How We Roll, Jan. 21-22: why do drivers support transit?

Newsflash!: A trio of recent Metro staff reports that contain some interestingness.

First up is the latest update on a variety of Metro projects that Source readers often inquire about:

Next up is a staff report on Metro’s development of active transportation strategy. Which, I know, sounds wonky.

In plain English: Metro already funds some pedestrian, bike and other first-last mile projects through Measure R and other programs. But the agency — at the urging of the Metro Board — is trying to streamline that process and find a way to ensure these kind of things get built.

Perhaps the most enlightening stat in the report: the staff estimate that there is a $509 million to almost $1.4 billion need for walking/biking/active transpo projects, depending on how you measure it.

Last but not least, is the latest staff report on Metro ridership trends — the report is going to the full Board at their meeting on Jan. 28. As we’ve written before, ridership at Metro and other agencies has dipped in recent times, likely for a variety of reasons. The report below has the details and these three attachments contain some programs and ideas Metro is considering to boost ridership.

The public transport paradox (NRDC)

Even as gas prices have plummeted outside California and car sales reaping record profits, the number of transit initiatives going to voters was high last year. And 71 percent of them passed.

Excerpt: “So what’s happening here? Why would voters from across the political spectrum be supporting publicly funded mass transit projects at precisely the same time that they’re buying so many new cars and filling them up with so much cheap gas? The answer: Because they’re buying so many new cars and filling them up with so much cheap gas.”

Without rehashing the hash, we’ve discussed before the questionable relationship between gas prices and transit ridership (quick review for newbie readers: most drivers are gonna drive and most riders are gonna ride, no matter the price at the pump). So it’s fair to say, “gee, Steve, maybe there isn’t a relationship between gas prices and transit ballot initiatives.”

Maybe there’s a lot of people out there who simply believe it doesn’t make sense to put all one’s transportation eggs in one basket, the freeway being the basket in this metaphor. Maybe some of those are sick of driving. Maybe some have traveled the world and seen all the other cities — including the less vertical ones — that have big rail networks.

As for ballot measures, Metro has a potential one in the oven for this November’s ballot. More about that here.

Griffith Park traffic plan promising but flawed (Streetsblog LA)

Most notable is that bus shuttles will run from parking areas in Griffith Park to park attractions — meaning that bus shuttles won’t be running to the two sort-of-nearest Red Line stations to the park, Vermont/Sunset and Hollywood/Western.

It’s also worth noting that the city of L.A.’s two largest parks — Griffith and Elysian — are rail transit challenged, mostly because of their respective locations. I seem to recall a Griffith Park master plan about seven or eight years ago proposing a gondola to the observatory but said plan was booed out of the room by park neighbors.

Washington Metro to suspend service during blizzard (Washington Metro) 

Not an unprecedented step, but somewhat unique to hear that D.C.’s bus and rail system will be shut down both Saturday and Sunday with the serious snow starting tonight. FWIW, the National Weather Service is predicting it to be sunny on Sunday but that might be dig-out day if the 20 to 30 inches of snow expected arrive.

On the upside, the Washington Post reports that traffic Friday was a delight, with many employers and attractions shutting down early.

NYC needs to build this gondola between Manhattan and Brooklyn (Gizmodo)

A developer — inspired by a ski trip (shocker) — has proposed a gondola between Manhattan and Williamsburg. That has the writer excited given that L train service may be shutting down in the future for East River tunnel repairs.

Gondolas are certainly cool. But as we’ve said in the past, they don’t have the capacity of a train and they’re not always popular (see above). And yes, we’re aware of the early 1990s study to link Chinatown/DTLA and Dodger Stadium via gondola, escalator/walkway, light rail and even a monorail. You can peruse the study on the Metro Library’s website.

That said, Metro’s own Nolan Borgman recently visited Medellin, Colombia, and found their gondolas to be an effective way of getting around that hilly region. More in his Transit Tourist post.


A rendering of a monorail serving Dodger Stadium that never made the leap from the page of a study to reality.

Kids these days can’t do anything. Including drive. (Washington Post)

In the early '80s, teens often drove everywhere, as evidenced by "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," set in the SFV.

In the early ’80s, teens often drove everywhere, as evidenced by “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” set in the SFV.

Yet another study on something we’ve read many times before: young people are a lot less likely to get a driver’s license than in 1983. But the article includes a nifty graphic that also shows that those 49 and under are less likely to have a license these days while those 50 and up are more likely to have a license than they did in 1983.


And then comes another chart showing that in recent years the sale of light vehicles per capita has been rising. Excerpt:

It’s unclear what’s behind these longer-term downswings in driver’s licensing. Maybe they have to do with increased urbanization, changes in access to public transit, changes in licensing laws or other forces. (In an email, Sivak, one of the report’s authors, said he is currently studying possible explanations and in the mean time is reluctant to speculate.) What’s your theory?

Check out the comments, where the prevailing theories are that: a) driving has become cost-prohibitive for teens compared to days of yore, and; b) it’s easier to connect via the internet than it is via car. Of course, it’s hard to park the internet in Lover’s Lane or drive the internet to your studybuddy’s house….:but mom, Karen will help me get an A in history”…never mind. Not going there.

No one really tackles the seniors-driving-more aspect, so I’ll tackle that. It’s simple. Seniors are probably a lot more active today than 32 years ago, perhaps because they’re also living longer.

Other thoughts…first, I can’t stand articles that knock today’s teens and twentysomethings, who I generally find to be significantly more thoughtful, articulate, well-rounded, learned, entertaining and interesting than I was at anytime in the 1980s, when I ranged from 13 to 24 years old. Yes, skinny jeans and electronic dance music are awful and today’s padowans don’t know enough about Bruce Springsteen. But if that’s the worst you can say about a generation, than that generation has it going on. Plus, hats off to the hipsters for embracing eyeglasses, flannel, good beer and not shaving.

Second, my theory goes like this: driving wasn’t cheap in 1983 when I was in high school. But nearly everyone I knew in suburban Cincy got their license on the day they turned 16. That was the culture. Driving was like breathing — even though many of us still rode our bikes — and there were no laws then putting any additional restrictions on teen drivers.

Most important of all, the helicopter parent thing had yet to develop. Our parents didn’t worship us and mostly wanted us to get lost, meaning they were fine with us taking off anywhere in their car as long as we didn’t do anything too dreadfully stupid. That culture, as far as I can tell, is gone, gone, gone.

How to make sense of plummeting global markets (NYT)


The simple story is that oil prices have gone in the tank. This article teases apart the longer list of possible reasons stock markets did a swan dive on Wednesday. One reason: too many bad bank loans for oil exploration leading to less bank lending overall.

As we’ve discussed in the past, cheap gas may or may not impact transit ridership, but it will be interesting to see what cheap gas does for sales of big vehicles with lesser fuel economy. Will Hummers make a comeback? Will be interesting to see, especially now that the U.S. — like most other countries that signed the recent climate deal in Paris — has upped the ante in terms of limiting its greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Recent How We Rolls: 

Jan. 16: Expo Line tracks handed over to Metro, four interesting ideas for transpo in our region.

Jan. 15: big cars, electric cars and self-driving cars.

Jan. 14: A look at Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles’ attempt to do something about traffic and more on the Rams move to the Coliseum and then Inglewood.

Jan. 13: The Rams aren’t here yet but concerns over game day traffic are. Plus concerns over getting to the APU/Citrus College Station in Azusa.

Jan. 12: more on the relationship between rail transit and pro football.

I’m on Twitter and have a photography blog. Questions or ideas for How We Roll? Email me.


7 replies

  1. I’m a young discretionary rider, insofar as I could always replace my metro trips with a bike ride or carpool or even Uber’s carpool option. And, you know what? More and more frequently that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Evening and night frequencies on Metro are atrocious. They actively shoo potential riders away.

    It is kind of sad to watch Metro try and come up with gimmicks to get people to ride. Gimmicks don’t help people get where they’re going. Bus-only lanes, train lines (grade separated!), fast, reliable, frequent, and all day service helps people get where they’re going. There’s nothing more to it than that. Suppose, God forbid, I go out to downtown LA on a Thursday night. Getting a train there is easy! Getting a train home *even at 10 PM*, means a 20 (ok, let’s be honest, 25) minute wait underground. No thanks! This is just a basic example, but considering the DTLA-centricity of the Metro service, it’s safe to say that if you can’t serve the center well you’re not doing much else right either.

    The quirky little extra things are fine if you’ve got the fundamentals down, but the choice between twee transit and efficient transit is no choice at all.

    P.S. Disproportionately targeting monthly passholders for the fare hikes seems to imply that you actually have an overcrowding problem. SFMTA charges $83.00 for Muni and Bart. Monthly passholders pay $100.00 for Metro. Not exactly a bargain. SF has the sense to charge tourists more to ride than residents.

    • 100% agree, The Red Line sucks after 8pm every night, the Blue Line sucks on the weekends. Coming out of 7th st yesterday in the morning and I saw the TV for the Blue/Expo and it was like Blue line 25 mins, Expo line 21 mins. That right there is why ridership is dropping, bad service. Fix the service and more people will ride, its not rocket science. I’m a monthly pass holder and I still avoid the Red Line at night and only take it when I need to because waiting 25 mins for a 10 minute subway ride is ridiculous.

      • This older rider agrees that @NSMP said it exactly right. Frequency is everything and Metro needs to stop crippling service between 8pm and midnight.

        Something is wrong with the new Silver Line schedule and routing. The midday bus is often very late and the return 7pm bus is always stuffed to SRO.

        I do not agree with the free parking haters. Traffic congestion is common and gridlock has almost extended throughout the day in my South Bay neighbohood. I prefer to take public transit (bus included) but getting anywhere in a reasonably timely manner is very difficult, so I often drive to my nearest LR stations. Are the bus lanes on Wilshire working out as intended?

        And where the heck is the ‘security’ that Metro is paying for? The Pershing Square station is constantly surrounded by aggressive / crazy / under-the-influence street people. Welcome to L.A., Not!

  2. From the Metro report: “Several past customers commented on usingthe system less, or leaving the system entirely due to people not feeling comfortable on the buses and trains (e.g.harassment, loud music, vendors, rider discourtesy).” Count me as one of those. I do not feel comfortable passing an in-your-face homeless encampment on Metro property to enter the Vermont Red Line station. I do not feel comfortable riding Red Line subway trains with smashed glass in the door windows. I do not feel comfortable standing on the same subway platform as loudly gesticulating bike riders who are pushing each other – and this just a couple of feet from live subway tracks. I do not feel comfortable riding buses where the patrons refuse to stand in an actual line prior to boarding, and instead funnel onboard, like some kind of mob. These are all basic safety issues!! Vendors and buskers I have no problem with. Everyone’s got to make a living somehow, and this activity does not interfere with me enjoying riding Metro, nor do they make Metro less safe.

  3. I agree with tulippx above.

    Metro is competing itself with ride-share services and they can’t beat their services. And Uber can be cheaper than taking Metro when you’re splitting the cost with others and going a relatively short distance. The competition among them have become so big that they’re now charging less than $0.90 a mile for trips.

    The other day, me and my buddies went to the movies late at night to go watch “13 Hours.” The bus would’ve cost us $1.75 per person and we would’ve be standing in at the bus stop in the cold for god knows how long. In contrast, our Uber came to us in a nice brand new Acura in less than 5 minutes and the total trip fare was $5.60, split that among 4 of us was $1.50. And there’s none of those no drinking including bottled water non-sense on Uber either, in fact they even GIVE you bottled water if you ask the driver for it. Why should I pay more for bad service when there’s a better service for cheaper?

    Metro needs to get into the game if they want to bring back riders. They need to reduce the fares and make services more frequent. You can’t expect people to ride your buses and trains that costs more than Uber while providing bad services.