Don’t Drink the Transit Kool-Aid: Here’s Why Angelenos Aren’t Riding the Buses

TRANSIT LA--Much of our current society's problems is that we're too often willing to be apologists: apologists for Bush's Iraq War, apologists for Obamacare failures, and apologists for our personal causes.  Well, I doubt I am the only one who supports Metro but notes two glaring problems:  the trains are too slow, and there's a big problem with safety/security. 

First, the Good (we love that Sergio Leone paradigm, don't we?):  I think that Metro's leadership and staff, at this immediate time, are among the greatest examples of successful government I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.  They are responsive, they do care, and they're trying to improve their operations. 

Then, the Bad: We are decades behind in building a countywide network that serves the needs of all commuters and of all commuting modes.  We've made some amazing progress, and compared to other cities/counties, LA is the city/county to be beat--but we've done it without hardly any help from Sacramento, and only slight and recent help from Washington. 

Finally, the Ugly: We've got a combination of NIMBY's, transit zealots, and small-minded "neighborhood leaders" who've messed things up for the long-term.   

But things are fixable--and it should be remembered that the "line to nowhere", that Green Line, still had to make the painful, awkward first step before it could potentially be extended to LAX, the South Bay, and Norwalk. 

As aforementioned, there are TWO major problems with our Metro Rail/transit system right now: Speed and Safety/Security.  And those problems HAVE affected ridership.

That said, ridership isn't just related to Metro operations--and it should be remembered that the recently-passed Measure M has lots of money for operations.  Again--Metro KNOWS what problems there are, and compared to other branches of government, Metro DOES have a working paradigm of listening more than others. 

To be blunt, though: 

1) It's NOT Metro's fault that their opponents who fought Metro Rail expansion focused more on blocking the line than fairly mitigating the line.  Case in point--the Expo Line Authority and Metro wanted elevation/grade separation in Santa Monica, but that city dogmatically insisted it be at-grade (street level) and the line is slower there. 

2) It's NOT Metro's fault that the sheriffs and other security personnel don't ride the trains as much as they should, and it's NOT Metro's fault that we're so damned politically correct as to ignore the danger of gang members, thugs, and troublemakers who ride the lines within arm's reach of threatened civilian and law-abiding riders. 

With respect to speed--and I'll use the Expo Line as a case in point yet again--the more the line is grade-separated over major commercial thoroughfares, the faster the line goes and the less invasive the line is for car commuters who want to cross the line (particularly during rush hour). 

Where it's mega-tight, going underground makes the most sense.  Otherwise, a rail bridge works well--and let's knock off the canards about rail bridges being ugly:  the new bridges are not like the elevated trains in the old Chicago network ... in fact, they're downright beautiful and modern. 


With the Downtown Connector Subway almost completed to connect the Expo/Blue Lines with the Gold Lines, the speed of crossing and accessing Downtown will go way up.  But the street-running portion of the Downtown Expo/Blue Lines will certain be considered for a fix in the years to come...because those lines are too darned slow there. 

In the Westside, the results of the stupid, STUPID political battles opposing the line was that the consideration of a rail bridge at the critical freeway-accessing Overland Avenue was thrown away.  

The LADOT knew the rail bridge idea had merit, but the locals demanded a subterranean crossing or the Expo/Metro folks saved some money and threw away the bridge option.  I saw the PowerPoint for that option--and if Paul Koretz and the Westside had demanded a rail bridge at Overland (like Culver City did for its rail crossings), it would have been there. 

Now the trains are a little slower there, and cars are--you guessed it--backed up for 10-15 minutes or more during rush hour.  Feel lied to?  Well, talk to those either too NIMBY or too cowardly to demand a rail bridge because they insisted on an underground, mega-expensive fix instead of the cheaper bridge alternative. 

(Sigh).  At least we can consider now building roads that bridge over the rails...maybe.  And

Downtown should have better signal prioritization favoring traffic--or that Downtown Connector tunnel should be extended further in the future to make it easier for both train and car commuters. 


I've lost my concerns about offending anyone with this statement:  it's not "progressive" or "liberal" but downright STUPID to let career criminals out of prison, particularly when the police are screaming for us not to do that. 

With the death of a beloved Whittier police officer at the hands of some mutant who had NO business being shuffled repeatedly out of prison, the question of asking when IS it fair to decry Assembly Bill 109, and Props. 47 and 57? 

Good government?  Saving a few bucks on prisons?  Offering second chances?  Not being too harsh on nonviolent drug offenders? 

Well, both violent and non-violent crime are going UP.  We used to enjoy DECREASING crime with Three Strikes.  Some kindness and flexibility was nice to prevent too many individuals from having their lives destroyed, but ... 

... we've gone TOO far. 

Homeowners, business owners, and...transit riders...will increasingly experience "close encounters" with folks who used to safely be thrown behind bars for very long times.  And law-abiding individuals of all colors will continue to be ignored by those of us who want a strong police presence on our trains, buses, etc. 

Apps for quietly and safely calling for help should be installed on all transit vehicles, and trains should be notorious NOT for thugs, hookers, and crazies bothering innocent riders, but for sheriff's deputies who get on and off trains frequently and often. 

It's not racist to demand speedier rides, and it's not racist to demand safer rides, on our taxpayer-funded networks.  We paid for all why SHOULDN'T we get nothing but the best for our taxpayer dollars?


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)