Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Metro: Naughty and Nice

Yesterday was a particularly difficult day on the bus. I tend to say this when I haven't taken the bus in a while, which is fair on both ends - mine and Metro's, that is. However, as of late, I've noticed some things about Metro that have made me think and unfortunately become frustrated. Part of me thinks that these observations arise from the changes they're making as far as cutting lines or changing timetables, but this could also be general traffic or weather conditions. Or maybe it's none of the above. Perhaps the drivers are incompetent. Perhaps the system is faulty. Whatever the reason, I've not been happy with Metro. It's actually been more naughty than I'm comfortable with, and here's why:

1. Late arrivals, or no arrivals. More often than not, the buses I regularly take (the 165 heading east/west and the 230/239 heading north/south) have been arriving absurdly late, as little as ten minutes, as much as twenty. Five minutes late I can understand, even on a somewhat regular basis - but once it gets to fifteen or twenty it has become absolutely ridiculous. This fact makes me appreciate having a generally flexible schedule, but when people are depending on me, my commute is made all the more stressful. Sure, the easiest thing would be to take an earlier bus... but what happens when a bus runs every hour? I'm sorry, but I'm not going to be waiting around somewhere for an hour. Would you?

If you're lucky, most buses come somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes, but not always. It's possible that it's a matter of me familiarizing self with the new timetables - however, in referring to what info is live and online, I know they're arriving late. Arriving late causes an unfair domino effect, which can result in anything from missing one's connection to losing their job to getting a bad grade in class, if late one too many times.

In short, it's ridiculous.

2. The frequency of buses, and the hours in which they run. As far as I know, one regular bus that I take goes by my home stop for the last time of the night (heading east) at around 8:30 pm, and in the opposite direction at around 9:30 pm.... how am I supposed to get home after that, short of calling a taxi? One time I called a service just to see how much it would cost to get from Woodland Hills to Van Nuys... we were talking $40. I understand the demand of a personal set of wheels is not nearly as high on this coast than the east coast, but I'll tell you - if I can pay that same amount with tip to a driver in New York to get me from JFK to Williamsburg, I'm not paying that amount to take me all of four miles. No thanks.

Anyway, some bus lines stop earlier in the Valley. One in particular (the 150 on Ventura Blvd heading west) goes past Balboa Blvd at 7:30 pm on a Friday night, and that's the end of that line. Makes no sense, says I. Over-the-hill this is of very little issue. I always tell myself that should life position me somewhere over-the-hill in a residential sense, I will not argue it one bit. Should life position me way over-the-hill (and I'm talking New York) I will allow the current to take me.

03. Overcrowding. This may or may not be Metro's fault, but it needs some attention... one of the reasons taking the bus yesterday was such a pain was because of the overcrowding. Take away from the equation the heat, the mixing of smells of human flesh (and then some), the items brought on the bus, the multiple stops, the lack of ventilation, and that the driver wasn't assertive or proactive one bit. Take all of that away and save it for later. This was at 2:00 on a Tuesday afternoon when people are out and about. Does a bus running every 30-40 minutes seem reasonable to you? And on top of that arriving ten minutes late?

Needless to say, I'm picking up the car search again - but really how long have I been saying this? For a while, and I'm getting a little annoyed at the thought, to be honest. Now that things are winding down for the year/new year I can focus on it again. To be frank, getting a car wasn't that high a priority what with life being a little centered for a bit these last few months, which led to some extended use of my bicycle, the Red Line/Orange Line, Rapid lines, my legs, and kind certain persons who, let's say, I kiss more than hug these days (another story for another time). As much as it hasn't been that bad, I know it's not going to last forever.

It's rather difficult to love LA when there's not enough blood supply coming to one of its more bustling places of residence and business. Now, I could say that Metro would want for us to fall off and die (that is, look for alternative transportaion) but they're extending the Orange Line, which is scheduled for service in 2012, and offering free fare this holiday season (Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve from 9pm to 2am both evenings - "and to all a good night", indeed). A little nice to balance the naughty.

But really, the best present ever would be to give some serious consideration to local service - anywhere in LA, but especially the Valley. I'm getting tired of hearing myself complain. The three aforementioned are the baddest of the bunch, and I realize that everyone's just doing their jobs so they can go home and be with their families or their TV or their game of Sims. But what if it took you an extra hour and change to get home because the last bus of the night didn't come? Or worse?

Oh, you bet there's worse.


  1. A few thoughts on your dilemma. I love public transit and wish to god it came closer neighborhood. Honestly, if I had to though I could pedal over to the stop that is about a mile from my house and probably take the Mountain Line anywhere I needed. It doesn't go to the airport, which is less than a mile from my house. I work at the airport and I've had people from other cities and countries laugh in the phone line when I tell them we have no bus service from the airport.

    Anyway, the problem of increased circulatin times and loss of routes is happening all over the country; a really sad commentary when more and more people are needing to rely on public transit because they've can no longer afford to maintain a car in this economy. What does a person do when he or she is in foreclosure, has been unemployed for 12 months, and can no longer afford car insurance payments? Maybe Sen. McConnell has an answer for that. I'd recomment massive public investments in not just capital projects in public transit but also operational cost. The argument is that public transit doesn't pay for itself but that is only true if you mean it doesn't pay for itself directly. I don't believe the wonderful public transit systems so valued in Europe without subsidies that are paid for through higher taxes but I'd be willing to pay more at the pump if I knew that my community had more reliable bus service for everyone.

    Public servants and those who work in nonprofit orgs have long been required to do more with less. I saw a recent TV report in which train operators in one city were having to go longer in between bathroom breaks because of staffing cuts. So bad it has been that some drivers have soiled themselves because they can be "written up" if they do have to stop to use the loo.

    My recommendation is that if the Valley has a group that advocates for public transit that you consider joining it to add your voice. Too many of the people making decision about public services don't see the value in services that they don't use. They don't see the value in bus shelters because they've never had to wait in the rain for a bus to get to work. They don't understand why having a circulation time of every 10 minutes is important because they've never had to worry about being late to work and getting fired with no other way to arrive but the bus. Unfortunately, many movers and shakers believe that people who ride the bus are "losers" who, if they managed their finances better would own a car. (I actually read an editorial in a a Louisville newspaper by a local loud-mouth who seemed to hold this notion).

  2. Your comment really inspired me. Thank you so much... I've done a lot of thinking and - well, hopefully you know by now but it has inspired a career change. I mean, things mount upon each other with all the experiences we have, but the whole of what you said sparked a "well, why not?" in my head. I'll keep you posted as to what develops, because I hope to make more meetings than those I've attended in the past, and be more vocal when in attendance. And do more, even. Like I said - hugely inspired. Thank you again for taking the time. :) Also, happy new year to you!