Friday, August 27, 2010

TAP Cards and Turnstiles

Metro's electronic fare system, TAP, was in the news again for the cost of installing locking turnstiles that are still not being fully utilized and the slow adoption of riders from paper to electronic. Although, many of the assertions made in the Daily News article are true there is little doubt that the majority of other public transit entities in the U.S. struggled through the same issues when they transferred from paper to electronic fare systems. Other systems do have advantages though to LA's Metro including having staffed stations that allow for confused riders and problems to be addressed in real-time by a Metro employee and a much larger rail system that was built with turnstiles originally in mind. I never quite understood what made Metro choose to start with a honor system except for that when the Red Line was built it was feared to be rarely used by anyone let alone have to worry about fare evasion. As the network has grown and lines are added the increased need for oversight has made this system a problem. As a regular rider, I take offense to being constantly asked by Sheriffs and fare checkers for my proof of transit. I often see them paying more careful attention to patrons that one might expect to be potential fare evaders: teens on skateboards, individuals that are asleep, etc. Without a system that ensures every rider has paid the profiling will continue.

As for the article's questioning as to why more riders haven't adopted TAP, I believe that until paper tickets are no longer an option for students and seniors, there will be little motivation to move to the new system. People enjoy what is familiar and will not change unless forced. With the increase of use there will hopefully be more outlets to purchase a TAP and remove the burden of finding an outlet near you. And maybe one day soon, Metro will be able to lock those pretty new turnstiles once and for all.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Am I a loser?

According to Hollywood, I just might be. Slate has a great article entitled "Dude, Where's your car?: How not having a car became Hollywood shorthand for loser". This is an idea not lost on me. I often wonder what people think about the fact that I live in L.A. and there's only 1 freeway-drivable car in a 2-person household. I would argue that not having a car to get me to all my destinations, has increased my cool factor.

1. I'm not stuck in my car for 90-120 minutes a day commuting 5 days a week. Although this means I don't get to listen to endless amounts of bad radio, I do get to spend my commuting time listening to my iPod and This American Life podcasts.

2. By having only 1 car, we were forced to move to a transit-friendly neighborhood. In addition to being near transit I also live within two blocks of a local wine store, Trader Joe's, two yoga studios, half a dozen restaurants, two coffee shops and a bakery.

3. I'm able to shop at the weekly Thursday farmer's market, something I never got home in time to visit when I drove. I can also make almost any yoga class or dinner date within 30 minutes of me being off of work, even on a Friday! (Gasp! Has taking public transit turned me into one of those crazy hipsters who only shop locally? And if so, isn't that the definition of Hollywood cool these days?)

4. A weird side effect of not driving during the week is how little I drive on the weekends and nights. The bearded man and I tend to stay within the 10 mile radius area around our place, which just happens to include Downtown LA the newest cool spot to be in Lala land.

So I guess I will dust off those weird stares and uncomfortable pauses when I tell people I don't drive very regularly. I'll remind myself there are millions of New Yorkers who never even care to get their license and not worry about being called out like poor Cher.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Too many transfers, too many delays

My coworker is a brave soul. She travels on 3 Metro rail lines a day to get to work: Green to Blue to Red. The total distance of her commute if she drove would be a little over 13 miles. For the most part taking public transit works for her. She doesn't spend close to an hour in traffic, her car isn't forced to put on mileage and since work pays for the majority of her monthly pass it's cost effective. But there's something that is rarely taken into account: the psychological toll of relying on transit day after day to get you to and from a place 10+ times a week. The problem is that with 3 rail lines that's 3 times as many places for things to go wrong, multiply that by a round trip and that's 6 times a day things could go wrong, multiply that by 5 days a week and you're up to 30 get the picture. The problem becomes when the days that the trip goes off without a hitch start to seem fewer than the number of times SOMETHING goes wrong. This can range from something minor like one or two doors not opening on a train causing momentary chaos at every station to a crash with a car, requiring everyone switching to a bus bridge. In LA it tends to be the Blue Line with problems more often than the others, and in Washington D.C. it typically was the Red Line, but when one of these "problem" lines are on your daily commute your ability to rely on transit as a timely and efficient option starts to dwindle. Not to say Metro isn't trying the twitter feed @metrolosangeles has started keeping much better with transit alerts and continues to be responsive via the source blog for issues being raised by customers. Check them both out if you're a rider or just a transit enthusiast.