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Why We Don't Take Public Transit: LAist Readers Respond

(Photo by Eric Demarcq via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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LAist is starting a new series on transportation, working to both provide some significant coverage of L.A.'s development into a train town, as well as giving some tips and guides for our readers on how to best get around the city (whether it be by car, bus, bike, train, or even foot). In the "Ask A Transit Nerd" column, we will tackle some common misconceptions and answer your pressing questions. If you have a question, drop us a line with the subject line: "Ask A Transit Nerd."

Last week, L.A. County Metro announced an enormous $120 billion plan to supposedly fix Los Angeles' epic transportation woes. Rail for the Valley, Westside, South East L.A. County and a network of Bus Rapid Transit are among the projects included in the thoroughly comprehensive plan.

But it might come as a surprise that Los Angeles technically already has one of the most accessible transit systems in the country, ranked third behind New York and San Francisco in a 2014 University of Minnesota study. Much of this is due to the city's robust bus system, doing the yeoman's work of moving 1.3 million people across the city each day.

Obviously, though, our transit system is far from perfect.

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For our first installment of our new transportation column, we sent a call for responses to our readers asking them why they don't use public transit in Los Angeles. We know plenty of you do, but this was spurred on by pieces in both the Los Angeles Times and L.A. Weekly showing declining ridership on Metro. We received hundreds of responses, many giving a solid reasons why Angelenos often skip the bus or train in lieu of their car. Inconvenience, unreliability, and safety concerns topped the list.

Metro knows about a lot of these issues: it has ambitious plans to greatly expand its reach and it has been tracking data about sexual harassment.

These responses offer a snapshot that answers the perennial question: "Why do Angelenos drive so much?"

Angela A., Venice

The metro is totally disconnected from the Westside. Even with the Expo Line extension into Santa Monica, I would still have to drive to the station, park, and only then board the train. The train also happens to take up to an hour to get to downtown. It's faster to drive—even in traffic

Eder P., South Bay

I pay $400 each month on a car payment, $150 each month for insurance, $120 each month on gas, and then several hundred more on repairs every now and then. Why do I put up with this instead of trading it all in for supposedly stress-free public transit? To avoid sitting and waiting another two hours for a bus to arrive.

I live in the South Bay and commute to Burbank. It's terrible, but the shortest route is the 405 freeway. Often, traffic on that road is so bad that I am directed to take the 105 to the 110 to the 5 to the 134 to avoid the mess that is the 405.

It takes me over an hour to get to work by car. If I were to take public transportation to work, I would have to extend my time by at least another hour. For me, this would mean waking up at 5 a.m. and starting my day two hours earlier than I do now. Additionally, since the commute is often a lot worse after work, I can only imagine how bad it could be at 6 p.m. I probably wouldn't be getting home till 9 p.m.

I only believe my options are to switch jobs or move. Public transportation is not a viable option for someone with my commute.

Stephanie C.

Taking public transportation at night can be quite dangerous. As a woman, I do not feel the Metro is a safe environment. I have been harassed and assaulted on Metro property. I report these instances to Metro like I'm supposed to, but the Metro Sheriff's deputies don't do much about it. They end up giving out useless tips like, "This is what you should do to avoid harassment" instead of actually trying to bring the perpetrator to justice.

Margarete V., Pasadena

Each bus route and Metro train line has separate issues. I now have a car and choose to drive more even though the train only adds to 10 more minutes to my commute. It would make more sense to take the train except for the following reasons: *It feels like a journey to get to work. There's no link from the Gold Line to the Expo Line. I understand Metro is building the Regional Connector, but the current Red Line transfer set up is inconvenient. There are also times I watch two Blue Line trains depart the 7th/Metro station while waiting for an Expo Line train. Sometimes I wait as long as 20 minutes! Even then, once I'm on the Expo Line train, regular traffic slows down the train while exiting downtown L.A. since it isn't grade separated. I feel it should be a lot quicker than it is.

*The trains smell awful, owing to the amount of people. This is a huge deterrent for me.

*L.A. needs to work on the homeless population—I see it right before my eyes on the trains. Trains and buses offer a warmer and safer place than the streets, especially during winter. Seeing people beg and ask for money and sleep on the platforms is so disheartening. I recognize this is not Metro's fault but a larger issue for all of L.A.

*I've noticed an increase of 'police' presence, but there are still those who disrupt what could be an easy-going train ride. For example, on the Blue Line, I was forced to get off the train during the day after a woman threatened to break my phone when I looked in her direction. I would never take the Blue Line after dark owing to safety issues. I also get nervous at night taking the Gold Line even though I know there is an option to call the conductor.

I would love to see the trains updated and cleaned up more often. I would also love the trains to be more on time and synced up better. The transfer from the Red Line to the Expo Line often takes way too long, and can keep me off my schedule.

I hope to take the train more since it is more environmentally-friendly, and I would really like Metro to invest more in improving the trains themselves.

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D. Ben Sosa
I used to have the Metro student pass. It was great because I was able to move around the city without limits. As I got older, and especially when I got my license and began to drive and take on more responsibilities, taking the bus became more of a hassle than driving. Trips that would take an hour on the bus could be just 25 minutes in the car. I didn't wanted to deal with multiple buses on longer trips (i.e. the 204 line along Vermont to the 2 line along Sunset to get from South L.A. to Hollywood), when I could just take the freeway and be there quicker (albeit not much quicker at certain hours). It comes down the fact that it's just a lot easier and less of a hassle to drive myself.

Alex N., Van Nuys

I live in Van Nuys and work at UCLA. My biggest reason for not using public transit is because it's simply too inconvenient. Even a year ago, when I was living in North Hollywood, it was inconvenient. The trains don't run as often as they should—weekend night they run every 20-25 minutes—and getting to the station (approximately 3-4 miles away from where I live) takes more than 10 minutes anyway. The trains are also pretty unreliable—even if you check the train schedule online, sometimes you'll get to the station and you'll read a maintenance notice on one of the monitors telling you your train isn't coming for another 30 minutes. It's frustrating, and I got pretty tired of being late to things because of the train. I would, however, brave all that if there was a train that ran from the Valley to West L.A. through the Sepulveda Pass. If that existed, I'm pretty certain it would be the most heavily used train line in the city.

Delaine U., Glassell Park.
I live in Glassell Park and work in downtown L.A. I would love to take the Gold Line in to work everyday, however the stop closest to me is three miles away—so I would have to drive to the stop in congested traffic. Consequently, it would take me just as long to drive to the stop as it does to just drive into work.

Same with the bus, which I have taken on occasion from downtown L.A. to home. While it only took 10 or 15 minutes longer than my normal commute home, that time is unacceptable for me when I'm trying to make it to work on time. This becomes worse especially if the buses are running late, and doesn't change the fact that I would still have to walk a mile uphill before I made it into work.

Then there is the cost and issues with the TAP cards. At $1.75 per trip, I would spend $17 a week. This is more than the $8 a week I currently spend on gas, including all my non work related transportation. Additionally, on more than one occasion I've put $20 on my TAP card only to have it not read or be "expired" the next time I tried to use it. So far I've lost $40 because of situations like this.

These are the main reasons I do not use public transportation. It's nice to know it's there if I really need it. One positive note, I have never felt unsafe while riding public transportation and have found the bus drivers to be very helpful to a "green" patron like me.

Megan G., Mt. Washington
I would love to ride more buses if they ran on time and were less sketchy at night. I feel like the bus system is completely unreliable. The exception is the DASH, which, in downtown at least, is incredibly convenient for getting around. The problem with the DASH is that its hours are very limited, usually only during the daytime.

There is a lot to figure out in order to use transit well. There's a big learning curve behind knowing which bus lines are safe and reliable, and which ones are full of crazies and/or run off schedule. It's not user-friendly for beginners. I've had better luck with transit in many other cities even without speaking the native language. Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, etc. In these places you can jump from train to bus pretty effortlessly. Here, I will only ride the train if I am going somewhere within a mile of a stop. It is pretty limiting.

Michiko S., Palmdale
It's just more convenient to use my car to get somewhere, especially as a single mother. I can't rely on public transportation that doesn't take me directly where I want to go. Carrying things on transit, like the groceries or other errands, is also challenging. I work for a charter school as a substitute. When I get a phone call, I have to be there ASAP. I can't stand around waiting for a bus that only might come on time. After work, I have to go pick up my kids from school right away. Again, I can't take bus for that. It takes too long.

Bryon W., North Hollywood
The issue I have with public transportation is related to the train: it doesn't go into enough neighborhoods to make it useful yet. Knowing the ETA on all public transportation would help make it more useful. But the easiest fix right away would be making the train run all night. I would use it more if it ran later. The bars and clubs close at 2 a.m. The train stops running too early.

Dawn G., Santa Clarita

I would LOVE to commute by Metrolink! The reasons why I do not is:

  1) I'd have to take the train to Union Station and then transfer to possibly Culver City? And then I'd have ride my bike the rest of the way. That's too inconvenient.

2) My work schedule is not a typical 9 to 5 job. I tend to work very long hours, and I don't know if the schedule would work in my case. I don't feel safe riding my bike on the streets getting me to the train station, especially at night. Coordinating bus schedules with train schedules seems like a hassle too.

Once the station is open in Santa Monica, I might give it a try on Saturdays if I have to work overtime (and bike the rest of the way) but once again, it's just too inconvenient for me with my sporadic schedule to do on a regular basis.  Believe me...I would love taking the train though! 

Anna B., Eagle Rock
Why don't I take public transit to work? I live in Eagle Rock and work in City of Industry. I could take three buses there and it would take me 2.5 hours. Or I can get in my car and be at work in only 39 minutes. 

I would love to take public transit. It's just not a reasonable option.

Joey V., Sherman Oaks

I commute to downtown Santa Monica five days a week. I used to take the bus most of the time, but now I've switched to a car. My biggest gripe was that the buses were too slow. I'd have to leave at least 2 hours before I was scheduled at work. I would take the 750 to the 734 to the 720 with an average ride of 1 hour and 45 mins. At times I'd try to take my bike, but the bus was always too full/standing room only with both bike mounts occupied. I got tired of losing 15+ hours a week on the bus so now I'm driving in to work under 40 mins each way.

Alex, Chatsworth

I actually work near the Burbank airport and live near the Chatsworth station so I should be using the Metrolink, but I work late and get out late so there's just not a train running when I need it.

Paula Z. Gomez, Silver Lake

The decrease in my ridership in not based on safety or cost, but in convenience. I've been totally spoiled by ride-sharing apps (I know, it's awful). By the time I get to my nearest Metro stop, and wait for the train, I could be halfway to my destination in someone else's car. It's also seasonal: I take public transportation way more frequently in the spring and summer months than in the fall/winter. I use to take the Metro (bus and subway) all the time and at all hours when I lived downtown, so much that with a combo of Uber/Lyft and Metro I didn't use my car for almost 7 months. However, since I've moved to a different neighborhood I don't use the Metro as much, even though there's a Red Line stop less than a 12-minute walk away. Also, I would take the the Metro 4 bus to work in Century City, but I'm now working in Burbank and there is zero access to public transportation that wouldn't be a two-hour commute, so now I just drive.

Again, if you have any questions about getting around Los Angeles, shoot us an email with the subject line: "Ask A Transit Nerd."