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April 13, 2016 12:00 AM

What we learned about new Gold Line train riders might surprise you

More than 70 percent of Gold Line extension riders are new to Metro and about 66 percent of those same riders said they no longer drive to work, according to a survey of passengers who boarded the train at the six stations within the 11.5-mile light-rail addition.

The east Pasadena to Azusa/Glendora extension, which opened March 5, is carrying 4,000 to 5,000 riders on weekdays and 3,800 to 4,000 on Saturdays and on Sundays, said Paul Gonzales, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro).

The per-week boardings of about 32,000 riders — as revealed by a four-week survey not yet released to the public — was more than Metro expected, he said. Likewise, the strong weekend ridership was surprising.

If ridership continues to grow, the light-rail extension could reach 65 percent of Metro’s predicted annual ridership in the next two months. Metro had predicted the Gold Line Foothill Extension would carry 13,600 passengers a day by 2035.

“We knew we would have a lot of new riders but we didn’t think we would have that many,” Metro CEO Phil Washington said. “Ridership has been booming on that line.”

In addition to the overall numbers, the Metro survey revealed passengers were not going to Los Angeles but getting off at stations in Pasadena, Washington said.

Of the new riders, 57 percent who boarded at APU/Citrus, Downtown Azusa, Irwindale, Duarte, Monrovia or Arcadia got off the train at a Pasadena station; only 29 percent chose Los Angeles as their final destination, according to survey results.

From the Azusa and Irwindale stations, 74 percent took the train to Pasadena; 50 percent from the APU/Citrus College Station disembarked in Pasadena, followed by 31 percent from Monrovia and 18 percent from Arcadia, Gonzales said.

“Those were people who were driving to Pasadena before,” he said.

Pasadena has 110,000 jobs, of which 60 percent to 75 percent are filled by people who live outside the city, said Pasadena Councilman Andy Wilson. With Parsons Engineering, a large employer, and Huntington Memorial Hospital, both located within a block or two of a Gold Line station, the city has been positioned to attract workers via mass transit since the L.A.-to-Pasadena segment opened in 2003. Now, even more so, as it draws workers from foothill cities and the Inland Empire.

The trend is spilling into the city’s new high-tech startups, said Wilson, who runs a nonprofit that connects tech companies and institutions. He heard that OpenX Technologies, Inc., a fast-growing tech start-up in the city, was seeing a bump in employees riding the train to work in the last few weeks. OpenX is located at Lake Avenue and Walnut, a few blocks from the Lake Avenue Gold Line Station.

“People are now able to choose an alternative and a more convenient way of getting to the city,” former Mayor Bill Bogaard said. “It underscores how important this is to the San Gabriel Valley and to Pasadena.”

Transit guru Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition that studies mass transit in Los Angeles County, said he always saw Pasadena as a regional draw for both commuters and those seeking entertainment venues, shopping and dining.

“It is a regional center with regional employment. If anything people are now taking the train from Union Station to Pasadena, as well as from outlying areas to Pasadena.”

The relatively short span of the 210 Freeway — from Lake Avenue to Irwindale Avenue — jams every day, at 5 mph speeds, Gonzales said. Gold Line Foothill riders are driving their cars to parking garages in Azusa and Irwindale and hopping on the train to avoid the freeway.

“When you are riding the Gold Line, you are watching the traffic and you are whizzing right by,” he said.

Reed predicts the opening of the Expo Line Phase II on May 20 will do the same for Santa Monica, where new tech companies attracting young employees rival the draw of tourists to its famed pier.

“Santa Monica has more employees than people who sleep there. So yeah, transit will be big there, too,” he said.

There, people will avoid the 10 Freeway, like eastern county train riders are avoiding the 210.

“People in the San Gabriel Valley have been intuitive. They anticipated this. They found out it works. They don’t have to be hassling with driving and putting on your brakes every few seconds or some guy cutting you off. It is a paradigm-shift, a game-changer,” Reed said.