LOS ANGELES / Urban Issues / USC Annenberg School Projects

[USC] Seamless public transportation to LAX on its way

Public transportation to LAX is a challenge. | Flickr/Margalit Francus

At present, public transportation to LAX is a challenge to many. | Flickr/Margalit Francus

Travelers could one day arrive at Los Angeles International Airport via a seamless Metro Rail and people-mover connection, ending decades of inefficient public transportation to one of the world’s busiest transit hubs, Los Angeles World Airports told councilmembers on Wednesday.

LAX submitted a report outlining several proposals budgeted at $200 million to the Transportation and Trade, Commerce and Tourism committees, whose eight members unanimously greenlighted the project’s next steps.

It “baffles people” that trains don’t connect to the airport, said Councilman Mike Bonin, describing the problem as a “sign of dysfunction.”

The proposals strive to be user-friendly and cost-effective, said airport planner Christopher Koontz. They depend on the people-mover, a rail system like the Disneyland monorail that would carry passengers from a station on the forthcoming Crenshaw Metro line straight to departure terminals. Still up in the air is just what path those people-movers would take.

“We’re trying to thread a needle” through the terminals, said project manager Lisa Trifiletti.

Airport officials are also uncertain about the Crenshaw station’s exact location. The Crenshaw line, slated for completion in 2019, will link the existing Expo and Green lines.

Committee members prodded airport representatives to consider alternate ideas, such as light rail instead of a people-mover, and a different transfer location, to make a trip to or from the airport as smooth as possible while keeping construction costs down.

They also recommended that LAX study other major airports.

“At Heathrow, you take the Tube and get to central London in 17 minutes,” Councilman Tom LaBonge said.

In L.A., public transportation to the airport is a tedious, multi-step process.

The closest Metro stop, on the Green Line, is a three-mile shuttle ride from Tom Bradley International Terminal — and has been nicknamed by Angelenos “the train to nowhere.”

The Culver City Bus, Santa Monica Big Blue Bus and Torrance Transit lines all stop at LAX’s outskirts.

The airport’s FlyAway bus takes travelers directly to departure terminals from four locations — Van Nuys, Downtown, Westwood, and Mid-City — with tickets costing between $6 and $10.

Meanwhile, taxi fares from Santa Monica to LAX typically costs about $25. From Downtown, a ride can cost more than $50.

Despite the countless details that need to be worked out, Bonin ended the meeting on a positive note, calling the plans “visionary.”

“It’s more than win-win, it’s win-win-win,” he said.

He said the project could help boost economic growth and customer satisfaction for travelers coming to the city and using LAX.

“This is the best thing I’ve heard LAWA come up with in 20 years,” he said.

Bonin may wait nearly half as long to see results. The airport will spend a year consulting with Metro about the development plans, said Koontz. A two to three year environmental review will follow. Then, LAX needs to devise a construction plan that won’t interrupt daily operations.

“I could not responsibly tell you how long,” Koontz told the committee. He said he hopes the project will be completed before the 2024 Olympics. City and county leaders have expressed an interest in Los Angeles bidding to host the games.

Submitted for professor Jack Leonard’s “Text” class at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, fall 2013.

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