Station, I made my way to the #534 stop at Patsouras Plaza. #534’s (and LADOT Metrolink Shuttles) are actually interlined with other Commuter Express routes serving Downtown. For example, a #430, or #438 will change its headsign and become a #534.
There were long lines at Pat Plaza, mostly for the LADOT #D Dash, the Bunker Hill Metrolink Shuttle, or one of a couple of shuttles that USC runs to its main campus and its health science campus. On the other hand, only seven other people boarded the #534. One more boarded near Arco Plaza, then we headed out toward Century City via Olympic Boulevard.
No one got on at Western Bl (and there was a parked car blocking the stop anyway). Other than that, the ride along Olympic was uneventful. Traffic got a bit heavy in Beverly Hills. Most passengers got off in Century City, one deboarded at Santa Monica and Beverly Glen, and the last two or three rode to the end of the line in Westwood.
Later that afternoon, around 2 pm, I was trying to go to Santa Monica. I was waiting for the Rapid #720 at Wilshire/Westwood. Traffic must have been bad on Wilshire, because I waited almost 20 minutes for a #720. After seeing nothing but #20’s and shortline #720’s (both going no further west), I ran across Wilshire and caught the first Big Blue Bus #1 I saw. (Metrolink passes are not valid, so I had to cough up $1 for fare). #1, already full with UCLA students, picked up even more people along Westwood and Santa Monica Bl; once in Santa Monica proper, things began to thin out. I left the bus near the Santa Monica Library.
Time to go home. It was around 6 pm, and I was waiting for a Big Blue #10 to take me back Downtown, and to the Metrolink. Hopefully, I would get there in time to catch the 8 pm San Bernardino Line train. The #10’s were running behind schedule, and one didn’t show up until 6:30. Again, this bus filled up rather quickly, ending up with a wheelchair passenger, a bike, and (I think) one or two standees. The freeway traffic wasn’t exactly free flowing, but it wasn’t a total parking lot either. The driver used some of the “auxiliary lanes” near the La Brea and La Cienega interchanges to speed things up a bit. Once in downtown, things were going well, but at 7th/Hope, I switched to the Metro Red Line to avoid any unforeseen traffic problems along Figueroa, etc. I got to Union Station about 7:30, with plenty of time to get a snack and board my train.