NORTH HOLLYWOOD – On a recent morning, commuters packed a busy Orange Line hub, some with skateboards tucked under their arms, others with children in tow. While the scene may be common in Chicago or New York, where riding mass transit is second nature, it was an extraordinary sight in the San Fernando Valley – especially on a Sunday morning. “I love (riding the bus) because it relieves me of stress of driving downtown, and I don’t have to worry about parking,” said Jeanne Polak-Recht, a retired educator who’s able to transfer from the busway to the Red Line subway for a trip over the hill. “It’s a substitute subway.” And the idea of a bus that works like a train on wheels has been the real selling point during the Orange Line’s inaugural year. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESurfer attacked by shark near Channel Islands calls rescue a ‘Christmas miracle’“What we have tried to prove in the case of the Orange Line is if it walks like a train and talks like a train but has rubber tires, people will still respond to it like it’s a train,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board and an early busway proponent. The $330 million bus line sees more riders each weekday than the 3-year-old Gold Line, a light-rail system between Pasadena and downtown that was built at more than double the cost. The initial route has been so successful that MTA officials are planning for a six-mile extension of the western terminus to the Metrolink station in Chatsworth, which would provide the first-ever link between Metrolink and the Red Line. The Orange Line’s speed, cleanliness and reliability have proven a boon, not only to longtime users of mass transit, but to those like Polak-Recht who otherwise wouldn’t ride the bus. “In the industry, everyone is happy it performed so well and that it has performed so rail-like,” said Dennis Hinebaugh, director of the Bus Rapid Transit Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa, a national clearinghouse on mass transit. “The dollars aren’t there to build light-rail systems. And if you can build a half-dozen bus/rapid-transit systems in your community instead of one light-rail transit, you can serve a whole region instead of a whole corridor.” The nation’s first busway debuted in the Los Angeles area back in 1974, when the El Monte busway zoomed past lines of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the San Bernadino Freeway. Two years later, officials converted the bus-only route to a car-pool lane, which today is used by about 1,400 cars and buses each hour. Many in the transit world now foresee busways as the wave of the future. The Federal Transportation Authority has set aside millions of dollars to fund busway projects in Las Vegas and Eugene, Ore. The Orange Line was built along a former rail line, connecting Warner Center, one of the region’s largest job centers, and the subway system in North Hollywood. Traveling the 14-mile length of the route takes an average of 40 minutes – longer than a subway trip would take, but much shorter than traveling surface streets or even the freeway during rush hour. Taft High School student Aja Washington, 16, used to take three buses to travel from her home in Van Nuys to the Woodland Hills campus, a trek that could take two hours if she missed her connection. With a ride on a Rapid bus and the Orange Line, her one-way travel time has been cut by more than half. “I am impressed with it … You can get anywhere quick.” [email protected] (818) 713-3741 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!