Unfortunately, I’m not in L.A. to comment on what’s actually happening back home. I’m writing this from my parental units’ in Victoria, BC. Which is not far from Vancouver. But, while I can’t go out and comment on L.A. today, I finally have time to put together some more commentary on the WaPo article saying that L.A. has one of the top transit systems in the nation.
Victoria is not far from Vancouver, which does have one of the most outstanding transit systems in North America. Translink is the reason that many of my friends in Vancouver choose not to buy cars. Victoria is also close to Seattle, who, despite the monorail, have always had great public transit as well. I’ve lived on and off in both cities in the years before I came to L.A., and L.A.’s transit system is a little lacking in comparison. Here’s some of the differences I’ve personally observed between the MTA and the systems back up North that I think contribute to my perception of the MTA being a little misrepresented in the WaPo article:
1. We have huge parts of the city with virtual transit blackouts – mostly on the Westside. The MTA partially relies on the Big Blue Bus and Culver Citybus to cover that area. I had a conversation with a bus driver on Hallowe’en where he told me that the MTA would actually like to rely completely on those city systems, and have passengers actually change buses when they hit, say, Sepulveda. In other West Coast cities, the metro area is the metro area, and it encompasses everything. Separate Antelope Valley and San Gabriel transit systems should fall under the domain of the MTA.
2. We’re trying to build a subway. Why? Ray Bradbury even said, L.A. needs a monorail, not a subway. The other three biggest cities on the West Coast – Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco – all have monorails or above ground trains as their rapid transit (SkyTrain, the Seattle Monorail, BART). These may go underground when necessary, but the majority of the tracks are above ground – far cheaper to build. And far nicer to look at – the Gold Line scenery is absolutely gorgeous. As Bradbury said, we’re used to traveling above ground, in the sunshine.
3. The planned extensions do not seem to be prioritized to follow the worst of the traffic patterns. The “Subway to the Sea” is more a myth than a reality, and may yet get hijacked. (CurbedLA suggests that a Gold Line extension to Ontario may fight for that funding.) And that’s the route that would cover Wilshire, where, in rush hour, it can take twenty minutes to cover one mile. It’s been suggested by the L.A. Weekly that racism was behind the reluctance to expand past Western in the original Red Line – just in case anyone from Watts came up on the Blue Line, changed trains downtown, and then came out to rob people in Hancock Park.
4. Transit in the true core of the city – downtown L.A. – is reliant on the DASH system. Which I’ve heard runs consistently late, and certainly isn’t well publicized. Despite carrying eight million people on six lines, at a quarter fare, it doesn’t show up as part of the MTA trip planners, and seems to have poor integration with the other transit lines that enter downtown. And it would be really helpful if it covered some of the immediate neighborhoods outside downtown, too – I remember waiting half an hour for a bus in Echo Park one year at the Lotus Festival – because the bus I needed to Union Station was late.
So those are some of the reasons that come to mind when I think of why the MTA, while it may be one of the busiest systems in the country, doesn’t quite deserve the title of “best”. I’m probably totally biased on this, of course, because I’ve been a Westsider since I got to L.A. almost three years ago. Maybe my perception will change once my transition to SiFi is complete, and I’ll be talking about how awesome Metro is because it will meet my needs once I’m in that neighborhood. But shouldn’t it come a little closer to meeting my needs even now?
Next: Part Two, in which I compare and contrast the differences in the MTA’s publicity – and the regional report card which gives transit in the area a “D”