Is getting around L.A. without a car easier than it was a decade ago?

10 years ago there was no Gold Line.

10 years ago there was no Gold Line.

I stumbled upon an article from the travel section in the UK paper The Independent, dated April 29, 2001, entitled Los Angeles without a car.

In the article London based writer Jenifer Duncan recounts a visit to Los Angeles without a car despite warnings against doing so from nearly every travel guide she consulted.

A non-driver for her entire life, it only took one visit to L.A. without a car for Jenifer to sign up for driving lessons and leave her European transit-oriented lifestyle behind. The combination of the sprawling landscape, long bus trips (Brentwood to Huntington Gardens in 2.5 hours) and lackluster taxi service led her to this conclusion in April of 2001: “Yes it is possible to survive in LA without a car, but it is certainly not desirable.”

Fast forward ten years. Since 2001 Metro has added another 20 miles of light rail to the system with the opening of the Gold Line to Pasadena (2003) and the Gold Line Eastside Extension (2006). The Orange Line opened in 2005 and brought 14 miles of exclusive bus rapid transit to the San Fernando Valley. Metro Rapid grew from a four line pilot program to a full fledged system. Technology innovations like TAP card and real-time bus arrivals have been implemented to make the system more user friendly.

On the taxi front, it’s safe to say that L.A. still doesn’t have a vibrant taxi culture, but progress has been made. The Hail-A-Taxi pilot program has made it possible to hail a cab from the street in downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood – although there’s no guarantee it will be easy to find a cab to hail.

On thing that seems to remain the same: L.A.’s car-oriented sprawl. The article describes it perfectly:

Unlike Britain, with its clearly allocated shopping areas, LA’s shops were often spread out all over the place, sometimes miles from one another. A supermarket may be miles from a post office, a specialist food or boutique situated in a no man’s land beside a freeway. Tourist attractions, theatres, galleries ­ all were miles apart. Even the supermarket next door to our apartment was a long walk.

But there are signs that may be changing as well. Downtown L.A. has certainly blossomed in the last decade, transforming from a no-man’s land to home of some of L.A.’s best restaurants, nightlife and loft living. The city center even had its first grocery store open in 2007. Hollywood too has seen a mixed-use, transit-oriented revitalization with residences, shopping, nightlife and hotels all popping in up within walking distance.

Sure, it still takes two and half hours to get from Brentwood to Huntington Gardens, but to be fair, that’s a 26 mile trip. If you were to travel without a car from Westminster in Central London to Windsor Great Park, 26 miles away, the trip would also take over two hours and require several transfers.

So is it easier to navigate L.A. without a car than it was a decade ago? I’d say yes, but where you choose to live (or vacation) makes a big difference. A bigger question might be how will L.A. look in another decade? The passage of Measure R in 2008 means a lot more transit is on it’s way – the Westside Subway alone could knock an hour off that Brentwood to Huntington Gardens trip.

Plus, the hope of accelerating Measure R projects through the 30/10 Initiative/America Fast Forward could mean that by 2021, immigrating Europeans won’t feel the need to succumb to driving lessons.

27 replies

  1. @calwatch

    The flaw in your idea is that it doesn’t consider politics into play.

    Morality issues aside, public transit is mainly a political issue for those in office to continue to be elected by gathering support from those that rely on it the most: the economically disadvantaged.

    Hence, moving to a distance model from the start with a base fare of $2.25 with an incremental increase of $0.50 per mile would spell a nail in the coffin for re-election for local politicians who want the support of lower income riders who travel over longer distances. But, it is also true that low flat rate fares cannot be sustained much longer in a city/county as big as Los Angeles.

    With that in mind, I still say the best approach that would get our elected officials to agree to at least beta-test distance fares is by introducing the concept as a “$0 base fare at $0.10/mi with a cap at $1.50 for those that use TAP,” and make programming updates when everyone has gotten used to “pay less for short rides/pay more for longer rides” idea.

    We can gradually move to $2.25 base fares at $0.50-$0.75 per mi increments later with a simple software upgrade, but such a fare should not be implemented from the start.


  2. By all means. I currently have a job in the same area (Miracle Mile) where I worked another job over a decade ago. Back then, I never thought about going to work using anything else but a car.

    Today, I ride my bike for the 12-mile roundtrip commute most days and take the Metro Red/Purple lines and Metro Rapid 720 once a week.

    I still do own a car (a different one), which is used for longer-distance trips, but it stays in the driveway most of the time and has very low miles on it. I have yet to see a mechanic in the 6 years I’ve owned it.


  3. I don’t know what transit service here was like 10 years ago, as I moved here from San Diego 7 years ago. It’s hard to imagine it being any worse than it is now, though. Here in the San Gabriel Valley, the Foothill Transit buses I take are almost never on time, and are routinely late 20 to 70 minutes every day, both ways. Trips that would take less than half an hour by car turn into 2+ hr odysseys (that’s one way) because of having to wait for hours a day at a bus stop doing nothing. It would help if Foothill Transit signed up to use NexTrip like Metro recently did, so then I could at least walk away from the bus stop and do something else in the meantime instead of being glued to the curb anxiously awaiting the bus that never comes. Their customer service hotline can’t always tell me what happened to the bus or last two buses that were supposed to arrive either. Spending hours per week having to wait at the bus stop like this is driving me nuts, and is actually more stressful than the 2.5 hour commute I used to make from Azusa to UCLA on transit. Metro’s bus service seems way more reliable and frequent in comparison. I just wish I could afford to live in Metro’s service area.


  4. Send your children to school on the Metro. It saves the environment, time and money. Rethink the carpool. The bus is fun, interesting, and relaxing. It takes only a little bit longer and there is no return trip home sitting in traffic. Metro is timely and efficient!


  5. Hell to the YES its easier to get around! I’ve only been here since 2007 and due to insane parking tickets and gas prices, i ditched the car and have been TAP-ing around every since flawlessly. I live in Hollywood, work in Westwood and i sometimes take improv classes in the Valley and South Pas, I also volunteer and creat art downtown – ALL without a car. So simple, I save money on NOT having to pay car insurance (HALLELUJAH!!) and NOT paying for parking and of course, no parking tickets.

    So I have to say, its a peace of cake getting ’round thanks to google maps public transit app and the TAP card. Just had to shout it out, i’m sick of people looking like i told them i’ve the most unconceivable concept when I say “no, I don’t have a car, yes I live in LA”. Its not impossible in fact its less stress and more money in my pocket.


  6. I’d say definitely better. I live in North O.C. and work in Downtown L.A. I have nearly round-the-clock Amtrak/Metrolink service from where I live and get around fine on the Metro system in L.A. I frequently use the system to go from Downtown to East L.A., Pasadena, Echo Park, Hollywood, Wilshire etc. Much better than when it was all bus !

    For the first time, I’d dare to say I see a “transit culture” developing in L.A. ! It’s mostly the under 30 crowd, but also for those of us “young for our age.” The willingness to ride the Metro is one of the biggest differences between my younger and older friends.

    The best thing Metro can do, besides extending rail lines, is to make the primary (Top 15-20) bus lines more like rail lines with better night and weekend frequencies. The “15 Minute Map” is the direction we should be going.