Thursday, June 26, 2008

Its a Double Dutch Bus Going Down the Street...

Growing up in L.A., I rarely had the opportunity to take the bus. I lived more than 15 miles from my high school and started driving at 16. There was a brief period when I did take the bus from school to Downtown L.A., but even that required a dry run with my Mom following me in the car just to ensure I didn't get lost. That's the problem with L.A.'s public transit system there are a myriad of different operators, and Metro, the largest of them all, operates over 200 lines.

I had the opportunity to intern at Metro during graduate school, and although I didn't get to contribute too much to improve the situation there, I did get one cool assignment. I renamed all of the more than 200 bus lines. Why did they need to be renamed, you might ask? Well many of them had the same name as the original line operated by the Regional Transit District (RTD) more than 3 decades ago, regardless of whether the line name continued to make any sense. My favorite was a bus that went to the West L.A. Transit Center. If you were standing on the street waiting for this bus, you might wonder where is this mysterious transit center? Well if you can believe it is not in West L.A. more like West Adams and the transit center was a bus bench under a freeway overpass. Another one of my favorites was the bus line which number changed in the middle of the line. This was a result of combining 2 lines to deal with budgetary issues and rather than rename the line entirely, the bus operator would arbitrarily change the bus number downtown. Yes you could actually get on Line #42 and get off on Line #76...go figure!

Now why has this been allowed to continue for so long? I think the bus rider in this recent L.A. times article says it best
"what would help more is more money spent on the bus system". That makes sense, we already take 2% of all sales tax and put it towards public transit, not to mention the gas taxes we pay at the pump, why don't we just pay more to make it better? The answer is buses are not sexy and Congress long ago past a prohibition on paying for the operating costs of metropolitan bus systems. They still subsidize the bus carrying one person in Juno, AK, but the tens of thousands who depend on the system here in L.A. to get around can't get a dime. All federal funding going towards L.A. is for capital expenses only. Which means we need to buy more and build more. Almost the entire Metro fleet now runs on CNG or even less pollutant energy methods, its one of the cleanest in the nation. So what to do with all that federal money, I know build light rail! Even though that makes little sense for a city as sprawled out and suburbanized as L.A. Local money tends to go where the federal money is offered since it is typically only given as part of matching funds.

My one suggestion besides spending more is shortening the lines. How can we expect any bus line to be more than 63% on time if we have lines traveling across Counties, literally cris-crossing the entire region. One example is the Express Line #460 going from Downtown L.A. to Disneyland!!! How many people are making that entire trip? The average bus ride lasts less than 10 miles and makes less than 2 transfers to be practical, making it unnecessary for any line to travel over 30 miles.

I really hope at one point in my career I get a chance to run the buses. According to this article they're hiring supervisors...maybe I should apply. :)

1 comment:

betsey said...

Thanks so much for this EXCELLENT post Jess! You keep my mommy brain sharp and thinking about things other than homemade baby food, my house cleaning schedule and park day. You are amazing! I do hope you get to run the buses someday!