Reason Foundation thumbs its nose at Metro; we thumb back!

The Reason Foundation — long-time critics of rail mass transit — put together the above video posted to YouTube last week. It’s amusing. It’s also a little factually challenged.

So in the spirit of fun, here goes:

•It’s about 29 miles by road — not 17 — from LAX to downtown Burbank, according to most of the maps that I consulted.

•To the dude in the video: if you seriously got from the LAX terminals to Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank using only buses and rail in 78 minutes, then you’re some kind of Jedi Knight of mass transit. That’s more like a two-hour trip — owing in part to the bus between LAX and the Green Line’s Aviation station.

•It’s hardly a secret that LAX-to-Burbank isn’t terribly well served by transit. As part of the Measure R sales tax increase approved by voters, a transit connection between the airport and the future Crenshaw/LAX Line is under study.

•There might be faster alternatives between LAX and Burbank. One idea: shell out a few more bucks and take the Flyaway bus to Los Angeles Union Station, a trip that usually takes 30 to 50 minutes depending on traffic. From there, it’s possible to take the Red Line subway to Universal City and catch a bus to Warner Brothers. Or take Metrolink from Union Station to Burbank and then bus or taxi to the studio.

•To the bubble suggesting that light rail is less energy efficient than cars…that’s hardly an undisputed fact and there are other considerations such as pollution. The federal government has found that transit produces a significantly less greenhouse gases than single-occupancy vehicles. Here’s a good report.

•Transit is heavily subsidized — in Los Angeles County and elsewhere. The correct figures: Metro currently subsidizes on average 72 percent of a bus fare and about 76 percent of a rail fare. See page 64 of this year’s adopted budget.

•We can confirm the video’s keen observation that trains are more crowded during rush hour. However, the trains don’t run all night, as the cute thought bubble alleges.

•A new 40-foot CNG-powered bus costs about $450,000 and a new 60-foot CNG bus about $750,000 — not the $300,000 figure shown in those clever bubbles!

•It’s totally fair to question how much bang taxpayers get for the bucks they invest in any type of transit, rail included. But chew on this: if we got rid of the rail system in L.A. and put everyone on buses and put more buses on local streets and freeways, is there anyone that really thinks traffic or transit would improve?

Comment away, people.

20 replies

  1. The Reason Foundation has always been light on facts and heavy on the political spin. They get a lot wrong in this video, and they can now add “unfunny, snarky comedian” to their resume.

    If anything, this video says to me that Los Angeles needs more light rail, not less. A more direct connection between LAX and the Green Line or a more direct rail route between LAX and downtown would help.

  2. I like reason.tv, because I can watch their videos and read their publications and know that the complete opposite of what they’re reporting is actually true!

  3. I’m a little surprised anyone is seriously arguing electric trains are not as energy efficiency as, say, personal automobiles.

    Japan’s JR East electric railway is fairly comparable to the Metro Blue Line and in 2004, it comes out to about .22 MJ (megajoules) of energy consumed per passenger. Supposing you were traveling 10 miles and it takes .36 gallons in a 28 MPG gasoline engine powered 1-ton sedan, we’re talking about 11.5 MJ of energy consumed for that one passenger or roughly Thirty-Two Times as much energy to propel one person. One reason is because about 25% of a car’s energy is used up pushing the tires down the road. Steel wheels deform less and therefore have lesser rolling resistance, thus requiring less energy to move the vehicle.

    For what it’s worth, owning your own car has its place. If you’re a courier, or you’re like me, and you need to drive equipment to live performances to play shows, you’re not doing that with a bus or a train. Ever. But for the millions of people who go to the same place at the same time every day, the same way, it makes no sense to have countless individuals all with their own separate internal combustion engines to do the same thing. To anyone that’s grown up in a city like London, Tokyo, Paris or even New York, the very idea seems basically laughable. Yet, here in Los Angeles, that is reality, every day.

  4. •We are suffering today for bone-headed (See Henry’s Magic Wilshire Methane) and politically-motivated (See Green Line to El Segundo not LAX) decisions made 20 and 30 years ago. No need to bash the current mayor on this.

    •The speed limit on I-105 is 65 mph but everyone speeds. Not sure what the Green Line is limited to (60?), but rail vehicles cannot exceed their speed limits, or the computer shuts them down.

    •Roads are also less crowded during off-peak times, but yet, we do not usually close them down for this reason.

    •Transit provides an alternative, and it provides transportation on a pay-as-you-go basis. Legal automobile use requires a bunch of cash up-front in my experience. Not everyone can buy, store and/or operate a car.

    •Steel wheel on rail is always more efficient than rubber-tire on asphalt, and cars are only competitive when every seat inside them is taken. How many completely full cars did you see go by you today? Average occupancy in the USA is hovering around 1.1 persons.

    •Ironically, the Reason Foundation is located just 1.2 miles from the future Expo Line stop at Exposition and Sepulveda. There’s a marketing target for LA Metro!

  5. “One idea: shell out a few more bucks and take the Flyaway bus to Los Angeles Union Station”

    The problem is that most people do not make assumptions that way, moreso when one’s not a local and wouldn’t know such “back tracking ways.”

    For most people, getting from point A to point B is getting there the shortest way possible, not in terms of routing oneself from LAX all the way to the other end of the city to Union Station and onwards north to Burbank. How is a first timer to LA supposed to know that? Are there secrets like that posted somewhere at LAX? Is there a public transit map at LAX that show how long a transit rider is supposed to expect in terms of transit time? Are there Metro staff personnel stationed at LAX who are well versed in public transit who can give advice like that?

    No. Most of the people who work at LAX drive there to get to work and have absolutely no idea how to get anywhere in this city on public transit. When a first time to LA arrives at LAX and they walk to the information booth and asks how to get to Hollywood, the info booth people there say “just hop on any rental car shuttle and rent a car with a GPS.” Fail.

    Furthermore, one needs to put their own shoes from the average traveler who has a rollerboard or a suitcase they have to drag along. It becomes a pain in the butt to schlep those baggage crosstown from LAX to Union Station and onto a subway. In the eyes of the average traveler who has lots of luggage they have to carry along, they would want to keep the dragging as minimal as possible. Grabbing the Flyaway bus over to Union Sta and switching to the Red Line still means the traveler has to drag their luggage when changing at Union Station and again at their destination. Now imagine this when not as a sole business traveler, but as a family of four on vacation with more luggage and little kids to watch after. And it’s not like LAX has a “baggage delivery service” either like Japan.

    The fault of this is mainly because we have the hub for air travel at one end of the city and the hub for trains on the opposite end of the city. No matter what people say, LAX is still poorly served by efficient public transit.

    And at the same time there has been no update on the LAX/LAWA website nor any advertisement or public relations annoucenments that a people mover project is coming, nor are there any clues or hints that the Crenshaw Line is going there. LAX /LAWA/City of LA can spend billions in dollars in its facelift, but the airport experience once you step outside of the airport and see all those traffic jams is still reminiscent as a third world airport.

  6. The Reason Foundation is a libertarian think tank and libertarians in general do not believe in a large role of government. It should not be surprised that it is against subsidized mass transit. I often avoid ideological propoganda released by groups like the Reason Foundation as it is often misleading and one-sided to confirm to a narrow point-of-view.

  7. @Thomas N

    I would like to know what the Reason Foundations’ view points are on public transit systems that are fully 100% sustainable on their own, notably public transit systems in Asia such as:

    Farebox ratios of:
    Hong Kong (MTR) 149%
    Osaka (Hankyu Railway) 123%
    Osaka (OMTB) 137%
    Taipei (MRT) 119%
    Teito RTA (now Tokyo Metro) 170%

  8. @d lombard: like ny, Lon, Paris and Tokyo do not have freeway gridlock, London needs a fricking congestion zone because too many cars and the ring roadm 22 is a graveyard every morning and night, the same with Paris, ny’s tunnels and bridges and major avenues area are in gridlock with single drivers, and Tokyo, well forget about it, both trains and highways are packed beyond belief!

    Grow up and look at the number of people who take public transport in los Angeles county, not just the city, you have to count ALL 55 transit agencies including metrolink and californias rail and see how it out numbers Boston, san Francisco, even Chicago!

    They tell them they don take enough transport!

  9. Hate to be the one to burst Reason’s bubble, but, with only a few exceptions (i.e. toll roads), 100% of the costs of road construction and maintenance are subsidized, too. Why don’t they include numbers for that, too?

  10. It might be interesting to see what the costs would be if, as a policy, every form of transport had to break even financially: if the federal gas tax had to cover the federal road projects, the state gas tax covered the state road projects, and if bus and train systems had to break even on fares alone.

    Roads and transit are both subsidized: the very act of moving about is subsidized. It would be interesting to see what would happen to very act of moving around if each person knew how much getting from here to there costs.

  11. I think it’s fair to add the billions spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to Federal subsidazation of oil. Now, what proportion of that subsidy goes to mass transit versus private vehicles?

  12. Okay, it would take a healthy dose of luck, but I think 78 minutes or less can be done from Burbank (maybe not necessarily Warner Bros.) This scenario also depends on where you are in Burbank. Having successful sent my family members on their way using the Red Line and Flyaway, I’m a huge proponent of this route.

    Burbank Bus to North Hollywood Station: 10-20 minutes ($1.00)
    North Hollywood Station to Union Station: 29 minutes ($1.50)
    Flyaway Bus to LAX: 30 – 50 minutes ($7.00)

    Total one-way cost: $9.50

    Best case scenario travel time: 69 minutes

    So theoretically anyway, it’s possible, though not solely using Metro. In any case, it’s still a slick and hassle-free way to get to LAX.

  13. I would like to note the video’s comment about buses costing $300K (old number) and train cars costing millions of dollars. This may be true (his numbers were a little off) in a general sense. However, this avoids several other pertinent facts. 1) Train cars last about three times as long as buses, maybe four times with excellent maintenance, so that lowers the cost of trains somewhat. 1 train car over 40 years = 3 or 4 buses. Buses may actually be MORE expensive at that point. 2) You need about ten buses to carry the same amount of passengers as ONE train. That means TEN BUS DRIVERS versus ONE TRAIN DRIVER. Steve, you would know the number, but don’t bus drivers make about $50 to $60 k per year? That’s a savings of $500K right there EVERY SINGLE YEAR that a train replaces a bus. Over the 30-40 year life of a train, that saves about 20 MILLION TAXPAYER DOLLARS. FOR EACH TRAIN ROUTE. Also, the trains run on electricity and buses run on CNG, so fuel costs are lower as well, and COULD be done with 100% renewable energy (but isn’t right now). 3) Trains are less polluting at the source, even with a 100% CNG bus fleet. As I said, trains could be run totally on non-polluting solar, wind, hydroelectric or geothermal. Let’s get on doing that. I made these comments as well on the video at You Tube.

  14. I’m not really sure what the reason foundation is trying to prove here; either that LA has poor transit connectivity and sorely needs much more of it, or that transit in general is unnecessary and useless and we should all drive cars to get everywhere at all times, (of course that will only add to our congestion and mobility problems). Either way, their message here turns on its head in favor of more rapid mass transit.

  15. “Metro currently subsidizes on average 72 percent of a bus fare and about 76 percent of a rail fare” — That is disgraceful. I’d start thinking of a more productive way to run your transit system, if I were you. I bet a private entity would do much better. Probably provide much better service too.

    • Hi Don;

      I think it is highly unlikely a private entity — working for a profit — would offer the level of service that Metro does to a lot of people who depend on Metro to get around.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  16. In theory more buses is an answer, but it may not be. Anyone ride the Rapid 754 north on Vermont at rush hour? It can take 15-30 minutes to go 3 miles, the Red line can do that in 3-4 minutes. Is the Orange line better, faster than rail?