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. 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.

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  2. 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?

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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.

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  5. 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.

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  6. “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.

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    • 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

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  7. 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?

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