It used to be a lot easier to get from Los Angeles to Riverside or San Bernardino than it is now.
RTD #496, and its predecessor #60 connected Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley with the Inland Empire. Just hop on the bus, and within a couple of hours, you’d be some sixty miles away. No transferring, no trouble.
Story of a long route
The history of these routes can be traced all the way back to the interurban “stage” buses of the early 1910s. Truston Clark ran a bus line from Los Angeles to San Bernardino and Redlands via Ontario, while the A.R.G. Bus Co. operated over a similar route to Riverside. These bus lines competed with the Pacific Electric route from Los Angeles to San Bernardino, although the rail line operated along a more northerly route.
In the early 1920s, O.R. Fuller’s Motor Transit took over the Clark and A.R.G. bus lines and operated them from a depot at Los Angeles and Sixth Streets, downtown. These buses used Valley Boulevard between Los Angeles and Pomona, making good time along the relatively lightly trafficked road.
Between 1929 and 1933, a series of mergers and acquisitions left Motor Transit under the control of Pacific Electric. In a cost saving move, PE began to replace certain passenger rail lines with bus service. As the Los Angeles-San Bernardino rail line was cut back in the 1940s, a new bus route running along Foothill Boulevard went into service. When PE numbered its bus lines, this complex of routes received several numbers before eventually being designated #60.
Taking it to the freeway
As the San Gabriel Valley developed, travel along Valley Boulevard became increasingly slower. However, the San Bernardino Freeway had opened in the early 1960s. In 1964, the #60 was rerouted to use the freeway. A new local route, #53, served Valley Bl. between Los Angeles and Pomona.
#60 ran express to Pomona; then it split into three routes. #60E continued to Riverside before veering north to San Bernardino via Colton. #60F was the express version of #60E; it spent more time on the freeway and made only limited stops. #60G left Pomona for Claremont, and then continued through the foothill communities of Upland, Fontana and Rialto to San Bernardino.
This service pattern operated until 1973. That year, the bus company, now known as the Southern California Rapid Transit District (RTD) asked the surrounding counties to help pay for the bus service. San Bernardino County refused, so RTD cut back the #60G to Upland. San Bernardino County replaced the Upland-San Bernardino portion of #60G with a new service, named “East Valley Transit.” (When Omnitrans came into being in 1976, this route became its #14.)
The birth of the #496
Development continued throughout the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, and traffic increased to the point that RTD needed to reconfigure service again. In April 1976, RTD replaced the venerable #60 with two new lines. #480 would operate along the San Bernardino Freeway to Pomona, providing local stops along its route. #496 would operate along the freeway to Riverside and San Bernardino. Interestingly, while #496 would make stops in Los Angeles County cities (El Monte, West Covina, Pomona), it would only carry passengers destined to either Sa
n Bernardino or Riverside County. Los Angeles County-only passengers were usually told in no uncertain terms to take the #480, although an occasional sympathetic driver on a late night #496 might carry a passenger to Pomona Park-Ride after the last of the commuter buses had left Downtown LA for the evening.
For the next fourteen years, #496 made its rounds between Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, with only a few minor changes made to the route (most notably, service in downtown Pomona was dropped, and buses only stopped at the Pomona Park-Ride lot).
The Inland Empire Connection
As the end of the 1980s approached, transit agencies started to consider contracting with private bus companies to provide service at a lower cost. (The private companies saved cost by paying drivers less than the public operators did). In Southern California, “Foothill Transit” and “Commuter Express,” both of which contracted with private operators, had both begun service in late 1987. These new bus operations attracted riders who had formerly shunned RTD buses.
In 1990, the transit agencies of Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino County decided to turn the #496 over to a private contractor. By August 20 of that year, the red-and-orange striped RTD buses had been replaced with the large blue coaches of the “Inland Empire Connection” (IEC), a joint effort of the three transit commissions. Since the operating cost of the service was about half that of RTD, there was enough money for a second route. This new route, dubbed #110, operated directly along the freeway between Montclair and San Bernardino; passengers destined to/from San Bernardino no longer had to swing through Riverside along the way. Jointly, IEC #110 and #496 provided service every 30 minutes between Los Angeles and Montclair. As with the RTD-operated #496, neither bus carried passengers entirely within Los Angeles County.
The beginning of the end
About three years later, the Los Angeles County transit agency, now known as the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), began to rethink their involvement with IEC. Financial difficulties were causing the MTA to consider cutting service and raising fares. Also the Metrolink commuter rail system now carried commuters from San Bernardino and Riverside, causing IEC ridership to drop. By October 1993, MTA reduced funding for the IEC by half. This meant that the #110 and #496 would operate only every other trip west of Montclair to Los Angeles. In June 1994, MTA had cut all IEC funding and buses traveled only as far as Montclair. Passengers continuing further westward were forced to transfer to MTA, Foothill Transit, or Metrolink.
Next, Riverside County decided to pull support for the IEC, in favor of its local services.
In July 1995, the Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) started a new route, #49, over #496’s Mission Blvd route segment. between Riverside and Country Village (a large retirement home just north of the Pomona Freeway). #496 continued to run to Riverside, but during peak hours only via the freeway. Midday riders had to transfer between the #496 and #49 at Country Village. Occasionally the #496 would miss its connection with the last #49 leaving Country Village, stranding passengers.
Omnitrans also decided to focus its resources on local transit. In January 1997, Omnitrans dropped funding for #496, and started a new route, #71 between Montclair and Country Village. (The bus agency decided to keep the #110, which operated entirely in San Bernardino County.) #71 was a local, surface-street route, taking longer than the freeway-express #496. That meant that not only did passengers still have to transfer, but their trips took longer.
Since #71 also ran weekdays only, the Riverside County Transportation Commission funded weekend-only service on #496 during 1997. As RTA seemed uncommitted to reinstating the #496, RCTC considered contracting with Foothill Transit to provide the service. But no agreement with Foothill could be reached. Meanwhile, all the cutbacks and other changes to #496 had caused ridership to plummet.
As the last #496 completed its trip in January 1998, RCTC chairman Bob Buster, contemplating the slow dismantling of what had been a productive bus route, remarked, “Los Angeles is like a modern-day Roman Empire, and Rome takes care of itself first and the provinces last.”
Express service between Riverside and San Bernardino (IEC #100) still operated, and passengers from Montclair could still use IEC #110 to San Bernardino, then transfer to #100 for the trip to Downtown Riverside. But this was still a longer trip than the former #496. #110 continued to operate, with a few stop changes (Ontario Airport was dropped, while new stops at Ontario Mills Mall, Kaiser Hospital Fontana and the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center were added), until July 2007. At that point, Omnitrans cut the Montclair-San Bernardino portion, leaving only the segment between Riverside and San Bernardino as the last remnant of what had been an extensive complex of bus routes operating between Los Angeles and the Inland Empire for over ninety years.
The return of 496…well, sort of
On September 2, 2003, RTA implemented four new long-distance express bus routes. These services, dubbed “Commuterlink,” were marketed toward business commuters. Commuterlink #204 operates between Riverside and Montclair on a route very similar to that of the old #496. In 2008, RTA extended #204 to the UC Riverside campus in an attempt to increase ridership.
Nowadays, if you can use #204, it is possible to get to Riverside easily. But #204 is strictly a peak-hour, weekday only service. Another alternative is Metrolink, but its reverse-commute trains are nowhere near as frequent as the old #110 and #496. Also, because the Riverside and (particularly) the San Bernardino stations are some distance from the downtown areas, prepare to walk or take a local bus to get to your destination.
Or, piece together local bus trips on Omnitrans and RTA, and hope the connections work out well…
Bail, Eli, From Railway to Freeway: Pacific Electric and the Motor Coach.
“Expedited Service to Come on Lines 60 and 63 June 14.” MTA Emblem, May 1964, p. 9
Transit Advocate, July 1996, p. 3 (http://www.socata.net/advocate9607.pdf)
Pund, Ernest E. “Bus Route 496 rolls to LA for last time.” Riverside Press-Enterprise, January 29, 1998.
Welsh, John. “New buses to serve longer routes.” Riverside Press-Enterprise, June 26, 2003.
Western Transit (newsletter of the Western Transit Society), as appropriate
Bus schedules, maps, agency agendas, etc. as appropriate
Comments and corrections welcomed. Some details was necessarily left out or glossed over.