Routes & Schedules

The latest transit related Los Angeles Times piece1 which contains the phrase “... most still aren't willing to part with their cars” is long on reasons why people won't use the local transportation “system”. However, it lacks an analysis, other than still higher gas prices, of how to make public transportation appealing to potential riders. I wager that the reporters are, at maximum, only casual users of the Metro. So, other than interviewing people at rail stations they don't have an in depth feel for what a daily commute is like for the average rider.

Well, if they're reading this – and they well might be since I sent them an invitation – let's take them on a typical ride.

I want to be in Pasadena for a meeting at 8:45 so, I must be on the first of three buses at 7:35. I ride it for eight minutes and then wait about 3 minutes for the next bus. Note that if the first bus is as little as three minutes late, has to board a wheelchair, or hits all the lights on red, I will miss this connection and add up to an hour (the connecting bus is currently hourly) to my commute. Today, I ride for about fifteen minutes, all the while being forced to listen to the driver's portable radio being played too loudly for the speaker size so that it is distorted too (this is better than the times I have watched the driver read the morning paper while at the wheel), and exit at the stop NEAREST the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station. Since the LACMTA refuses to understand what “seamlessly integrated transportation system” means, I now must walk to the Gold Line station. The walk, about 2 blocks, takes 3 minutes 19 seconds to the bus stop adjacent to the elevator which take me to the fourth floor so that I can walk another 3 minutes or so to the platform. While in the elevator I notice that its inspection certificate, like the ones in the platform elevators, is expired – in fact, it expired just about two years ago. Every time I make this connection I am amazed that the “designers”of this station did not plan for easy bus access on Madre Street, such is found at say, the Crenshaw station on the Green Line or the Green Line Aviation Station. Most people learn by past experience – this is definitely not the case with the LACMTA! I digress. Today my connections, so far, are good and the Gold Line train arrives in about two minutes, but, something is wrong with the doors on what will be the lead car and the passengers trapped inside and we on the platform exchange wondering glances for at least 30 or more seconds until the doors finally open. I board and in a few minutes we are off and I ride the few minutes to Lake Station. Once at Lake I run up the stairs because the buses are all too infrequent on Lake. Again, probably only because I am taking notes, a Lake street bus arrives in a few minutes and I am taken to my destination. Total clock time door-to-door: fifty minutes. Time to travel by car? Perhaps, 15 minutes.

There are some actions which I could have taken to reduce travel time for this particular commute. I could have used a Foothill Transit bus which would take me directly to the Gold Line Station and stop within feet of the station elevator. But, since I have a Metro weekly pass it would mean spending an additional $22 per month to use the Foothill system or buying a Foothill pass instead of a Metro pass. That might be OK if I only had to commute to Pasadena. That not being the case and since my mother taught me to be frugal, I try to get along on only the Metro pass.

What could the LACMTA do? First of all they must start thinking about a transportation system and stop being lead around by the nose by the “Bus Riders Union”. Said Union would do well to start thinking in terms of a transportation system too. The LACMTA might think about adding local feeder lines which, like the hub and spoke system of the airlines, could bring traffic to the rail stations. These feeder lines could run more frequently during commute times and less frequently during the mid-day periods. They may even consider making these lines FREE to those who purchase a rail ticket or day pass on board the feeder line. Then, the departure times for the rail system could be adjusted to allow people to exit the bus, and go through whatever contortions required to get to the platform. And if a few people got a free ride – so what- in the larger scheme of transportation the vast majority of riders would make some form of payment. Failing that, the LACMTA should negotiate mutual acceptance of its passes by other transportation systems. The way things stand now when LACMTA decides to drop routes they simply say “we are eliminating duplication because the area is already served by X”. As in the case of line 304, Union Station to Santa Monica, at the end of the year the line will terminate at Sepulveda Boulevard for the reason stated above (substitute Big Blue Bus for X). So, each half year my pass decreases in value because I have fewer and shorter routes to ride and I must pay additional fares to ride portions of the old route on another company's buses along with attendant delays and waiting to transfer to another bus. If Big Blue Bus would accept my Metro pass then at least the cost part of the equation would be factored out of the equation. Failing that, each passenger on the truncated route should be handed a free Metro to Muni pass which would allow transfer, again, as in the above route 304 example, without cost to the rider.

Here is my favorite “low service” Metro commute. Some bus advertising used to say: “No Driving, No Parking, No Problem, Ride Metro to LAX” (I have not seen this advertising lately but the “short lines” continue), yet some line 79 runs stop several blocks short and do NOT connect with the Blue Line. It is a problem to haul one's luggage for several blocks. So in this case, Marketing and Scheduling are definitely NOT on the same page. Some WEST bound Metro number 79 line runs stop short of Grand & Washington. These runs, departures are no longer indicated on the schedule, so it is currently a hit and miss propisition for the 79 router - although many line 78 runs which originate in El Serano, terminate at either Grand & 5th or Grand & Venice – yet, in the case of the Grand & Venice terminations, the bus actually continues further on Grand (to 18th Street and makes a left turn. I fail to see the logic of such scheduling. Either, and this is my recommendation, these runs should continue to Washington so that passengers can seamlessly connect to the Blue line. In my case I “Take Metro to Lax” and I do NOT appreciate having to break the trip at Venice so that I must walk a long three (3) blocks with luggage or wait and transfer to another bus – costing me ANOTHER FULL FARE for a three block trip (or forcing me to buy a $3 day pass when my total fare would be $2.50 All of this, in fact most of what you have read here has been communicated to the LACMTA and their response? A deafening silence!

What these two anecdotes illustrate is that the LACMTA cares little for their ridership or what they think about service. They appear to look for the application of technology whether that technology is appropriate or not. Consider the “touch pass” fare boxes that have been installed in many buses at great cost yet are little used. Riders just don't want to spend $x per month for the right to ride any transit system at any time – likely this is yet another LACMTA solution without a corresponding problem.

1Covarrubias, Amanda & Pierson, David. “A Jump in Transit Ridership? Look to Cost of Gas, Gas, Gas” Los Angeles Times 28 Sept. 2005:B1

Next week: More Fun on the Metro

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