Lessons From San Diego: Transit Retail
June 1, 2012 Leave a comment
Not long after Los Angeles’ newest light rail line opened up, I had a chance to visit San Diego and ride all three of their “Trolley” lines. (Personally, I’ve always considered a trolley the same as a streetcar, like the one being planned in Downtown LA, but San Diego uses it as the name for the regional light rail system.)
First, a few observations..
Low Floor Vehicles: San Diego MTS has some nice new, low floor, vehicles (that do seem to me more like a streetcar or a trolley). These vehicles are a vast improvement over the old ones, where you would have to climb two stairs to the higher floor. The new vehicles offer ample space for bikes and people, but there was definitely less space to sit. The center aisles near the doors are large and spacious, but very onorganized. It may seem strange, but because there was so much open space, the aisles became a mess of legs, bikes, shopping bags, and riders all mixed together, and it was actually hard for people to get on and off at stations. If there was a designated “bike, stroller, luggage” section, like on LA’s Metro vehicles, it may work better.
Low Platform Stations: This is the aspect of the system I liked the least. While LA’s Metro vehicles are high floor, they are still flat-loading because you board from a high station platform (above the vehicle’s wheels). San Diego’s stations are all low platform (the boarding platform is only a few inches high), meaning you have to actually step up into the older vehicles and the newer vehicles have sections of seats raised above the wheels (similar to our busses). Architecturally, the stations are mostly wide expanses of concrete, part of this being due to low-platform design. In LA, the high platform give the architect a “platform” (so to speak) to build on, Many of the at grade stations in LA do a great job of being noticed while also blending in. San Diego’s stations stick out like a sore thumb even though (or because) they’re just flat plazas.
Now, here is the major lesson I took from San Diego’s Trolley system…
Station Retail Opportunities
Even a small retail amenity will go a long way. Most stations at least had vending machines. As part of station upgrades MTS is currently doing, they’re adding retail kiosks. Apperantly there has been a staffed snack bar at the Fashion Valley Transit Center for a few years, selling mochas, pastries, burritos, in addition to bus and trolley passes and more. The tracks at the America Plaza station are bordered by cafés, mini-marts, and more. It appears that San Diego MTS is preparing opportunities for the Gaslamp Quarter Station near PETCO Park as well. The company that activates the retail opportunities for San Diego MTS has some info on their kiosks, here. Kiosks and vending machines also present opportunity for more revenue in advertising. San Diego wrapped their vending machines with shelters that had ads on both sides.
In Los Angeles, I believe there is only one station with vending machines (Westlake/MacArthur Park). Rush Snack Bar (currently being revamped as a juice bar of sorts) is in the Hope St. portal of the 7th Street / Metro Center station, and is a great start for LA. More of this, with newspapers/magazines (if people still buy those) and transit passes as well, would be great.
Of course, in Los Angeles, riders are not allowed to consume either food or drink on Metro busses or trains. In San Diego, passengers may consume beverages on the trolleys if they are contained in a spill-proof or screw-top bottle. So, drinks bought at vending machines may be taken on trains. In Los Angeles, this would not be allowed. Rush Snack Bar is great for people getting off the Metro, but less useful for people getting on.
Maybe it’s the fact that so many more people are riding in LA or that LA riders are less careful about litter, but the problem here is not so much spills, but litter left behind (Blue Line riders, I’m looking at you… there are not enough people riding Expo yet for that much trash to be on my trains every day!). I think LA Metro should institute a policy allowing drinks in reusable bottles only (though this still won’t help the retail patrons).
Regardless of whether they can take it on a train or not, however, simple retail at stations will be a convenience for riders in LA and they help Metro to generate additional revenue.