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The decision by President Obama's administration to award California money for high-speed rail but not provide money for engineering work on the subway and downtown connector did not please two readers. Photo credit: The White House

It’s time to catch up on reader email again. If you have a thought worth sharing, always feel free to email us at

Metro recently received word that the Federal Transit Administration declined to provide $77 million in funding for preliminary engineering on the Westside Subway Extension and the Downtown Regional Connector. That brought this response from reader R.N.:

Let’s get this straight.  Los Angeles, one of the world’s largest cities, is being overlooked by the Obama Administration?  Doesn’t the White House know how many people are here?  Or, how bad the traffic situation is?  Many people are deeply hurt and disappointed by the President because he is all but ignoring LA’s transit needs.

Reader Yuri Titov Bendaña was surprised to read on Wikipedia recently about the extent and ridership on Metro’s rail lines. He writes:

I was very surprised the the LA light rail is the largest by track mileage and #3 in the nation by ridership.  I don’t recall Metro publicizing this anywhere.  I think with the Expo line the ridership will push LA to the #2 spot past SF and possibly overtake Boston….

So much for the common and often repeated perception that in LA “nobody” rides the subway or the light rails, the numbers speak for themselves. Metro should make a bigger deal out of this to start changing public perception.

I agree that Metro’s marketing efforts could make some hay out of the ridership numbers, but my preference is to market actual services and their benefits. For example, “Did you know such-and-such bus line goes from here-to-there in just X amount of minutes.”

As for ridership, I think the more compelling number is overall rail ridership — subways and light rail combined. Metro certainly carries a lot of passengers on its rail system, but the numbers are dwarfed by rail systems in New York, Chicago, Washington and Boston. For example, through the first nine months of 2009, Metro had about 70.5 million boardings on its light rail and subway. By comparison, there were about 225 million boardings on the Washington system in that span. Here’s a link to the most recent ridership report from the American Public Transportation Assn.

The Obama administration in late January awarded $2.25 billion in grants to California to help build a high-speed rail line from Anaheim to San Francisco. Sophie Cheng writes:

2.2 Billion dollars is more than enough to improve and add municipal rail services but not even close to build a high speed rail in California (43 billion needed). So I don’t think this plan will really help much of anything, except the Washington politics.

There has been considerable debate in transportation circles whether it would have been smarter to give the money to urban mass transit systems and I think that’s a worthy debate. However, it’s fair to note that the 13 high-speed rail projects awarded federal money cross a lot more Congressional districts than urban projects would.

The opening of the W Hotel caused a discussion about how much the hotel — and other businesses — should do to promote transit. Nathan Landau writes:

You mentioned the lack of transit info on the Hollywood W website. While I realize they’re a special case as joint development, you might want to look at what transit info is on websites more broadly. My non-systematic impression is that websites for LA businesses like hotels and restaurants are less likely to have transit info than ones in San Francisco. But there are some places like Good Girl Dinette that trumpets the fact that it’s adjacent to a Gold Line station.

Martin Draper, who lives in Paris, has frequently visited the Los Angeles area over the past three decades and is encouraged by the blossoming mass transit scene here. He writes:

On a recent trip with a friend – spent entirely sightseeing – and based near Vermont/Sunset station so that we could enjoy the homely Los Feliz neighbourhood and it’s cafés and restaurants, we visited Pasadena, Universal Studios and Universal City, Long Beach, Westwood, the Getty Museum, Santa Monica, The Grove Shopping Mall, Hollywood Boulevard, West Hollywood and downtown LA: all on public transit. We even used the Green Line and Rapid Bus 754 to get to and from the airport. And, incidentally, we also used Amtrak for a day trip to Santa Barbara (as well as a longer trip down to San Diego) and Metrolink for a trip down to lovely San Clemente.

Of course – like the Toronto blogger – there were things we would have preferred: a more frequent rail service, especially on the Red Line and the Green Line (which, at the moment, doesn’t go to enough places to attract more riders) and bus lanes on Metro Rapid lines to enable them to deliver faster journey times. And yes, I have, like the ordinary commuter, still been squashed on crowded and slow local bus lines.

But do Angelinos realise how far they have come in twenty years? From nothing but slow, mostly local bus lines, to the beginnings of a real county-wide rapid transit system. From two-car subway trains with a handful of passengers, to standing-room only six-car trains at busy times on the Red Line. From a deserted Union Station with nine weekday train departures when I first visited, to one of the nation’s busiest transit hubs with over eighty train departures now. I am amazed at it all, and at the willingness of LA residents to pay for more through Measure R.

M.H. has been trying to commute more frequently from the San Gabriel Valley to his job in downtown Los Angeles and isn’t entirely pleased by some aspects of Metro service. He writes:

So, I had the pure pleasure of attending a one year old’s birthday party. This time, it was attended by a bunch of parents who all work together at Metro. That of course led to discussions where I completely ostracized myself by complaining about this, that and the other Metro thing.  Anyhow, my biggest rants are as follows:

1.  Any objective viewer knows that any extension of any one of the colored lines to anywhere near the airport should just continue on and plow right into the United Terminal.  There is no excuse for stopping short (at a blvd near the airport from which you have to then get on a cruddy, dirty bus).  Portland and SFO managed it.  We should be able to do so as well. Your metro colleagues murmured something about “politics” standing in the way of such easy planning.  When probed, they waffled.  What’s the inside story on this ??? It would be a good article for your blog.

2.  I finally found a cigarette shop downtown where I can buy a TAP card (as I previously mentioned, the TAP judiciary apparently decided that such cards can only be sold in brothels, smoke shops and liquor stores (there is a stereotyping issue there somewhere).  Anyhow, the very polite woman behind the counter explained that I really should not buy a TAP card on the 16th day of January because I would be paying for all of January (including the part that had then passed).  Apparently, the TAP card program is not really a pre-paid debit card. Rather it is like those stupid health spending accounts that everyone is duped into accepting by the health insurance companies —where you use it or lose it during the defined calendar period.

That is, you’re prepaying for a period (a calendar month), not a number of trips, or even a number of days starting on the day you purchase it. TAP people should follow the lead of Peets / Starbucks Coffee and allow you to give them your money upfront in exchange for one free coffee/ride.  TAP would get the float on all of that cash in its deposit account.  And, it would be a constant renewal of huge sums of cash every day – not just at the beginning of the month – which is the only time one should buy these stupid cards.

3. Finally, this comment is short – I want you to go and try to use your debit or credit card to purchase a daily pass at one of the kiosks near one of the stations. Good luck, and call me next year when you finally get it to work.  AAAHHHH!

Man, I love a good rant. Here are my replies to your two main points:

1. I don’t think politics is getting in the way of actually building a rail line into the terminal area of LAX. I think it’s quite the opposite: too few politicians have a made stink about the Crenshaw Line or Green Line not going into the airport horseshoe. Measure R calls for a project to link directly into the airport, but thus far it’s not clear what that project may be. And LAX officials have yet to produce any concrete plans for a rail line or people mover into the terminal area.

2. When I worked at a large newspaper in town, I never quite understood the point of the TAP system that only allows users to buy monthly passes and doesn’t dispense cards at ticket machines. I now work at Metro and I still don’t understand it. I suspect that if more top Metro officials had to use TAP cards and reload them — they get free rides on the system as Metro employees — that shortcoming would be fixed.

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