The Silver Line is a limited-stop bus route with some bus rapid transit features operated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). The Silver Line route runs between the El Monte Station, Downtown Los Angeles, the Harbor Gateway Transit Center in Gardena and San Pedro.
The Silver Line offers frequent, all-stops service along the El Monte Busway and the Harbor Transitway, two grade-separated transit facilities built into the Los Angeles freeway system. The Silver Line was created as part of the conversion of the El Monte Busway and the Harbor Transitway from lanes reserved for buses and high occupancy vehicles into the Metro ExpressLanes that allow solo drivers to pay a toll to use lanes. The tolls collected have been used to operate the Silver Line and to improve amenities at stops.
As Silver Line buses travel along the El Monte Busway and the Harbor Transitway they serve stations built into the center or side of the roadway, allowing passengers to board or exit. There is a 3.5 mile gap between the western end of El Monte Busway and the northern end of the Harbor Transitway in Downtown Los Angeles, where Silver Line buses travel on surface streets, making a limited amount of stops.
Two services are operated under the Silver Line name:The Silver Line (route 910) operates daily with all trips serving all stations on the portion of the route between El Monte station and the Harbor Gateway Transit Center. On weekends and during the off-peak hours some trips are extended to serve San Pedro.
The Silver Line Express (route 950X) operates only during the weekday peak-hours between San Pedro and El Monte station, skipping some stops along the Harbor Transitway to speed up the trip.
The eastern section of Silver Line route runs on the El Monte Busway between the El Monte Station in El Monte and Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles. The southern section of the route runs on the Harbor Transitway between 37th Street/USC station in Downtown Los Angeles and the Harbor Gateway Transit Center near the city of Carson. Buses travel between the eastern and southern along surface streets in Downtown Los Angeles where Silver Line buses make a limited amount of stops (11 in each direction) near major employment centers, tourist destinations and Metro Rail stations. Some Silver Line trips continue south of the Harbor Gateway Transit Center along the Harbor Freeway to San Pedro traveling in general purpose freeway lanes and making two stops en route at stations located near off and on ramps. In San Pedro, Silver Line buses serve the Harbor Beacon Park & Ride and make frequent stops along Pacific Avenue.
The Silver Line charges a premium fare (which is a different fare structure from most other Metro routes). Metro day passes are accepted as full fare, but all other pass holders must pay for an upgraded 1 zone pass or pay the additional premium charge at the time of boarding.
Like the other Metro Rail and Metro Busway lines, the Silver Line operates on a proof-of-payment system. Passengers may board at either the front or rear door of Silver Line buses and validate their Transit Access Pass (TAP) electronic fare card at readers located on board the bus, near the door. Since TAP vending machines are not available at all Silver Line stations and street stops, passengers who need to purchase or revalue their cards can do so at the farebox on board the bus. Metro's fare inspectors randomly inspect buses to ensure passengers have a valid fare product on their TAP card.
As of December 15, 2014 the fares for the Silver Line are:
Metro and Foothill Transit offer a reciprocal fare program called "Silver 2 Silver" where pass holders may ride either Silver Line or Silver Streak buses between Downtown Los Angeles and the El Monte Station. Passengers who have a Metro 7-Day or 30-Day pass, an EZ transit pass, or a Foothill Transit Local 31-Day pass are all charged additional when they board a Silver Line or Silver Streak bus.
Plans for a route similar to the Silver Line date back to 1993 when Metro's Scheduling and Operations Planning department issued a report on what it called a "Dual Hub High Occupancy Vehicle Transitway." The report suggested that when the Harbor Transitway opened in 1995, it should be served by a "high speed, high capacity service" that would also serve the El Monte Busway which opened earlier in 1973. Existing express routes that traveled on the two facilities would be truncated to end at one of two hubs (El Monte station and the Harbor Gateway Transit Center) where passengers would transfer to a bus that would take them the rest of the way to Downtown LA.
In the end, Metro decided to adopt another proposal in the report, increasing service on the existing Harbor Freeway express lines and operating each as independent routes. Because most of the freeway express buses traveling on the El Monte Busway and Harbor Transitway served the needs of commuters, service was frequent along the corridors during the weekday peak hours, but infrequent during other times.
When the Harbor Transitway opened in 1995 it was seen as a white elephant. The route stopped a mile short of Downtown LA and the stations, being close to freeway traffic, were criticized as being noisy, polluted and appeared uninviting.
Planners projected that 65,200 passengers would travel along the Harbor Transitway each day, but after 10 years ridership fell far below those predictions, with the route seeing just 3,000 passengers per weekday in 2004.
Starting in the early 2000s Metro tried to increase ridership on the two corridors by branding them as a part of the Metro system. The El Monte Busway was added to maps using a silver color, while the Harbor Transitway was added in a bronze color.
In 2007, Foothill Transit introduced the Silver Streak as a "single hub" service along the El Monte busway. Several Foothill Transit routes were truncated at the El Monte station and passengers transferred to frequent, high capacity Silver Streak buses. The line was deemed a success.
In 2008, Metro once again looked at the concept of linking the El Monte Busway and the Harbor Transitway with a "Dual Hub Bus Rapid Transit" route. After several months of study the Metro voted to introduce the service as the Silver Line in summer 2009. Five Metro Express lines were truncated to terminate at either Harbor Gateway Transit Center or the El Monte station, where passengers would transfer to the Silver Line to continue into Downtown Los Angeles.
Metro also studied drastically changing the fare structure on the route. Previously, passengers on freeway express routes would pay zone fares up to $3.95 based on distance travelled. To encourage ridership, Metro looked into charging the same $1.50 flat-rate base fare used on Metro Rail, the Metro Orange Line and Metro Local routes. The plan encountered heavy opposition from Foothill Transit who worried the low fares would reduce ridership on its more expensive Silver Streak service. In the end Metro set a flat-rate fare of $2.45, which was more than the base fare used on the rest of the system, but 30¢ cheaper than the Silver Streak. The fare fight delayed the opening of the Silver Line several months.
The line eventually opened in December 2009 and carried 6,200 passengers a day during the first month, similar to the combined ridership of the express routes the Silver Line replaced. Service operated half-hourly during the mid-day hours and hourly at night and on weekends. Over the next two years, ridership steadily increased to 11,000 daily passengers in October 2011. Encouraged by the results Metro continued to improve headways, operating buses every 15 minutes during the mid-day hours and every 40 minutes on Saturday.
Major improvements to the Silver Line were made as part of the Metro ExpressLanes project to convert the El Monte Busway and the Harbor Transitway from lanes reserved for buses and high occupancy vehicles into high occupancy toll lanes that allow solo drivers to pay a toll to use lanes. Federal funding and some of the tolls collected were used to both refurbish the aging stations used by the Silver Line and improve frequencies on the route. The most drastic change happened at the crowded, 37-year-old El Monte Station which was demolished in 2010 and entirely rebuilt. The new station opened in October 2012 with more bus bays, staffed information counters, restrooms, improved lighting and security.
Stations along the Harbor Transitway were improved between early 2011 and late 2012 with the addition of real time arrival signs, new wayfinding signage, improved lighting and sound proofing. The Harbor Gateway Transit Center also received bathrooms and a substation for LA County Sheriff's deputies who now exclusively patrol Silver Line facilities.
Stations along the El Monte Busway were the last to be improved, each closing for a month in early 2015. During the closure staircases were replaced and new wayfinding signage, real-time arrival signs and improved lighting was installed.
Along the street running portion of the Silver Line in Downtown Los Angeles LADOT added bus priority to traffic lights to improve on time performance in Downtown Los Angeles. This work was completed by October 31, 2012.
Starting in 2012, toll revenue was used to service in peak hours was improved with buses arriving as often as every 4 minutes, Saturday service frequency was improved to 20 minutes and to 30 minutes on Sundays. Sunday frequency was further improved to 20 minutes in December 2013.
As feared by Foothill Transit officials, the 30¢ higher fares on the Silver Streak meant passengers along the El Monte Busway often opted to ride the Silver Line to save money. That led to Silver Line buses operating at capacity during peak hours, with the larger Silver Streak buses being under-utilized. To address the problem a new reciprocal fare program between Metro and Foothill Transit called "Silver 2 Silver" was introduced as part of a one-year trial in October 2012. Fares on the Silver Streak were lowered match the price of the Silver Line and passengers with a valid pass may ride either route between Downtown Los Angeles and the El Monte Station. Toll funding from the Metro ExpressLanes was used to reimburse Foothill Transit for the cost difference. In October 2013 a review of the program deemed it a success and made it permanent.
While many freeway express lines on the Harbor Transitway were truncated after the introduction of the Silver Line, a notable exception was Metro Express Line 450X. Considered one of Metro's "premium express" routes, buses made very limited stops between Downtown Los Angeles and the Harbor Gateway Transit Center, skipping most of the stations along the Harbor Transitway. The route initially only ran during weekday peak hours, but was later extended to San Pedro and operated as a shuttle service between the Harbor Gateway Transit Center and San Pedro during off-peak hours and weekends.
In December 2015, Metro restructured the Silver Line and Metro Express 450X. Now during off-peak hours and weekends some Silver Line trips travel to San Pedro and during weekday peak periods a Silver Line Express route operates between San Pedro and El Monte, skipping most of the stations along the Harbor Transitway. The change gave passengers a one-seat ride to San Pedro during the off-peak periods and created more Silver Line service on the El Monte Busway.
On June 26, 2016 Metro changed how passengers pay their fare on the Silver Line in an effort to reduce dwell time and increase on-time performance. Passengers were allowed to board at either the front or rear door of Silver Line buses and validate their TAP electronic fare card at readers located on board the bus. Like on Metro Rail and the Orange Line, passengers are required to use the TAP card for fare payment and Metro fare enforcement will randomly board buses and check cards to ensure passengers are paying. The system differs from the off-board fare payment system on Metro Rail and the Orange Line where TAP vending machines are installed at all stations and passengers are required to TAP before stepping onto the platform.
A new transitway station for the Metro Silver Line will be located at Patsaouras Transit Plaza at Union Station to provide better access to bus, MetroRail, Metrolink and Amtrak services. As of October 2015 the project was delayed with no start scheduled.
Ridership has steadily grown on the Silver Line each year.
An estimated 6,612 passengers rode the Silver Line each weekday in January 2010 (the first full month of operation) and ridership has grown steadily each year since. Ridership set a new all-time high in February 2016 with an estimated 16,884 passengers riding the line each weekday.
The on time performance of the Metro Silver Line is currently around 82.4%, defined as being less than 5 minutes behind schedule. That places it far behind the Metro Rail lines (99% on time) and Orange Line (94% on time), but much better than an average Metro bus route (80.6% on time). On time performance benefits from the active traffic management system installed as part of the Metro ExpressLanes project.
Seven passengers waiting on the northbound platform of the Harbor Freeway Station received critical and serious injuries when a private vehicle entered the station and struck the platform on February 22, 2012. After the accident Metro studied the design of the Silver Line stations and decided to add concrete filled metal bollards at the platform edge of a number of stations during August 2012. The bollards are spaced close enough to stop a car from entering the platform, but have enough room to allow multiple buses to stop at the platform and lower the accessibility ramp.
The Metro Silver Line is operated with a fleet of dedicated NABI Metro 45C coaches. Each 45-foot (14 m) long bus is made of light composite materials and is powered by CNG (Compressed Natural Gas). Coaches are painted or vinyl wrapped with a special grey livery that matches the design of newer Metro Rail vehicles and the coaches used on Metro Orange Line. Most coaches also have a vinyl decal that says "A faster way to Downtown: Metro Silver Line."