Transit Trauma

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I don’t own a car. I take public transit everywhere. Generally it works out pretty well, but I wanted to share a few experiences I had recently….

Last week I spent an afternoon Downtown. I had an important meeting that night, and I figured I’d get on the subway at five, which would leave me an hour to make it back to Hollywood. Should’ve been plenty of time. The Red Line arrived just after five and I got on board. But apparently the brakes on that train had locked up, and after ten minutes the conductor still hadn’t been able to resolve the problem.

I had to make it back to Hollywood by six. Now I had forty five minutes, and it seemed unlikely that a bus travelling at rush hour would get me home in time. So I ended up taking a cab, which cost me twenty five bucks, plus tip.

Monday morning I was heading out to the Panorama City, a trip that takes three busses. Unfortunately, at one of my connecting points, I saw the bus I needed speeding past when I was still a block from the stop. It was five minutes early. I had to wait for the next one, which made me fifteen minutes late.

And then there was Wednesday morning. I got to the Red Line station at Hollywood and Highland. I was waiting on the platform when a voice came over the PA saying that there was no service to the North Hollywood station. Due to a power outage, the trains were only running to Universal City. Immediately I tried to think of other options, but there’s only one bus that goes to North Hollywood and it doesn’t run often. I glanced at the monitor above me to check the time. But the monitor wasn’t working.

I ended up getting on the train to Universal City. Once we arrived, it turned out the escalator to street level was out of order. Actually, it’s pretty common for escalators and elevators serving the subways to be out of commission. This morning it meant that the mass of people climbing the stairs had to contend with the people going down the stairs at the same time.

At Universal I had to get on the 224, which was packed to capacity, to get to North Hollywood. I felt like I was riding in a cattle car. At North Hollywood I got on the Orange Line, which was also packed to capacity, to make the trip out to Van Nuys. Amazingly, I was only fifteen minutes late.

Now I’m not bringing all this up because I want to slag public transit. I like public transit. I definitely prefer it to driving. It’s way cheaper and way less stressful. And most of the time it gets me where I want to go more or less reliably. But I have some serious questions about the direction the MTA is taking things.

In September the MTA raised fares. A day pass went from $5 to $7, and a monthly pass went from $75 to $100, a 40% increase and a 33% increase respectively. I realize that this is the first fare hike in four years, and that the MTA is running a substantial deficit. I also realize that tickets only cover about 28% of operating costs, and that anything less than 33% can jeopardize federal funding. But these are still huge hikes. And the while the MTA has postponed further fare increases for the moment, you can be sure they’re coming. On top of that, the Daily News reports that the MTA is considering further service cuts, even though they’ve already cut hundreds of thousands of service hours in the last few years. Here’s the article.

Fare Hikes Won’t Fix Agency’s Deficit

So here’s what worries me. The MTA seems determined to continue raising fares and cutting service as it struggles to resolve its financial difficulties. I have to ask if this is really going to encourage Angelenos to ride busses and trains. I hear a lot of talk about how people have to abandon cars and embrace public transit, but this course of action seems guaranteed to drive people away. That’s already happened with Metrolink. For the last few years Metrolink ridership has been declining, and customers have cited rising costs and declining service as the reason they’ve gone back to using their cars.

The Mayor and the MTA Board have put Los Angeles on the fast track when it comes to building new transit projects, which sounds good in theory. But these hugely expensive projects are years away from completion, and the MTA seems unable to even maintain current levels of service.

There’s something really wrong here. If the MTA wants us to believe that they’re going to be able to manage a vastly expanded transit system, they need to do a better job of managing the system we’ve got now. Otherwise, instead of attracting new riders, they’re going to lose the ones they’ve got.

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