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Southern California Transit Advocates is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion, development and improvement of public transportation in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Pacific Coast Highway Study Tour

-- Kymberleigh Richards

This is the story of a well-intentioned study tour gone awry.

Our goal was to ride from the south Orange County line to the Ventura County line (almost, anyway) using the transit services on Pacific Coast Highway. And while we did cover much of that route ... well ...

I should have known we were doomed when we met at Union Station to catch the Amtrak Surfliner 772, departing at 9:40. I arrived in plenty of time, having ridden the Red Line in from the Valley, and Woody Rosner arrived not long afterwards, followed by Frank Schroder, who had come in via Metrolink. But our fearless leader, Dana, who should have been waiting for us all, was conspicuously absent.

Dana turned up, limping, around 9:00, informing us that due to a household accident, he had spent most of the night before in the emergency room having his leg tended to; he was still sporting bandages and was in no shape to take the trip with us (in fact, he told us he was taking a cab back home after giving me the extra copies of the itinerary). So the three of us got on Amtrak and Dana went home to recuperate.

When we got to the train, we had difficulty getting to the upper level of the cafe car (where we had advised everyone joining en route to find us) because Amtrak had the lower level of the car closed for restocking. So we got on one car back, went upstairs in that car, then got to the cafe car on that level. This also slightly discomfited Frank, who had hoped for a cup of hot coffee before we left the station; he did get one when they finally opened the cafe level right before we entered Orange County.

Kirk Schneider, Mark Strickert, and Tina Erickson joined us at Fullerton. We left there on time at 10:12, but it was to be the only timepoint Amtrak kept to on our trip south. We were delayed twice en route, and arrived at San Clemente at 11:25 (scheduled at 11:08). This caused us to miss the OCTA 191 we had intended to take to PCH ... it had left at 11:17.

We were rather pleasantly surprised that the OCTA stop is only steps from the Amtrak platform (Dana had thought we had about a block to walk when planning the itinerary). After consulting Mark's copy of the Bus Book, we decided to catch the southbound 191 at 11:39 (El Dorado cutaway 8426), which took us to the San Diego County line and the start point of OCTA 1.

While waiting to depart at 12:15 (an hour behind schedule, on New Flyer low floor 5212) we encountered another glitch. Dana had asked me to keep him posted on our progress via cell phone so that he could relay information to Ken Ruben, who intended to join us en route, in the vicinity of LAX. However, I discovered that my cell phone had gone dead; guess who forgot to charge the battery overnight?

We did discover that our original schedule would have caused an extremely tight connection had we attempted a transfer from the 191 at El Camino Real & Calle de los Molinos; the cutaway was literally right in front of us, when we had expected a six-minute connection window! Presuming the timing had been the same an hour earlier, we might have been out of luck.

While continuing north, Frank and I started checking the schedules for Long Beach Transit 94 and MTA 232 to see if we could get back on schedule by eliminating the segment on Torrance Transit. We determined that we would be able to catch the same 232 run at Long Beach Transit Mall that we would have connected to from Torrance 7 on our original schedule. We didn't have Torrance timetables with us, but remembered that their Saturday service didn't run on a clock headway, so the modification was decided upon.

We did note that ridership on OCTA 1 is good, even on a Saturday. We picked up nine passengers (as is customary, any ridership counts exclude ourselves) and we had a bicycle rider board early on who stayed all the way to the end of the route at Cal State Long Beach. We did get to see the strange dogleg loop this line makes to serve the K-Mart Plaza; the bus literally does a u-turn in an intersection!

After losing a large number of passengers at Laguna Ave., the bus proceeded to the Laguna Bus Station (utilizing a very narrow street with diagonal parking on one side to get there). Armando Avalos joined us there, having ridden MTA 460, OCTA 205, and OCTA 91 to connect with our originally scheduled OCTA 1. Not finding us on board, he got off at the station and hoped for us to turn up eventually. He groaned at our tale thus far, and also confirmed the conclusions of Frank and myself about the Torrance schedules (as you know, Armando is famous for carrying every timetable known to mankind in his backpack).

Continuing on (with a new operator ... Laguna Bus Station is the relief point for OCTA 1), we lost all but four passengers at Newport Transportation Center. We suffered another bad omen when Mark and Kirk left us at Promenade Point, having decided not to continue the entire trip. They headed for Balboa Island, and we continued toward Long Beach.

Another comment on the ridership of this line: At PCH & Superior, a group of boogie board-toting young men were disappointed that because the bike rack was already full, two of them were unable to board with their bikes. Unfortunately, they would have an hour wait for the next bus (as we knew all too well).

We arrived at Cal State Long Beach several minutes early, and as we crossed the street to the Long Beach Transit stop, a LBT 91 (RTS 9209) was approaching. This put us eight minutes ahead of schedule (or 52 minutes behind schedule, depending on your point of view) since we now were in front of the LBT 94 we had planned on catching. Thankfully, our OCTA daypasses served as transfers to Long Beach Transit.

This still didn't allow us to catch up to the erratic Torrance Transit schedule, so we got off ahead of the Transit Mall, at 7th St. & Long Beach Blvd., allowing us to have lunch at the McDonalds conveniently located at the same corner as the MTA 232 stop. (Up until that point, we had no idea when we were going to reclaim our lunch break!)

We caught the 232 (Orion 11023) with no problem shortly after it left the Transit Mall at 4:05, and it quickly became apparent that this line has ridership that should disqualify it from being a contract line. We had standees by the time we reached Pacific, although we lost about a third of the passenger total at Avalon. But the schedule isn't designed around that level of ridership, and Armando's checking en route determined that we were never on time, at one point being eight minutes down.

The 232 has an operator change in the one-way loop in El Segundo, at Mariposa/Nash Green Line Station. From there, we made good time to LAX Transit Center, and almost caught an earlier Santa Monica 3 than planned (except Frank needed a bathroom break and was away from the bus bays when it came). So we watched several southbound runs come through, finally boarding a northbound run (New Flyer 3820) at 5:30. We noted as we made the turn from Sepulveda onto Manchester that one of the buses we saw southbound was already at that stop, with the shortline "4th/Wilshire" headsign; apparently that run deadheads from Aviation Station to that timepoint and shadows the run we were on. (I know not why.)

We arrived at 4th & Broadway at 6:05, and took another food break (I opted only for some ice cream, and quickly became glad of the decision, as Frank commented that he shouldn't have had another meal, not being able to finish it). By that time, we were weary of the ordeal, and no one had the desire to do a back-and-forth on MTA 434 to and from Trancas.

Instead, we walked down to Ocean Ave. and caught Metro Rapid 720. I left at Westwood to catch MTA 561 back into the Valley (since the next run made a good connection with MTA 163); Frank, Armando and Tina made their connections to home from downtown.

Ken Ruben never did get information on where to join us, and Lionel Jones told me when I saw him a week later that he had tried to find us but apparently the removal of the Torrance segment made it impossible for him to figure out where we might be.

But it was interesting nonetheless.