Transportation headlines, Tuesday, September 24

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For those who didn’t go to the Paul McCartney show on Hollywood Boulevard last night or watch it on Jimmy Kimmel. Glad to hear some Wings made it into the set! Justin Timberlake gets his turn tonight. For those headed to the show, use the Red Line’s Hollywood/Highland station.

Blue Line earns deadly reputation for suicides (L.A. Times)

After rash of suicides, MTA asks public for help (Daily News)

With suicide by train up, LA appeals for help (Associated Press)

There was lots of coverage by print and electronic media of Metro’s press event Monday about Metro’s attempts to reduce suicides along the Blue Line. Thirty one of the 120 deaths along the Blue Line since 1990 have been suicides, including seven in the past 15 months. Meanwhile, the rate of accidents along the Blue Line has fallen.

From the Times’ story:

Metro has begun to ask the public to help prevent suicides, a rare move for transit organizations, which typically avoid the issue for fear of prompting copycat suicides. The agency has invested millions of dollars in gates intended to keep back cars and pedestrians at busy rail crossings, and signs with a suicide prevention hotline number were recently posted in every station. Coming into certain stations, operators have reduced their speed from 45 mph to 25 mph.

Accidental deaths have decreased this year, which officials say is a sign that the improvements have helped. But stopping people who want to kill themselves is more complicated.


Experts say that it’s too soon to judge whether Blue Line suicides are more than a statistical fluke. Nationally, subway and light-rail suicides peaked in 2011, when 74 people killed themselves, according to federal data. That declined to 55 people in 2012, five of them in Los Angeles.

But the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health said that although the most recent data on local suicides aren’t yet available, anecdotal evidence suggests the Blue Line matches a rising suicide rate countywide.

Psychologists say that the Blue Line’s suicides could be linked to the economy. The working-class area surrounding much of the Blue Line has seen high unemployment and mass home foreclosures.

“The economy has had an impact,” Department of Mental Health psychologist James Cunningham said, “and the fact that it’s starting to turn around doesn’t necessarily mean it’s reached a lot of folks.”

It’s a very tough situation. I think it’s good that Metro chose to talk publicly and frankly about it on Monday. But I’m afraid there are no easy answers on this one.

Dallas commuters can now download their transit tickets on their phones (Wired)

From the story:

Passes purchased on a smartphone can be saved into a “digital wallet” for up to 60 days. Color coding shows how close the pass is to expiration. Soon, those with corporate and student passes will be able to add them to the app, and riders will also be able to purchase special tickets that include admission to events and museums.

Like TriMet in Portland, DART relies on bus conductors and fare inspectors to enforce payment, rather than turnstiles and gates. That makes smartphone payment a lot easier to implement than with automated fare collection. Once a pass is activated on the GoPass app, it displays a countdown timer showing how much time is left on the fare. Riders and fare inspectors alike can instantly know whether a ticket is valid.

Portland’s regional transit agency also just added an app that allows passengers to buy tickets on their smartphones. Portland, like Dallas, relies on fare inspectors to ensure passengers have purchased tickets.

Study proposes implementing per-mile tolls on U.S. interstate system (Better Roads)

Missed this one last week but worth mentioning: the Reason Foundation has proposed a toll of 3.5 cents per mile for cars and 14 cents per mile for trucks as part of their proposal to better fund and maintain the nation’s 25,000 mile interstate (i.e. freeway) system. The toll would be used instead of the current gas tax, which many people say is unsustainable because of increasing fuel efficiency and Congress’ using the funds for other purposes (such as transit).

The Reason Foundation’s proposal is rooted in some libertarian principals — namely the heaviest users of the interstates would pay the most and the money would only go for interstate upkeep and projects. Tolls would be collected electronically via transponders.

If I’m doing the math right, a drive from L.A. to San Francisco on the interstate would cost about $13. The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents a gallon, meaning a vehicle that gets 25 mpg only pays $2.65 or so in gas taxes.

Understanding the anti-gridlock zone (LADOT)

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I think that neatly explains it!

9 replies

  1. Ryan K., Councilman Garcia of Long Beach has made some comments regarding issues relating to the Blue Line. Maybe you should contact him and propose he take on elevating the line. That would be a very expensive proposition and require buy-in from the corridor jurisdictions to build support for maybe including it in the Measure R extension likely to be voted on in the next few years.

  2. The roads were built with taxpayer money, yes, and now they have to be maintained with taxpayer money (you don’t want the bridges to collapse while you’re driving under them, do you?). That money has to come from somewhere. Tolling all the roads, though, seems way more complicated than just increasing the gas tax, requires a large capital investment and buy-in from every state along the route, etc.

    As for the transponders working in other states, that IS a problem, but at least in the Eastern U.S. many states have technology that is compatible with other states (I have a tag from New Jersey that works in all of New England, down the coast to Virginia and west to Illinois where I currently live). Hopefully there will be more standardization in the future.

  3. The article about implementing tolls on interstate highways and paying with transponders. Number one if you use an interstate highway in another county or state; will the transponder work throughout the nation? Right now when visitors come to the Los Angeles area even if they have a carpool they can not use the express lanes because they do not have a local transponder.

    Interstate highways were built with taxpayers money. Now that less people are driving, cars are becoming more efficient and less gas is being sold, now the government wants everyone to pay toll to use the interstates. I think it is just a BIG RIPOFF!

  4. Metro is trying to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the deaths along this corridor. Grade separate the line. Only 26% of deaths are considered suicides according to the statistics provided.

    I appreciate the work that the safety ambassadors do, and Metro is definitely taking some action along the line. I feel that the action is too little, too late. And I do not take kindly to any comments from Metro stating that it comes down to not being able to put the blue line “in a bubble.” Grade separate the line, and install safety doors at stations. That is a bubble, albeit a very costly bubble. I suppose it just boils down to how much you are willing to pay to save someone’s life.

    • Hi Ryan;

      I don’t think the agency is trying to place blame elsewhere. I think the recent statistics put Metro in the position of having to both acknowledge and try to tackle the suicide issue.

      There is no doubt that the Blue Line is challenging – the center platforms, the parallel freight tracks, the at-grade crossings and the high ridership on the line.

      As I wrote the other day, it’s a tough issue. Completely grade separating the line would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and likely require years of work — with, perhaps, no service in the meantime. And still that would not guarantee 100 percent safety as there’s always a human element.

      Metro is continuing to make some safety upgrades and I will hopefully be writing about some of those soon. Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. anti-gridlock zoning is some of the worst urban policy. They make our roads freeways. All lanes become dedicated to the personal automobile. This is inefficient mode of transportation in an urban setting. There should be space for bikes and bus lanes to move more people with better use of space. Or if we keep the parking, then cars would slow down and streets will be safer for pedestrians.

  6. Also, I have trouble taking anything that the Reason Foundation publishes seriously after the hatchet job they did the week after the Expo Line opened, when they declared Expo a failure because it was only carrying 40 percent of the projected ridership. I am still waiting for them to issue an update that recognizes that after one year of service, Phase 1 of Expo has achieved the 2020 ridership forecast seven years ahead of schedule.

  7. Regarding the Reason Foundation article, it isn’t true that the gas tax is “unsustainable because of increasing fuel efficiency”. The gas tax is an appropriate mechanism to charge users for the traffic and environmental impacts to which they contribute. The problem with the gas tax in the U.S. is that it doesn’t go far enough; it doesn’t account for the full and true cost of the impacts. As a result, the costs of maintaining the transportation systems and addressing the environmental impacts (including health impacts from pollution and global climate change) must be borne by other funding mechanisms. American drivers, therefore, are being subsidized by the government, and they have an unrealistic perception of the true cost of driving. Other developed countries have gas taxes that average three times as much as we pay in the U.S. They also have a better appreciation for the trus cost of driving and are more likely to use, and build, other transportation modes.

  8. “Psychologists say that the Blue Line’s suicides could be linked to the economy. The working-class area surrounding much of the Blue Line has seen high unemployment and mass home foreclosures.”

    Maybe Metro can help by being a job creator themselves? If Metro is really into this “transit oriented development” idea to jump start the economy, they should set an example on how its done. Show us the money. Show us how business and mass transit works together for the good of the economy. Convince us that mass transit is profitable, helps the economy, and helps create jobs.

    There’s all sorts of ideas that is possible that Metro is not doing. Put a police box inside the station. Creates jobs for police officers and creates a more safer environment by having them stationed right then and there instead of having them waste gas patrolling the streets in gas guzzling Chevrolet or Dodge police cars all day (mind you, the gas for those cop cars are paid for our taxes too!).

    Add a convenience store, fast food outlet, coffee shop, or a boutique inside the station. Build stations with retail in mind instead so it will creates jobs and promotes economic activity to the local area. Metro collect rent from businesses inside the station. That’s extra revenue for Metro. When people buy stuff, they pay sales taxes. When taxes are collected it brings extra revenue into our city and county. The stations are where people are at as they wait for the train. Why would you not try to capitalize on that?

    Build a high rise office building above or near the stations. Creates commercial jobs that is close to the station so it’s walkable there instead of driving. Build a high rise condo above the station. Creates residential market jobs and brings back the housing market. Makes people live closer to the station and even work. Metro owns the real estate at the stations, why would they not want to capitalize on real estate market themselves?

    Buy out dilapidated factories and create manufacturing jobs relating to mass transit. Who says we have to import everything from China? We can build ticket vending machines, fare gates, contactless cards, TAP software, buses, rail cars, seats, windows, digital displays, announcement systems, etc. etc. right here in Los Angeles, use that for LA and even profit by selling those to the rest of the mass transit agencies in the US. Things would be cheaper and we gain experience in making those things if we did it ourselves then letting China build them for us and having them all shipped to us.