The Metro Orange Line drew nearly 11,000 boardings on its first day of paid service, thrilling officials who expected half that number and earning guarded praise Tuesday from transit experts. Tuesday’s ridership appeared on track for a similar showing, with heavy rush-hour loads as San Fernando Valley commuters try out the region’s first major mass transit alternative to the jammed Ventura Freeway. “It qualifies as a respectable achievement,” said James E. Moore, a transportation expert and professor of engineering at the University of Southern California. “It’s very encouraging.” Even busway critics called it a terrific showing. But former Los Angeles transit official Tom Rubin, a busway foe who helped residents in their lawsuit trying to stop the Orange Line, said if ridership stayed at 11,000 that would be a “pretty bad” performance. “The normal thing when you open up a line like this is you will get growth. But every now and then it goes the other way. The Gold Line did shrink,” he said. “I think it’s time for everybody to just sit back and wait and see. We’ll just wait and see if a lot of people think it’s a good thing for them or not.” Transit agencies measure riders by the number of people who board for a one-way trip, so the actual passenger number is about half. The $859 million Gold Line train to Pasadena had 25,000 daily boardings its first week of fare service in July 2003, but quickly dropped to 14,500 per day the next month – half of what officials expected. Today it’s at 18,500. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s initial projection for the Orange Line of 5,000 to 7,000 daily boardings was considered low by experts. Experts urged the MTA to work out shortcomings in the Orange Line sooner rather than later to keep new riders while enthusiasm runs high and people are experimenting. “The real truth is, can it sustain these ridership numbers?” said Reed. “This is the critical mass, the patterns are being formed.” MTA officials said Tuesday they were already working on improving timing for signals, among other changes. They welcome riders’ suggestions. “We’re going to improve and make it the best we can make it,” said MTA Valley General Manager Richard Hunt. MTA officials were delighted by the early numbers. They reported Tuesday that most of the Park and Ride lots west of Sepulveda had twice as many cars as Monday – though still with room to spare. “This could not have been a better start to the Orange Line. We have nowhere to go but up,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who took the Orange Line to an evening meeting at Valley College. “People like this line. They love it. The premise on which this line was built was a sound premise: People don’t want to sit on the freeway.” Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761 email@example.com 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week “That’s great. It’s well above what’s expected,” said Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition. “Compared to the Gold Line, the first-day riders were about 20,000. If it’s 10,000 or 11,000 that’s a good number. “I’m ecstatic the numbers are this high, despite all the obstacles the line has. That’s a good start.” The $350 million busway debuted Monday after a free weekend trial with its promise of about a 40-minute trip across the Valley – about as fast as the freeway during rush hour. Riders were a mix of professionals who left their cars at home to board the bus for the first time in years, alongside regular public transit users who tend to come from the ranks of the poor and working class. First-time riders said they were hoping for some relief to freeway gridlock, while veteran riders appreciated buses that go twice as fast as those on city streets.