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More than 20 years ago I lived in Long Beach, California, the second largest city in Los Angeles county. I lived there for something like 15 years off-and-on. We took side trips where we stayed in San Diego, a few months in Texas, then came back.
I remember traveling by bus a lot because we didn't own a car - my mother did not drive and I didn't until I got my license around 17 or so - so for more than a decade I rode public transportation in the Southern California area as needed, and mostly it was needed. There are lots of side stories I can talk about, like the girls there - I've alluded to it a bit but obviously there are other things I haven't talked about - and other things. But for this article I'll stick to public transportation.
In Long Beach most of the city was served by Long Beach Public Transportation Company (known mostly as Long Beach Transit), a city-owned corporation to operate buses in Long Beach and to outlying areas. You also had some service from Torrance Transit, Orange County Transit District (OCTD) (they got started in Long Beach late in the 1980s, before they brought service into Long Beach I'd take a #5 bus on 4th Street to Seal Beach, in Orange County, and transfer), and, of course, the 800 pound gorilla of Southern California transit, the Southern California Rapid Transit District, otherwise known as RTD. (Nobody ever used the term "SCRTD" except when it had to do with some formal announcement.)
RTD was basically the primary bus company serving Downtown Los Angeles. They also ran routes out to Long Beach, as I noted, and to every other community in the county, plus bus service to some distant areas including Orange County (serving Knotts Berry Farm and Disneyland from Los Angeles) and going on to Riverside and San Bernadino in those counties.
In Long Beach, RTD ran lines to downtown LA, Disneyland and Riverside, and LAX airport in Inglewood. My understanding is the line to LAX was originally a route from Long Beach to Santa Monica that belonged to Greyhound, who sold it to RTD, and then RTD used it as a carrot by selling or trading the half that ran from the airport to Santa Monica, which then gave RTD the right to run buses in and through downtown Santa Monica from downtown LA and beyond.
I remember because a few times I wanted to go out to Pepperdine University in Malibu (one of the few places also running the same mainframe as Long Beach City College was running, a Univac 90/60, and they had manuals for it I could read and copy), on the other side of the county. This meant I took a Long Beach Transit bus to downtown, caught the bus to LAX, caught a Santa Monica Transit bus to Santa Monica, then caught another RTD bus to Pepperdine. You can guess this took several hours each way. Basically I'd have to leave early (like maybe 8 in the morning), I'd get there perhaps by 1 or 2 (I did have time at some of the stopovers to pick up something to eat), I'd be able to get about 4 hours of studying as the last bus back from Pepperdine was like 6 or 7 if I was to make connections, and I'd be home by about 10.
I'm guessing it probably wasn't the fastest way to get there, probably an express bus from Long Beach to downtown then either the Wilshire into Santa Monica - or there might have been an express there - then the bus to Pepperdine might have been faster. Or maybe not, if I'm going that way I don't have to go into downtown LA then back out, I'm guessing I got the route from RTD and it probably was faster to go via LAX than via downtown LA. I don't know. But it had to be cheap since all I'd pay is the initial fare on the first bus plus 10c for the interagency transfer, then 10c each on the other buses for their interagency transfer, so I'm guessing I traveled something like 35-45 miles from Long Beach to Malibu for maybe $1.25.
Long Beach Transit and RTD didn't like each other much, or so I heard from bus drivers. I had conversations with drivers all the time then, the buses put the front-seat passenger much closer to the driver than the much higher buses we have now, and most of them were willing to talk about their jobs. Basically RTD had had a long-term plan to take over bus service in Long Beach, but Long Beach Transit felt that it was just an excuse for cream skimming: RTD would take the most used and least expensive routes and probably let the rest of the city languish or end up with higher prices to cover the more expensive areas. This was more-or-less the situation in Watts, there was very little public transit available there, or so I heard, anyway.
So Long Beach had some sort of rule, probably a city statute, that prohibited non-Long Beach Transit buses from operating local service anywhere south of Willow Street, which covers all of downtown Long Beach (I had to look it up; Willow is the 2500 block north, and would have been 25th street if it didn't have a name instead). So basically RTD (as well as Torrance and later Orange County) could either discharge passengers southbound or pick up passengers when going northbound, whenever they were in Long Beach south of Willow Street. It also meant the bus from Torrance could only discharge when it arrived from the west and could only take passengers to leave town returning west.
For the RTD and Orange County buses, OCTD routes could pick up passengers at the Circle Drive In or along Pacific Coast highway and from downtown along 7th street to Long Beach State University, and could only discharge after they'd cross the county line. RTD's bus to Disneyland could only discharge a passenger once it got to Leisure World, the gated community for Orange County seniors in Seal Beach. That bus was more-or-less express service in Orange County anyway, mostly traveling by freeway. Coming back, OCTD could only discharge people at Cal State University Long Beach or going further they could discharge someone at the Circle Drive In and if they picked someone up there, they could not get off at the university, they had to go on to Orange County.
Back in the early 1970s, (not sure exactly, but it was sometime from 1972 to 1976) RTD got a massive subsidy, substantially reducing bus rates. Some express buses were as much as $1.25 while I believe then, regular service was around 80c. On weekdays and Saturday, each bus was 25c, on Sunday it was 10c, and as a result, buses were routinely packed. This fare was only good to the county line, once you crossed into Orange County you had to pay additional fare. In fact, before this, Long Beach Transit used to have "zone fares" in which if you went further than a certain distance you paid an extra 10c. You could either pay the extra 10c to buy a zone ticket when you got on, which the driver collected at the zone edge, or you paid the driver the extra 10c. Obviously because of the low price, bus transfers were eliminated. Which makes sense when the original price for a trip dropped from perhaps 85c or so to a quarter, the new trips are probably less expensive even with paying on each bus. When RTD cut its price to 25c/10c Sundays, all the other bus systems either also got an equivalent subsidy or went along with the price cut. I'm not sure how long the subsidy lasted, I think it was only 6 months but I took advantage of it whenever I could. Once the subsidy ended, prices went back up to the old level and the bus companies resumed issuing transfers.
A while later, Long Beach eliminated the zone system and all rides were a flat fare, transfers were a nickel, and a special transfer called an Interagency Transfer was 10c. This transfer was used when you were transferring from Long Beach to any of the other bus agencies it connected to: Torrance and RTD inside Long Beach, Norwalk Transit in Norwalk/Cerritos, OCTD in Long Beach and Orange County. All other bus companies in Southern California issued the same transfer, except RTD as its transfers were valid on its own buses and functioned as an interagency transfer to other lines. I had heard that the Interagency Transfers were actually printed by RTD.
Another thing about transfers. RTD used a standard system-wide transfer where the operator punched the route number in a number box at the bottom of the transfer. So did most of the other bus companies; Orange County, Torrance and Norwalk all punched the route number on their transfers. Long Beach, on the other hand, did something different. Each route had its own individual transfer, with the number pre-printed on it. Later, Long Beach would discontinue printing transfers, instead, they put a ticket printer on each bus; the printer would issue the transfer with the route number printed on it, or in the case of an interagency transfer, it would print "IAT+1HR" meaning the time limit on the transfer was extended by one hour. I noticed that the drivers still carried two books of transfers (regular and Interagency) in case the ticket printer broke down, but since they used them so rarely, Long Beach had now reverted to a standard single transfer with the route number punched in, instead of the old ones with the number pre-printed.)
Oh yes, RTDs transfers were different in another way, everybody else punched the month and day on the transfer; RTD pre-printed each transfer with the Date, Day and month. But like everyone else, they still tore them to indicate when the transfer expired; the driver would move the transfer down a little bit, and if you were traveling after midnight, the driver gave you the entire transfer, which was marked as being good until 4 am the next day.
There actually were a few buses that you might take that late. RTD ran 3 routes on Wilshire Blvd, the 20, the 21, and the 22. One ran into Century City, one ran to UCLA, and the other ran into downtown Santa Monica. These buses would not hold for passengers, so if you weren't at the stop, running and trying to get the operator to stop for you wasn't going to work. They had to, if they took too long they'd get behind and another bus would catch up to them. These 3 lines, the 20, 21 and 22, got so much service that they supported something like 20 other lines. During the day 6 to 6, you could catch one of these buses every two minutes. I'm not kidding; so many people ride the Wilshire line that there is a bus running from downtown to the split point every two minutes, all during the day. After 6 I think it went to 10 minute service, and after midnight, 1/2 hour service. That tells you how many people there are traveling along Wilshire, you don't run three different bus lines on about six minute service each unless you have a huge amount of traffic.
If I remember correctly, at one point the following bus companies operated in Los Angeles County: Long Beach Transit, City of Santa Monica, Culver City Municipal, City of Pasadena, RTD, Orange County Transit District, Torrance Transit and Norwalk Transit. The interagency transfers had all of the bus company names on the transfer and the operator punched in the box for his or her home company. Now, another thing was all of these companies granted deadhead privileges to bus drivers from other companies (as well as their own). RTD was extremely generous; in addition to the operator, their spouse and minor children were issued a card granting them free transit on RTD and any other bus lines that honored them. So a Long Beach Transit driver could use OCTD or Torrance buses for free, and they likewise on Long Beach. But it actually wasn't all of them, because, well, there were two exceptions. As part of the pettiness I mentioned before, all of these lines gave free transit to drivers of other bus lines who were in their uniform or had an employee (or employee dependent) card from that line. The exception was that both RTD and Long Beach did not honor each other's employee cards or uniforms; RTD drivers had to pay if they rode a Long Beach Transit bus and Long Beach Transit operators had to pay on RTD.
RTD also did something else that really improved the way you caught a bus. They changed all the bus line numbers. Numbers were mixed up and didn't mean anything. They changed to a new system. Bus lines numbered 1 to 99 were buses running into and out of downtown Los Angeles. Bus lines numbered 100-199 were buses running mostly north and south, but not into downtown LA. Bus lines numbered 200-299 were buses running mostly east and west, but, again, not into downtown. Buses numbered 400-500 were express buses. I remember a few: the bus to LAX became the 232; the express between downtown LA and Long Beach went from 36F ("The Freeway Flyer") to 456. The local bus to downtown running on Long Beach Boulevard became the 60.
This successful change in route numbers by RTD probably was a big part of the encouragement that got Long Beach Transit to renumber its lines. They had 16 lines numbered 1 through 16, and I don't know that the numbers meant anything except the bus that ran on Pacific Coast Highway had the number 1 (after the number of PCH, California Route 1). Orange County did the same thing; the route that ran from Long Beach to San Clemente on California Route 1, probably something like 30 miles, was publicly given the external display number of Route 1; internally the route number was Route 95, as that was what the drivers punched on transfers.
Anyway, Long Beach decided to change its route numbering system to give each distinct bus route its own individual route number. The Route 9 had 4 different routes, it ran on 7th Street from downtown as far as California State University, Long Beach. All of the route 9 buses would continue along Bellflower Blvd., whereupon one would terminate at Bellflower and Stearns Street; one would turn at Willow Street, and continue along Woodruff Avenue; another would continue on Bellflower all the way to Alondra Boulevard; and another would also continue to Alondra Boulevard, but would take a slight detour to service the Lakewood Center shopping mall.
Something else I remember. Long Beach was running mostly GM buses, and the bus number was a 4 digit number indicated by the first two digits being the number of passengers the bus could carry, so a bus that held 52 passengers might be numbered 5201 or 5205. If it held 49 passengers it might be numbered 4930, etc.
They changed this system so that every route number had an extra digit at the end. A route like the 10 or 15 that only had 1 route became the 101 and 151. The route like the 9 that had four different routes became the 91,92,93 and 94. Very helpful if you needed one of the alternate destinations. This probably helped to make things easier because now they have a new version of the route 9, which is called the 96 and didn't exist when I was there.
RTD also did something at the two downtown terminals, one in Long Beach and the one in the basement of the Greyhound Bus Depot in Downtown Los Angeles. They only took tickets for buses leaving the Long Beach terminal or the LA one. You could buy tickets from the office on the ground floor of the LA terminal or at RTD's small office in the building next to the Long Beach terminal. Tickets could be used on any RTD bus anywhere, were sold in various denominations from 10c to $1, but you could pay cash on RTD anywhere except at those terminals. Later, when RTD moved out of the LA Greyhound's basement, they resumed taking cash on buses there, and when Long Beach opened a new Transit Mall, RTD discontinued its Long Beach office and started accepting cash at the start location.
Another thing RTD did in its LA downtown terminal at 6th & Los Angeles St. was to institute "left-hand entry". Because of the positioning of mirrors in the single entrance/exit ramp, buses entered the ramp and drove in on the left hand side of the ramp, where at the bottom, a supervisor that could see the buses' route would signal a display lamp to the driver's left that would tell them at which of the 15 berths the bus was to park. The driver would then turn left and go around the bus berthing area, which was in the center of the terminal. This prevented buses from ever having a danger of collision as buses would always travel through the terminal in a clockwise direction. Most routes used the same berth except when there was construction. When the bus was to leave, it would exit out the same ramp, also driving out on the driver's left-hand side.
But Long Beach wasn't the only one to put in restrictions on other bus companies. RTD got a special restriction where no private company could provide service inside of the area where it operated unless the service was either inbound from outside the area, or to someplace outside the area. For example, Greyhound sold a ticket to get to the Magic Mountain Amusement Park in Valencia, and you could, as part of the ticket, also purchase admission at the same time. (You presented one of the receipt coupons from the ticket which was embossed that you had paid admission.) This is much easier as you can't lose it since you have to have the ticket to get on the bus to go there and once you spend the money you can't forget to keep enough on hand to pay for the admission ticket.
Well, taking Greyhound to go from Long Beach to Valencia requires you to change buses in Downtown LA; unless you were going the opposite direction (like to San Diego), ALL trips from Long Beach going Northbound required changing buses in Los Angeles. But because of the Southern California restriction that RTD got imposed, you could not buy a ticket direct between Long Beach and Los Angeles. Or Long Beach and Santa Monica. Or Long Beach and basically just about anywhere in Los Angeles county or the surrounding areas RTD serviced.