Five things I’m thinking about transportation

BULLET TRAIN — TO BUILD OR NOT TO BUILD: I think it will take a lot more political courage at this point to build the $98.5-billion train between Anaheim and San Francisco than to kill the project.  
It’s always easier to say ‘no’ than attempt something that is hard and controversial and will likely have setbacks — i.e. the very definition of a large infrastructure project. Conversely, it will take a lot more political chutzpah for someone — anyone at this point — to stand up and say “if you want it, you’re going to have to pay for it and here’s how.”  
Until this happens, the media is going to continue to treat the project like the political pinata that it has become owing to its $85-billion budget shortfall. Case in point: this week’s round of media stories on the latest poll showing that voters would no longer vote to approve the $9.95-billion bond package to supply seed money for the train.  
Some news for the news media: The people barely voted to approve the bonds in the first place in 2008. Prop 1A won 52.7 percent of the vote. And, as the L.A. Times reported, there was already a poll done earlier this year saying much the same thing.  

RETURN OF THE SUVS?: I recently attended an Ontario Reign hockey game, played in a refrigerator of an arena in the 909 Territories. After the game, I couldn’t help but notice: A) a man urinating on his own car, and; B) the majority of vehicles in the parking lot were SUVs.  
My first thought was: how many of these SUVs were paid for by equity pulled out out of homes. My second thought: how many people still had the SUVs but lost the house? Not a nice thought perhaps…but fair game considering the foreclosure crisis in the Inland Empire.  
Perhaps my observation wasn’t a coincidence. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that SUV sales are up as consumers gain more confidence, gas prices remain under $4 and SUVs are becoming more fuel efficient.  
I don’t blame anyone for wanting space in their car. I have a 2007 Subaru Outback to ferry around dogs, camping gear, hockey equipment, etc. But if big cars are going to make a comeback, I think America needs them to be hybrids or electric vehicles — otherwise it’s one more barrier to overcoming our fossil fuel addiction.  
Semi-related thought: I saw “Margin Call” at the Laemmle’s in Pasadena the other night (near the Gold Line Lake Avenue station and the 780 Rapid). Pretty good, albeit fictional, tale about how those “toxic assets” escaped from one financial firm to infect the market. Good cast, with a particularly excellent performance from Kevin Spacey, in an Annakin Skywalker type of role.  
Semi-related thought #2: The number of times that the Reign and their opponents dropped the gloves to fight was almost comical. I hope before their next round of combat, Reign players take the time to read the New York Time’s excellent three-part series on the death of enforcer Derek Boogard, who at 28 had already suffered considerable brain damage, likely from being hit in the head over and over again.  
TAKING TRANSIT ONE DAY A WEEK: Over the years I’ve heard a lot of politicians say it would be great if people would just take transit one day a week. The pols are dead right: If one in five motorists decided to hop on a bus or train each day, traffic likely wouldn’t be nearly as bad as it is here and elsewhere.  
So the pols have the messaging right. What I’m still waiting to hear is some kind of idea for a cheapie transit pass that would incentivize motorists to leave their cars at home one day a week. It’s election season (okay, when is it not?), so let’s some ideas from area pols. Note: Highly intelligent Source readers should feel free to provide hints.  
WILSHIRE BUS LANES: It’s always important that government let taxpayers know when projects are expected to be complete. No one likes project delays and they happen for a myriad of reasons.  
On that note, a hat tip to L.A. Streetsblog for breaking the news that the city of Los Angeles is saying it may not finish the Wilshire bus lane project until 2015 and not 2013, as we had been reporting.  
HEARD ON TRANSIT: I listened to the Black Keys’ new album, El Camino, on the Gold Line this morning (at respectably low volumes on the headphones, you’re welcome) and I think it lives up to the media hype and is very good. Sounds like something that would have hit the airwaves in the ’70s, and I mean that in a good way.  

7 replies

  1. Y Fukuzawa: First of all, I am on record as supporting a fare increase for improved/increased service quality. So let’s get that issue out of the way.

    But as it happens, what I am calling for right now is *not* an increase in service:

    1) As far as morning trains are concerned, I have asked Metrolink to *adjust* timings in order to reduce the service gap (i.e., space trains out more evenly), not to add more service or even reinstate the service that was in place two years ago.

    2) As far as 10-trip tickets are concerned, I fail to see how allowing the use of prepaid fare media will cost the taxpayer more.

  2. Allon, I hear you on the Metrolink issue. It was always so annoying that if I didn’t want to be at Union Station at the crack of dawn, I’d have to wait until afternoon.

    Alex, I believe they are planning to have free rides the weekend Expo opens…although this is only hearsay at this point.

    And Steve, that ice rink wouldn’t happen to be in Ontario on Holt, would it? I used to take hockey lessons there!

  3. @Allon

    Again, the question comes back to, if you want that service, how much more as a taxpayer will you be willing to pay for that?

  4. People who drive cars daily don’t do so because of the cost f a bus fare. They aren’t using transit because it can be totally inefficient. Knocking 50 cents off a bus ticket isn’t going to convince people to give up their cars. If the buses ran in dedicated lanes and rewarded people with time (not money) I’m sure some people would gladly use PT – maybe even more than one day a week! But when the bus is trapped in the same traffic as everyone else, what’s the point? (Can you hear the frustration that I spend 4 hours a day on a bus getting from Downtown to Santa Monica and back?)

  5. Re: the cheapie transit pass idea — What if Metro Rail were free the week the Expo Line opened? It would be a nice way to celebrate having reliable, speedy transit in some new parts of the city — USC, Crenshaw, Culver City — while also thanking the public for putting up with delays in the project.

    I have no idea what kind of revenue that would eliminate, so maybe it could just be for a day? Just an idea.

  6. On “Taking Transit One Day a Week”: I used to do this on the Metrolink San Bernardino line, commuting from LA to Claremont, until Metrolink started actively discouraging this practice through changes in schedules and fare policies:

    1) The 10:00am weekday Union Station departure was eliminated (even though other worse-performing trains on that line were kept), creating a 138-minute service gap after the 9:02am train. The problem is that those of us who live on the Westside and need to drop off kids to school cannot get to Union Station by 9:02. The real problem here is not just the service cancellation, but that Metrolink has consistently refused to consider adjusting the other train times to alleviate this enormous service gap.

    2) Metrolink decided to reduce the validity of 10-trip tickets from 60 days to 45 days, and later to eliminate them outright, substituting instead a 7-day pass. The problem is that if you take Metrolink one day a week, a 45-day validity period is cutting it a little close (doable though inconvenient), and a 7-day pass is thoroughly useless. So instead of the convenience of prepaid ticketing, you are forced to waste time going to the ticket machine before each and every trip.

    I have raised both of these issues with Metrolink management and received the answer that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.

    The problem is that with this logic, you will never get people to take transit one day a week. They will be the minority, outweighed (in the view of agency management) by the needs of the majority.

    Hint for the politicians: this attitude has got to change. The Board should call for more convenient fare options and more regular (even if infrequent) scheduling, since complexity tends to be obstacle #1 to occasional transit use.

  7. Laemmle: Can’t wait for their new NoHo opening this month, so close to the NoHo Orange and Red Line stops. And why I’ll be giving them so much of my $. 🙂

    SUV’s are what introduced me to Metro! Over the years there’s been an arms race in SUV size, and being non-SUV myself, finally got tired of SUV’ers using their size to bully on the freeway. CHP please look away now: if I’m doing 85 on the 10 and there’s 3 open lanes to the left, you’re on my tail to bully not because I’m holding you back. Hypothetically on that 85 thing… 😉

    So I said, I’m going to look into that Metro thing.

    Welcome bliss, goodbye stress! My only miles on the car are to drive to the Willow Station.

    Where I have noticed, regrettably, yes, there are people living in their SUVs and RVs that arrive overnight.