ALPERN AT LARGE--An interesting thing happened when my very large medical group had its meeting in Downtown Los Angeles. Virtually no one came via mass transit, and no one realistically expected them to, despite attracting physicians and medical executives from all over Southern California.
I casually brought this issue up with a few of my colleagues, and they all said the same thing (particularly from the ladies): inconvenience, and safety. Especially the safety.
We're now at a crossroads with respect to mass transit in the City and County of Los Angeles--we've paid for it, we're getting it, but the question of what we're getting for our money and efforts is now front and center.
The GOOD news is that there WILL be certainly more ridership on all mass transit lines when we get critical network connections with the completion of the Crenshaw/LAX and Downtown Connector Light Rail Lines...and the LAX People Mover. Once mass transit on trains gets easier and more convenient, people will use them.
However, a key question of WHO will be using those lines merits an honest, realistic answer. And the numbers show BAD news. With the exception of the Expo and Gold Lines, ridership on Metro is going DOWN. Even with cheaper gas and other issues that have nothing to do with Metro, Angelenos are buying cars and NOT ditching them to use mass transit.
Metro CEO Phil Washington (a pretty good guy, overall, with a military training and a keen eye on how to make transit systems operate) has an amazing career and family experience that makes him a very good person to grow and develop a regional transportation system.
But he will have to use his knowledge and respect borne from his Army experience, and his respect for diversity to realize that behavior on Metro's buses and trains are a human thing, and not something limited to one group of people.
Meanwhile, Mayor Eric Garcetti, who's staked much of his career promoting alternative sources of transportation, and who certainly loves his wife, has to answer the tough question that most of us transit advocates have lacked the courage to openly ask:
Would YOU let your wife, or encourage your wife, to ride Metro by herself? And how about your underage children (less than 18)?
When I ask this question, I almost always get the response by--you guessed it--male, childless fitness buffs who claim to support women's rights, but who really don't give a damn about their needs and concerns, try to shut me down and tell me how lots of women use Metro (and ignore the fact that most women who use it don't really have many other choices).
(Kind of like the Hollywood "pro-women" activists who have a horrendous personal record on how they treat women.)
Well, I love my wife (I adore her, actually), and I love my two children. Increasingly, my son likes to use the Expo Line (he's almost 18), and my daughter just did something I predicted for many years:
My daughter and her Overland Avenue Elementary School grade, with adult supervision (including my wife), did a field trip on the Expo Line to the LA Natural History Museum.
So mass transit IS worth fighting for. A tougher question, though, is whether in politically-correct LA we have the ability to allow a female individual or family with small children to use Metro without having to occasionally (or even regularly) endure experiences that make them uncomfortable at least, and in fear for their safety at most.
So both CEO Washington and Mayor Garcetti will have to openly grow a spine, a brain, and a heart, and really speak to ordinary, every day women on how they REALLY feel about Metro.
Because every single woman I've ever met, of all ethnicities and of all ages, have mentioned the fear factor as to why they don't use mass transit.
We just had a singular moment of truth, when a LAPD sergeant, doing his job, and who happened to be a white male, arrested a young Latina woman who was both foul-mouthed and rude, and who refused to get her feet off a seat when asked, and refused to leave the train when she would not comply with Metro's Riders Rules of Conduct.
The officer was within his rights and just doing his job, and when he asked for backup, the other police officers happened to be of all ethnicities and both genders, and when he arrested both the rule breaker, and another foul-mouthed individual (another Latina woman, defending the rights of "her people") he was spit on and NOT supported sufficiently by either Washington or Garcetti.
The response of just about EVERY black and Latino when asked about this event?
Those two foul-mouthed, uncivil lawbreakers got what they had coming to them: an arrest.
For mass transit, and for civilization in general, we have to obey the law. This is an obvious, no-brainer of a concept that is supported by every black, brown, yellow, or white human being who chooses to be a human being (educated, respectful, and law-abiding).
Yes, Mr. Washington and Mr. Garcetti, there IS a Metro Customer Code of Conduct.
Abuse, harassment, aggressive attempts to sell products or extract money from other riders, graffiti, public urination or defecation, fare-dodging, blocking the aisles or putting your feet on adjacent seats or any other behavior that prevents others from using buses or trains, or any other disorderly conduct is NOT allowed.
Most black and brown voters WANT Washington and Garcetti to use this event to make a statement that Metro is going to be safer, and safe enough that the women in THEIR lives and in YOUR lives will feel comfortable riding Metro, and bringing small children to ride Metro.
Fighting to defend the rights of law-breakers and inappropriate homeless individuals who don't use the trains for transportation is a stupid fight that will END L.A.'s forays into mass transit.
On the other hand, defending the rights of the law-abiding, and welcoming a safe and convenient Metro ride will do the opposite: encourage mass transit ridership, and prepare LA for a safe, and happy 2028 OIympics experience while doing what other cities and nations throughout the world have done, which is to make a mass transit a viable option for ALL of us.
We're at a crossroads: will the police presence, begged and demanded by the public, be supported, or will a few foul-mouthed miscreants have their "rights" to break and flaunt the law shove the rest of us away from mass transit?
(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud father and husband to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. 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 was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at email@example.com. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)