A friendly note from me to Metro

So, it’s been a week Metro fares went up from $1.25 to $1.50.  Now, I’m not opposed to this increase per se – time passes, seasons change, bus fares go up, thus is the way of the world.  However!  as a very regular bus rider (Line 2 from West Hollywood to UCLA, represent!), I have a few ideas about what Metro should be doing my with my 25 cents per ride, suggestions that, if implemented, would make the buses of Los Angeles much happier places to be.

So, dear Metro Transit Authority, here are three humble suggestions for things you can do with my extra 25 cents a ride:

These buses would be much happier if they didn't have annoying televisions on them.

1.  Please offer transfers from one MTA route to another.  It is absolutely ridiculous that riders have to pay the full fare additional times if their route requires switching busses and/or trains.  This is a major city, right?  I can’t think of any other major cities in which transfers from one bus to another, on the same bus system, are nothing more than a heady fantasy.

2.  Some better bus stop infrastructure would be nice.  I don’t know if this is the purview of the MTA or if it’s a municipal responsibility, but I have had to wait for busses at some amazingly skeevy bus stops.  To wit:  One might assume that the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire, an intersection of two fairly major thoroughfares, could be a fairly major transit hub.  However, waiting for the Eastbound bus on Santa Monica means waiting at a bus stop where the bench might as well be a board balancing on some cinderblocks.  And there’s no shade. And the stop backs onto an empty lot.  As street corners go, it is probably among the least conducive to encouraging people to wait around for a bus.  And it’s not the only stop like that.  We need more bus shelters, or, heck, even some trees for shade, and there also needs to be some work put into making bus stops safer at night.  Having waited for busses in the wee hours even though my mother always told me that I should just take a cab, I have often found myself wishing for some kind of lighting so that I don’t feel like I’m liable to get jumped at any minute.

3.  And, my most important suggestion:  Now that you’ve got an extra quarter from every rider, you don’t need the income from Transit TV anymore, right?  Right?  Please, please, get rid of Transit TV, oh please, god.  This is absolutely key to the maintenance of my sanity.  Supposedly, 84% of people prefer being on a bus with these televisions on them, which leads me to conclude that they surveyed people who have never ridden a bus in Los Angeles.  When I get on a bus and those horrible televisions are on, I want to stick pins in my eyes.  TVs on buses are not an inherently bad idea.  However, whoever is behind the current programming on bus TV should be fired and not allowed to work in any media-related field, ever.  The Transit TV lineup includes news headlines, read in a monotone, by pasty zombie people; triva questions and brain teasers that seem to be compiled by someone with a less than secure grasp on the workings of the English language (my favorite example, from a few months ago was the following trivia question:  “Yogurt is a member of which food group?”  Answer?  “Milk.”  Which is not really wrong, I guess, but it’s not quite right either); horrible, often offensive jokes; and stupid commercials advertising inane things like mail-order college educations, or, advertising the ad space on Transit TV.  Like, honestly?  Do they really think the people who are riding the bus are the people who are going to buy ad space on the bus?  Do they think we are not agonizingly aware of the presence of ad space on the bus?  Oh, and the volume of the sets can’t be controlled by the drivers, and they’re loud and obnoxious, and all of this programming is presented in the most irritatingly patronizing tone possible.  “It’s like they think everyone on the bus is an idiot,” I said to my roommate one day.  “Or maybe,” he replied, “the people who make Transit TV are idiots.”  Truer words were never spoken.

So, dear Metro Transit Authority, these are the humble propositions I put forward to you, in all your infinite wisdom.  My alternate suggestion would be that you use your newfound revenue to buy me a car, but that somehow seems less within the realms of possibility.

Yours,

Alexandra

(Photo courtesy of LA Wad, via the blogging.LA flickr pool)

12 Replies to “A friendly note from me to Metro”

  1. First suggestion of a transfer opens the door to distracting the driver and more expense. Furthermore it is another way for transfer recipriants to sell or scam the system.

    Number three comment is that transit TV is maybe useless. I find the side bar GPS/map is useful at times. Basically MTA has sold out as a huge billboard at times.

  2. Re: #2 – Beverly Hills needs to be blasted with petitions, emails, letters, whatever it takes. West Hollywood bus shelters right next door are fabulous. That Wilshire and Santa Monica bus stop corner is just truly awful and has been for as long as it has existed. Beverly Hills sister city Cannes has the same bus shelter vendor as West Hollywood – what up Beverly Hills? Most of the Beverly Hills bus stop “shelters” if there even is one at any particular stop are just plain sad and so NOT Beverly Hills. Tourists from all over the world visit that city, many by bus, and crudy bus stops are what they are presented with. Ugh!

  3. At most, fares cover about 30% of what it costs to actually operate a bus. A fare increase will not pay for any capital improvements, even if it’s just simple bus stop improvements. Transfers would not be implemented at $1.50. Comparable transit systems with transfers charge around a $2 fare for that privilege.

    The fare increase, coupled with service cuts, helps closes budget gaps caused by dwindling tax revenue and cuts in transit subsidies. That’s all it really does.

  4. If Metro got rid of Transit TV, I would be giving them many more quarters. As it stands now, I usually travel places where I have alternatives (LADOT, Beeline, Big Blue Bus, etc.) and make every effort to use the other systems instead. And not just because they’re cheaper…but because I don’t get assaulted by Transit TV!

  5. First, thanks to philpalm for pointing out that transfers are easily used to scam the system. That was one of the considerations when Metro switched from transfers to the day pass.

    Thanks also to Spokker for a concise but accurate description of how much of the operating costs actually come from the passenger’s wallet. Also for pointing out that you don’t get transfers between lines from any low-fare agency, anywhere. (And yes, Metro actually has one of the lowest fares in the country at $1.50 per boarding.)

    Now for the other issues:
    Transit TV generates revenue for Metro which, unlike a lot of what it gets in the way of state and federal funding, can actually be spent to operate service. It’s not going away anytime soon, especially since the Legislature went along with Governor Ahnuld and eliminated the State Transit Assistance funding, which was funded by sales tax revenues on gasoline sales and specifically went toward transit operations. (For the record, Metro gets a lot of non-“operations eligible” funding, which legally can only be used for construction projects or acquiring new buses.)

    And to answer the question: The only thing Metro owns at an on-street bus stop is the metal sign with its logo and information on the bus line(s) that stops there. Benches, shelters, etc. are owned by whatever city the stop happens to be in. The stop Alexandra mentioned is within the Los Angeles city limits, so she should call them rather than blame Metro.

    All in all, this rant (and I use that word because that’s one of the areas it is filed under here) would have been a lot more useful if the author had done some research before writing. She’s a “writer, teacher, and scholar” so I am certain she knows how to do so.

  6. Well, shit. Who knew that what was meant as a tongue in cheek rant that reflected the way I experience riding the bus would lead to an ad hominem attack. That’s really civil of you, Kymberleigh.

    For the record: Obviously I know that fares don’t cover the full operating costs of the system. It would be foolish to assume otherwise. The fare increase provided me, as a writer, with what I thought was a funny way to frame a few thoughts I’ve had been harboring about Metro for a long time. Apologies if the tongue and cheekness I intended didn’t come through, but sadly that’s one of the limitations of the internet, one that I probably should have done more to take into account.

  7. Perhaps if it had been written in a more humorous style? It is indeed difficult to judge one’s mood without specific clues when reading printed text.

    BTW, it is rather unfortunate that you are unable to spell my name correctly when it’s right there on the screen.

  8. See, that’s the thing: I thought it was pretty humorously written. Again, thus are the perils of the internets.

    And apologies for the spelling error – a mistake made in haste, which I’ve gone back and fixed.

  9. The argument that transfers will somehow encourage riders to scam the system is ridiculously far off the mark. Bus-to-bus (and for that matter, bus-to-rail, rail-to-bus, and so on) transfers are actually a rather common feature of a functional transit system that meets its customers needs. They may involve a small extra fee, but almost never the purchase of a full second fare. And they are almost always governed by conditions that make it highly impractical — if not impossible — to abuse them (time limits, directional/route limits, or requiring payment by electronic fare card rather than cash). None of this is rocket science. If I can trust a driver to safely navigate L.A. traffic in a large, unwieldy vehicle, I think I can trust her or him to read a timestamp on a ticket. I know from personal experience, on business and vacation travel in cities around the country and around the world, that this is the standard, not the exception. Among other places, I have seen it in Washington, DC, Chicago, New York, Paris, and even Warsaw. Also standard are well-lit, functional, and reasonably safe waiting areas.

    I would go so far as to say that this lighthearted critique — and it’s quite clear from the tone of the article as well as the overall tone of this blog that that’s exactly what it is — could easily be much more damning of L.A.’s generally incompetent approach to mass transit. I’m fully aware of our city’s checkered past with this issue, but in this day and age, any transit director who implements the kind of policies Alexandra has called out — the kind of policies that actively discourage, rather than encourage, use of the system — in any other self-respecting city would be fired faster than you can say “red car.” The insistence upon relying on Transit TV as a source of supplemental income is particularly egregious; it really crosses a line of intrusion that I think most people would find offensive. It is much less like an animated version of poster ads above the bus windows, and much more like a salesman who comes to your seat to interrupt your reading or conversation or quiet thought or whatever with a pushy sales pitch. Again, the things being asked for here are the standard rather than the exception. They are things that make a transit system attractive to riders, and therefore [more] financially viable.

    One final note: resorting to personal attacks doesn’t help make your case. If anything, it strongly implies trolling, which is behavior that regular readers of Metblogs/Blogging LA know is not looked kindly upon here.

  10. As usual, Kymberleigh is off the mark in her vitriolic attack and defense of anything that the MTA puts out, no matter how bad it is.

    With all of the money we are putting into the TAP Card, you could restrict transfers only to TAP users. This is the situation in Houston, which has lower fares than Metro but still has transfers; Boston (with a lower bus fare than Metro); and Atlanta. Indeed, many other agencies in LA County, such as Foothill Transit, LADOT, Santa Monica, and Culver City, offer paper transfers with a lower base fare than that of Metro. If the goal is to eliminate fraud, which is a legitimate concern considering the epidemic of transfer thefts in the late 1990’s, than putting transfers on the smart card is the answer. Yet Metro still refuses to implement the cash purse on the TAP card for occasional riders to add fare. Instead they have to trek to El Monte, Montebello, or Culver City, to add the amount that is similarly valid on Metro.

    Kymberleigh, Alexandra is not going to write a treatise on fare policy. I thought it was pretty humorous enough, thank you very much, and am gratified that you seem the only person who doesn’t get it. She is annoyed, as are many regular riders, by Transit TV. I’ve been lucky in that on the rides that I take, Transit TV’s volume is low enough to be a din below the normal level of conversation, although I do find it amusing to ring the bell right as Transit TV displays some loud ad. The content level is worse since they got apparent high school seniors to read headlines on Transit TV – it looks like an episode of Teen Kids News. Having Paul Moyer do it was much more useful. (Whether or not that was a joke is an exercise for the reader.)

  11. *shrug*

    Take me as I am, take my words as they are. But deciding that something is untrue simply because I say it is akin to the proverbial ostrich with its head stuck in the sand.

    Until you know from being truly involved in public transportation advocacy how severe the funding problems are and how difficult implementing fixes are, calling my comments “vitriolic” is not much of a comeback.

    Mr. Chang, as I type this there is a staff report on one of the Metro Board committee agenda items on the timeline for further TAP implementation. It includes, among other things, the conversion of the day pass to a paper (low usable life) TAP card, and the implementation of the cash purse option. Perhaps you should try looking at the Board agendas, and read the staff reports, before making such blanket statements as “Metro still refuses to implement the cash purse on the TAP card”. Where you are sadly ignorant is in not realizing that it is foolhardy to roll out a new technology with all the options activated, because that makes it incredibly more difficult to debug the inevitable problems that come from implementing the new technology.

    I will now use your same logic in discussing another local system that is using TAP:
    Culver CityBus still refuses to implement transfers on TAP cards, only having the cash purse option, even though this would reduce possible fraudulent use of transfers.
    Makes as much sense to me as your statement, except that Culver City is moving cautiously into the technology and hasn’t migrated transfers yet. Now, I’m sure your next move is to remind me how much longer it is taking Metro. To which I answer that relative system size is a factor; it is going to take Metro longer to debug its fareboxes than it will any other agency.

    By the way, it may already be obvious, but I couldn’t care less if you are “gratified” by my response. You have that preconceived notion I referenced above and therefore nothing I say will have any effect on you.

    But those who read this without your preconceived notions may understand the issue better, so I shall continue commenting wherever and whenever I feel the need, in the hopes that those who approach my comments more open-mindedly will gain additional knowledge on the complexities of public transportation.

  12. Except that MTA doesn’t communicate this information to the general public. That’s great that you can read the Metro Board agendas. It’s like looking at a needle through the haystack. Does anyone keep up with the LA City Council? The Board of Supervisors? Exactly. That’s great that Culver City is taking forever, since Foothill Transit implemented transfers on TAP successfully. Maybe because they are run by a private entity, not government bureaucrats, they can act faster at implementing a useful service? Boston, Seattle, Atlanta, Washington all have transfers on smart cards. I can add fare credit on a TAP card in Montebello and it will work on Metro. Seattle, for instance, had a very successful implementation that included many operators over many counties, ferries, commuter rail, distance based fares, and all of that. LA is getting pwned by Houston, of all places. It looks bad.

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