Tuesday, April 8, 2008

LA Metro: Normal People Need Not Ride

I have a shameful secret to tell you all. Come closer. Closer. Closer. Okay, too close, move back just a tad. Okay, you ready?

Here is my secret: I have lived in LA for 6 1/2 years and prior to ApPTMo, I had used public transportation in LA exactly ... once.

Yes, you read that correctly. Un, Uno, Ek, however you want to say it, ONE time. And what's more, for five of those 6 1/2 years, I even lived about 15 minutes walking from a metro station.

And yet, it never occurred to me to you know, use it.

A few days ago, Orgie commented on how different the perception of public transport is in LA compared to New York. This is actually a pretty important point. The attitude towards the metro is very different in LA. Just today, it came up in email conversation that I took the metro to work today, and the response I got was, "Wow, who knew that normal people did that!"

Who, indeed. I know that some of you are probably surprised by that response, and I admit, it gave me a moment's pause, but the truth is, there is a kernel of truth to her response. If we substitute the cavalier use of the word "normal" for "person who owns/can afford a car" she's pretty much dead on.

Los Angeles likes to boast its very high metro ridership numbers, but those numbers have to be looked at in context. Obviously Los Angeles has high ridership. Its a city of 3.8 million. But what percentage of Angelenos use public transit? And here LA falls flat on its face. By this calculation, LA ranks a dismal 34th at 10.64% of the population using public transportation to get to work. In fact, LA does worse than Seattle, Oakland, Portland, and surprisingly, Daly City, California and Buffalo, New York. (Okay, well I guess Daly City probably has a decent number of residents who take BART to San Francisco, but Buffalo, really?)

So, it's all very well for LA to boast their ridership, but frankly, in my mind, a successful public transit program doesn't just reach those who have no other option. A truly successful public transport program reaches beyond those who can't afford a car, and attracts riders who CAN afford a car, but choose to commute via PT because its easier/faster/more relaxing, etc. The LA Metro is generally none of these things. And thus, anyone who can afford to drive, drives.

Hopefully, one day, I'll mention that I took the metro to work, and I'll be met with a casual, "Oh yeah, me too." But I've got to be honest, I'm not holding my breath.


EcoGeoFemme said...

My incentive is that parking is such a pain in the ass and/or expensive.

Sam said...

Well Philly is #10 on that list of transit riders, but in my department I am one of three people who use transit. One of the three has a disability and thus would actually be dangerous behind the wheel.

Among my friends (who identify as being peace loving and bleeding heart liberals against wars for oil etc.), my husband and I are the among the few who don't own a car or even rely on car-sharing services so much.

And yeah, my husband has ridden the Buffalo transit and their downtown is apparently really nice as was their subway.

Joyce said...

I live in a university town, and our ridership is very high, partly because many students don't have a car on campus, and partly because the universty chooses not to spend it's money and space on providing parking. My husband works there, and one of his perks is a free bus pass. So our ridership includes professors and college students, as well as the poor and disabled. It's a nice mix. Maybe L.A. should think about ways to create incentives for business people, etc. to use the bus. Less parking is a very big one.

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

Those stats are 8 years old and a lot of awareness has come to pass since the big'00. Still, of the top 10 in ridership almost all have crappy cold, damp, rainy, snowy weather 6 months out of the year. Walking 15 minutes to a bus stop in Chicago in February is a WHOLE lot more of a challenge than it would be in LA. Tsk,tsk.

organicneedle said...

You said it exactly...until it becomes easier to do PT than drive...people will drive if they can. (The nature of NYC, less space more people, a collection of islands that are connected with bridges and tunnels with high tolls, $30-$50 a day parking, makes it a no brainer for most of us.) Now...LA might have to find its own motivations. Congestion pricing? Commuter tax? Parking tax? Free manuscript read per 10 rides? Then they could use the money to upgrade PT into something people actually find convenient. Plus, I mentioned this on another post but like to repeat myself, why aren't any of these "green" celebrities putting their butts on PT? If one thought she were going to get pressed up against a Mr. Jake Gyllenhaal for 20 minutes of cheap feels each day...she would proudly claim the name straphanger.

ruchi said...

Ecogeofemme & Joyce, you've hit the nail on the head. One of the reasons why Angelenos drive so much is because places try to provide ample, convenient parking. For example, at my job, I have free parking, and my very own parking spot. In fact, everyone at my company has their own spot.

Beany, I didn't know Buffalo even had a subway!

Equa Yona, you're right. Those stats are 8 years old, and other articles suggest that LA's ridership has increased slightly over the past eight years. However, I would be surprised if LA ranks much higher in the 2010 census.

Orgie, a lot of actors live on the West side which is not at all supported by the subway. I believe Jake is known for biking around town a lot, but if you don't live east of La Brea, pretty much your only option is to use buses which are much less appetizing than a subway. There is perpetual talk of extending the subway westward, though, and hopefully Jake will ride it when it comes to that part of town.

Bad Human? said...

That's unfortunate about the metro in LA. I lived in Boston for four years and never owned a car because public transit was so good and everyone did that. Part of it was traffic and the cost of parking but mostly people did it because it was easy, went anywhere you could want to go, and it was fairly inexpensive.



ScienceMama said...

This is such a great post. The problem is that until transit is MORE convenient than driving alone, most people aren't going to do it.

Husband and I carpool, primarily because to commute the distance we do takes many buses and a LOT of time. If there were more frequent buses that went greater distances, we might change our commute.

Anonymous said...

I think it's fantastic that you take PT in LA. I visited once during a college journalism conference with 15 other New Yorkers. It drove us insane. Granted we were based out of Universal City (I think that's what it's called) but crossing the street to get to the Metro station was so difficult because you could only cross at certain points, sometimes having to make a U instead of just walking across. Plus, there were so many cars and huge roads that you can't just run across like we tend to in NY.

I do wish that with rising gas prices, our politicians consider investing in PT rather than various dead-end schemes to make driving more suitable. NYC's system is so overcrowded and they keep raising the fare without improving service. Yet, I still consider it a better option than most other cities I have visited.

Have you ever considered biking? I'm not sure how comfortable I would feel biking in LA but I could have said the same for New York a few years ago. Now, I rarely even take the subway because biking is more convenient.