A Little Detective Work Reveals ARTIC’s Truth

Anaheim's new train station was teeming with travelers in the season finale of "True Detective" (left). It stands in stark contrast to reality, despite rosy predictions by city officials. At right is the station during  rush hour last Wednesday afternoon. (Photos by: HBO and Nick Gerda/Voice of OC)

Anaheim's new train station was teeming with travelers in the season finale of "True Detective" (left). It stands in stark contrast to reality, despite rosy predictions by city officials. At right is the station during rush hour last Wednesday afternoon. (Photos by: HBO and Nick Gerda/Voice of OC)

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In a climatic scene of the HBO show “True Detective” season finale — which was shot in Anaheim’s glittering new ARTIC station — one of the main characters sees his chance to bust a corrupt police chief slip away when, after shots are fired, his tape recorder is stomped on as hordes of panicked travelers rush out of the station.

But just like the show’s plot — the big crowd at ARTIC was pure fiction.

The truth is most days at ARTIC, which cost taxpayers $185 million to build, look more like a ghost town than the main train depot of a major metropolis. Recorded ridership numbers continue to be at levels that fall far short of initial projections.

According to figures provided by the Orange County Transportation Authority, there were an average of 923 daily train boardings at ARTIC in June. That represents the highest number of boardings recorded in the six months since the station opened in December. More recent figures weren’t available.

It’s a modest uptick from the 812 daily train boardings reported in January, the first full month ARTIC was open, but not even close to the 3,000 daily boardings projected for the station’s opening day.

Another comparison of the "True Detective" scene and the afternoon rush hour last Wednesday. (Photos by: HBO and Nick Gerda/Voice of OC)

Another comparison of the “True Detective” finale and the afternoon rush hour last Wednesday. (Photos by: HBO and Nick Gerda/Voice of OC)

In the past, city officials defended the numbers by saying ARTIC is intended to serve riders decades into the future and that the facility is part of the long-term plan to reduce dependence on cars. They reiterated that message when contacted last week about the latest figures.

“Here in California we are limited in expanding our freeways system. There is simply not much room to grow, and that is why ARTIC was constructed now, to meet the demands of businesses commuters and travellers,” city spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz wrote in an email to Voice of OC. “Public transportation will grow in our region, and as the restaurants open at ARTIC, the transportation hub in its full use will also grow.”

Yet, as things stand now the station is running at a multi-million dollar deficit. And it’s becoming more and more likely that the city will have to take money from its general fund, which pays for core services like police and fire protection, to cover ARTIC’s annual operating budget.

Hoteliers offered to cover part of the bill using revenue from a special 2 percent room-tax. But according to the Orange County Register, a $1.4 million shortfall remains.

Crucial to shoring up the deficit is the city’s bid to secure a corporate naming rights sponsor. But without higher ridership numbers, critics question whether the city will be able to make such a deal anytime soon.

“Ridership will be one of the prominent reasons for anyone who gauges a naming deal with the city of Anaheim. People want to make sure it’s a well attended well respected facility, and if it turns out to be a boondoggle no one will want to be associated with that,” said Jeffrey Lalloway, chairman of the Transportation Authority Board of Directors.

Ruiz says ARTIC’s appeal to a potential advertiser extends beyond its riders.

“ARTIC is located in a prime location adjacent to the 57 and 5 freeways, Honda Center and Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Katella Ave. is one of the most widely traveled roads in Orange County. On any given day, hundreds of thousands of cars travel along these corridors, so we believe ARTIC’s appeal is in riders as well as its prime location,” Ruiz wrote.

City officials point to a Register article on the results of a study being done by DKS Associates as evidence that numbers are improving. The consultant found 2,326 people use the station daily when other transit services in addition to rail are included, according to the Register.

But that’s still far short of the 10,000 people city officials said would be using the station on opening day for all transit services.

The Register article claims that 2,326 riders is a major increase from the 821 daily riders recorded at the station soon after it opened. But it should be noted the smaller figure only includes train boardings, while the larger figure produced by the consultants’ study counts departures and arrivals separately, meaning that regular commuters were likely counted twice.

It also includes arrivals and departures for buses and shuttles, meaning a single rider could have been counted three or four times. It’s unclear whether these potential double counts, or even triple and quadruple counts, are deducted from the numbers in the study. City officials said the final study isn’t ready to be released.

Mayor Tom Tait says the latest ridership numbers clearly show constructing the facility was a bad idea. He also pointed out that many seasoned ARTIC riders don’t walk through the facility on their daily commutes. Instead, they park behind the building and close to the tracks to avoid the lengthy walking distance from the building entrance to the actual trains.

“I think we need to go back to the drawing board. We have a very unique, iconic building, and we need to get creative on how to energize it,” Tait said. “There are ways to reprogram it, similar to what they did with the Ferry Building at San Francisco.”

Furthermore, nine months after the station’s opening — its concessionaires, a café and two restaurants — still haven’t opened. And while the state’s planned high-speed rail line should significantly boost ridership, many are doubtful it will ever come to Anaheim.

“The projections for ARTIC ridership were predicated on high-speed rail making its way down to Anaheim, and I think anyone that can do basic math understands that will never happen,” Lalloway said.

Meanwhile, the city is planning another public transportation project that has drawn skepticism. City officials want to build a 3.2-mile streetcar line that connects Disneyland to other major destinations in the city.

At nearly $100-million per-mile, the current price-tag tops a list of streetcar lines across the country as the most expensive. City officials project that 4,200 riders will use the streetcar daily once it opens.

But given how off projections about ARTIC were, critics, including Tait and Lalloway, who sit on a Transportation Authority ad-hoc committee studying the streetcar, question whether those numbers will come true.

“At least we need to learn from this, and not blindly trust those ridership numbers,” Tait said. “Now that we know the actual numbers are nowhere near the projections, to continue to go forward on a streetcar based on the same ridership projections would be unforgiveable.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

  • Philmore

    Since it’s already lit up like a carnival, how about an indoor coaster and a zip-line to fill the cavernous leftover space? lol.

  • jenicyde

    LOL – every single time I have been there the place is almost deserted. Workers are very rude. An employee by the name of Darrel Robinson at the Greyhound window stopped taking people in line and refused to help my 68 year old mother who got there ahead of her scheduled to check in… just to take some lady that came running in late, AFTER my mother already told the lady yes she minds if she cuts the line. She should have made sure she got to the station on time. But DARREL ROBINSON felt the need to let a senior citizen who had already been waiting in line wait while HE let someone cut in front of her

  • Jacki Livingston

    Hideously ugly? Check. Nothing works as it should? Check. No decent places to eat or get a cup of coffee? Check. Rude security that treat people like crud? Check. Yup, sounds like Disney to me. I broke a tooth on a stale Gummi Bear out of their convenience shop, and when I complained, they said nothing. In fact, when I tried to explain to them why putting the Gummi Bears facing the huge sun window was a bad idea, they had no idea what I was saying. Idiots…the lot of them.

  • buzzookaman

    Looks like Disney architects designed this buiding. I’ll bet this station ends up moving alot of Disney visitors.

  • Ronald Wren

    $650 million for grade separations in Placentia, $1.5 billion for widening the 405 freeway, or $185 million for a new train station. I wonder which project will look like a good investment in 30 years?

    • David Zenger

      Ronald, ARTIC is not a train station. Train stations accommodate trains and train riders. ARTIC is a big empty shell that has to be traversed across AND over to get to the real station – the train platforms that are still outdoor – just like they always were.

      It’s an easy call: the $200,000,000 spent on ARTIC is a complete and useless boondoggle, an ego project for a man whose vision was his own self-aggrandizement and wealth.

    • RyanCantor

      Considering the useful life of the building will be used up and High Speed Rail STILL won’t have arrived at ARTIC . . . while tens of millions of trips will have used the other projects you listed . . . ARTIC will look as stupid in thirty years as it does today.

      • David Zenger

        Yep. The grade separations will be seen as an unmixed blessing; the 405 will look okay in the middle run. ARTIC will never be anything but useless – unless Anaheim somehow schedules the Pacific Symphony in there, although the acoustics may prove difficult.

  • Paul Lucas

    Hows that sales/gate tax amnesty for Disney looking now? How about that give away to Moreno? hows that looking now?

  • Cynthia Ward

    I have to wonder why Curt Pringle and Associates has not ponied up the naming rights, just so show he believes his own hype.

    Adam, go ask the restaurants WHY they have not yet opened. Something stinketh.

    • David Zenger

      “Something stinketh.”

      Something is giving off a bad smell alright and it isn’t burned cooking – the restaurant hasn’t started their TI work yet, even though the leases were signed almost a year ago.

      • Philmore

        Are the leases still in effect? Most well – written retail leases have an exit clause for sub- minimal foot traffic, and this would seem to have THAT knocked! (I’m no expert, I just remember from press accounts, that is what cleared anchor stores from Triangle Square in CM)

        • David Zenger

          The leases are in effect, the City is in breach. Call in the lawyers.

  • David Zenger

    “The consultant found 2,326 people use the station daily when other
    transit services in addition to rail are included, according to the
    Register”

    I’d bet my lunch they’re double counting.

  • David Zenger

    I have gone over to the mausoleum a few time and the place is a ghost town. Almost nobody who takes a bus wants or needs to go there, or get off there.

    Maybe PringleCorp should hire those extras from the TV show, you know, just to make the place look occupied.

    Poor Ruth Ruiz. Just one vote away from being able to quit lying to the public.

  • RyanCantor

    This is what happens with Government force feeds the public solutions that the public never asked for.

    Up next: A $300,000,000 street car to take no one from this failed station to Disneyland.

    Stop. The. Stupid.

    • David Zenger

      “Up next: A $300,000,000 street car to take no one from this failed station to Disneyland.”

      The ARTIC boondoggle is being used to re-animate HSR from LA to Anaheim, even as we write these comments. Likewise PringleCorp is trying to keep ARC on life support with near-lethal doses of ARTIC until some government-paid for medical miracle occurs.

      The last part is ironic because the choo choo line will conveniently end on the WRONG side of the 57 Freeway from ARTIC – right in the Los Angeles Angels’ parking lot – where it would be ever-so convenient for some one (not Disney, naturally) to build parking structures for Disneyland’s “guests.”