Saturday, January 31, 2009

How they do it in LA

I took a trip down to Los Angeles yesterday, to go help out the UCLA chapter of a student organization I'm involved with. Of course, I took public transit. In this post, I'll share my thoughts about what worked, what didn't, and what it means for regional transportation.

First, a quick overview of the trip. I took the Metrolink 800/321 to LA from Riverside. From there, the Purple Line subway to Wilshire/Western, the Metro Rapid 720 to Wilshire/Westwood, and the Santa Monica BBB #3 to UCLA. Going home, I took the Culver City #6 back to Wilshire/Westwood, the 920 Rapid Express to Wilshire/Western, the Purple Line back to Union Station and the Metrolink 410 home.

What worked:
Metrolink. Compared to the gladiatorial battle with freeway traffic, riding the train is smooth, comfortable, and productive. I got a philosophy paper done while riding, something I sure couldn't do while driving. The train ran slightly early into Union Station.

The Subway. Still the quickest way to move lots of people through a city. I wish I could use my cellphone though.

Metro Rapid. This is a surprise to me. I was a serious skeptic about the Rapid program, as it's not really a *true* BRT project. (The Orange Line is.) However, after riding it I'm convinced. While on the "standard" Rapid 720, we passed two #20 local buses, and stayed generally competitive with automobile traffic. (That doesn't say much, see below, but it's something.) The "Rapid Express" 920 was even faster. Riding one of these makes you realize how much of a factor stop cost is when taking the bus.

Metrolink tickets as an EZ Pass. After the fare that Metrolink charges, it's nice to get all of your day's transportation needs thrown in to the package. All but one of the above operators accepted my ticket for full fare.

What Didn't:
The Subway. Okay, yeah, I said it worked. The fact of the matter is that the subway is a really nice transit system. However, what the hell is up with this "Purple Line" thing? There are a whopping total of TWO, you heard me right TWO stations that aren't shared with the Red Line. I'm not really sure that gets to qualify as it's own line.
Now, if it weren't for Prop A and the "methane zone" fiasco, this subway branch would run all the way to Santa Monica, and then I can see it getting it's own colour. But as it stands now, I don't know why they decided that the Red Line branch to Wilshire/Western is now the Purple Line.

Traffic on Wilshire. Wow. Just wow. As I mentioned, the Rapid buses were moving about as quickly as private cars on Wilshire Blvd. That's mostly because nobody was moving all that quickly. Six traffic lanes, and they were all full. The obvious lesson here is that we don't need the Subway to the Sea in 2036, we needed it in 1996. You know, when they originally planned to open it before Measure A and the methane stuff happened. The 920 Rapid is an admirable try (especially when it stops at all of the proposed subway stations), but a bus in traffic doesn't compare to a train below it.

My Metrolink ticket on Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus. What? You're part of the EZ Pass system. The Metrolink ticket is an EZ Pass. Yet, somehow, it's not good enough for you. I'd complain more if your fare wasn't $0.75, but still, it's this kind of inconsistency and lack of integration that makes public transit harder than it has to be.

Lessons for Riverside: BUILD THE BRT. BUILD IT NOW. The 1 Limited RapidLink is far, far overdue. RTA, I recently editorialized on the fare hike and said I supported an immediate 25% fare increase, conditioned on the premise that you stop cutting our bus service and start building some reasonable transit infrastructure in this town. This trip to LA only solidified my support for the Magnolia/University corridor BRT system. You were two freakin' months from launching this thing back in 2005, I have to assume that most of the equipment is sitting in a closet somewhere. Deploy it.

Metrolink tickets ought to be valid on any route, not just those serving the Metrolink station. This system takes transfers, guys. Considering that only a handful of routes serve the city's Metrolink stations, I'd wager that many riders have to take two buses to get there, or two buses to get from there to their destinations. Half of them might just be taking a bus from the train station to the Downtown Terminal. Negotiate with Metrolink and get them on board, too.

The more people on the bus, the less there are on the street. This was painfully clear on the Rapid. In the Mid-Wilshire area, the traffic was livable, and the bus was standing room only. I got a seat around Beverly Hills, where the traffic turned to gridlock. This is an important (and hopefully obvious) lesson for anyone planning our city's transportation infrastructure.

So that 's my $0.02. Which, with inflation, is worth about $0.0005 in 2001 dollars.


Scott said...

The Purple Line, which used to be a "branch" of the Red Line, is now the Purple Line, to make it easier to talk about a new extension, aka The Subway to The Sea. It's much easier to say (and conceptualize in the brain of Joe Average) "an extension of the Purple Line," than "an extension of the Red Line, oh, you know, I mean the one that goes down Wilshire, not the one the goes to North Hollywood."

Sameer said...

I agree with you on so many counts. Metrolink and Metro Rail (for the most part) work together to make a workable system. These networks need to be extended across the Southland. The Metro Rapid network--or if we're talking Wilshire, at least the 920--is a good interim solution, although definitely not a good long-term goal.

Haha, and if you think the Purple Line seems silly now, you clearly missed the daily frustration of the pre-Purple designation days, when both the Wilshire and Hollywood lines were called "the Red Line"! Back then at least half of the people on the "Wilshire branch of the Red Line" didn't realize they weren't getting to Hollywood until the train turned around at Western. Now, with the different color designations, better announcements, and overhead displays, the number of Hollywood-bound passengers on the Purple Line has gone down significantly, in my experience. Plus, as Scott mentioned, it's a lot easier to talk about an extension of the Purple Line, instead of an extension of a very short branch of the Red Line.

JN said...

Wow, some disagreement from the Los Angelenos.

Okay, if it keeps the Hollywood people headed to Hollywood and the Wilshire people headed down Wilshire, keep it. It just seems silly to have a line that has a whopping two stations on it.

Anonymous said...

Oh how I HATE HATE HATE how Metrolink tickets/passes are invalid on Santa Monica Transit (even on their Line 10, which connects with the Metrolink) as fare, that I've been encouraging them multiple times to start accepting them.