Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Nobody cares... does anyone care, that nobody cares?

Apologies to Green Day.

So I have two media-related stories, both about how little transit matters in the minds of Southern Californians.

First, I just completed a short class project analyzing the salience of a single media topic across two newspapers. I chose public transit, and the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle. In the Chronicle, 15% of the articles on state and local news had some mention of public transit over the three days studied. The equivalent measurement in the Times? 3%. And this is from Los Angeles, where there's actually a half-decent transit system.

Then there's the Press-Enterprise. I was looking through the PE's web site the other day, and I saw this on the "breaking news" section:

Two articles about car-related stories, within an hour of each other. And how about transit, you ask? Three stories about transit in the PE in the ENTIRE MONTH OF MAY.

You're probably thinking right now that the papers are simply playing to their audiences, and this is my point precisely. Transit is not a major part of our lives here in southern California (generally speaking... it's a major part of MY life...), and therefore it will not receive the attention it deserves.


cph said...

Several things

1. Obviously, Bay Area has more of a transit culture than SoCal. BART, the SF streetcars, etc. have been around for a lot longer than anything here.

2. This is probably more of an indictment of the LA Times than anything else. That paper is a *shell* of its former self. It wasn't always nearly as bad. The next time you're at the UCR Library, go to the Historical LA Times database and search for articles written by "Ray Hebert". If someone at RTD *burped*, he'd be on it.

3. I've found transit coverage in the Press Enterprise to be quite good, especially around route-change time, or other similar events. That doesn't mean you'll necessarily see an article about the RTA every day, or even every week....

JN said...

1. Los Angeles and San Francisco started operating horse-car street railways around the same time. LA's electric streetcar system actually predated that of San Francisco, due to the 1906 earthquake. Buses have been operating successfully in LA longer, due to the hilly nature of SF. BART, that one I'll give you. I stand by my point that Bay Areans made transit a part of their lives, while Los Angelenos abandoned it and drove as fast and as far as their ribbons of concrete could carry them. This is due to a number of factors, not all of them cultural, but it still results in the divide we see today.

2. The Times is probably a shadow of its former self. But then again, so is the Chronicle. Newspapers- and that means all newspapers- are dying. I see no evidence to convince me one is dying faster than the other.

3. The PE does a fair job of keeping the ridership informed about events that affect their commute, I'll grant that. I'd argue that they ought to. Due to the public hearing process, service changes and fare hikes are low-hanging fruit. It's possible there's just more going on in San Francisco vis-a-vis transit, but it's also entirely possible that people just don't care as much here.

cph said...

To some extent, this is apples and oranges: comparing a very dense city (the densest west of the Mississippi) with a not-so-dense (downright sparse in places) suburban area.

Should the people in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties care more about transit? I suppose they should, along with a lot of other things. But heck, it's even hard for people who actually ride transit to get particularly excited about lines that they never use....

Case in point: A few weeks ago, I went *way* out of my way to go to Santa Clarita for a transit hearing. Santa Clarita Transit was planning to cut their commuter route to Van Nuys due to low ridership.

At the meeting site, I was ushered into a little room near the back of the building. There were about 10-15 people in there caterwauling about losing their bus line (let's call it Line #A)

"Well, why don't you cut a few trips from Line #B?", one person said

"Line #B gets good ridership", said the officials.

"Well, who *cares* about Line #B!" was the reply.

JN said...

Ah, but we started with LA, didn't we? Though SF is still more dense...

And that little anecdote is precisely what I'm talking about. We don't have a concerted community effort calling for more transit. At best, we have the ridership of the cut-du-jour clawing desperately at what we have. I just wish we could do a bit better.