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LA’s Bus Ridership Is Hemorrhaging … and So Is Our Credibility

ALPERN AT LARGE--It's no secret that our society wants better, faster, and more reliable bus service.

 It's no secret that bus transit is cheaper than either a private automobile or Uber/Lyft. Unfortunately, it's also no secret that bus service in L.A. has become synonymous with an unpleasant, tedious experience. 

I've always been supportive of being FOR answers, and not merely whining about problems that require fixing. Therefore, when the conundrum is mentioned about declining bus ridership, it's best not to scream and howl but to come up with new ideas, or at least revisit old ones that are overdue for implementation.

Riding the bus is a service that Metro provides, and for those of us in the know about Metro it's known that Metro is run pretty well with what they have to work with. That said, ANY and ALL service industries know that "the customer is always right" and must be treated as such.

That said, the political leadership on the Metro Board often doesn't have the guts and courage to do the right thing, and the Metro staff--from the planners to the bus drivers--take ORDERS from the Metro Board.

Metro's staff, believe it or not, really DOES want to hear what you have to say--and if anyone has met them at a planning or feedback meeting, their sincerity and open-mindedness to what you have to say is undeniable. 

However, what can they or us do when their Metro Board is the same group of City and County political "woke" individuals who've given us our Homeless and Affordable Housing and Overdevelopment messes? 

Too often the Metro Board has shown a political zealotry to be as tone-deaf to their constituents as they can get away with:

1) As with the homeless on our sidewalks, those sitting in their urine and feces, and those causing horrific smells and traveling environments, do NOT have the right to make their homes on the buses. This shouldn't even be an issue, but it is in our silly, childish society that ignores the rights of those who pay taxes and who want buses to be viable options.

2) Buses are too darned slow--Metro Rapid works well, and often are similar to trains with respect to having priority at stoplights and are emphasized for speed and convenience. A study launched two years ago is leading to implementation of bus lines being redesigned to better compete with driving.

3) Stop, stop, STOP making riding the bus an "obligation" for us to save the environment, save the world, stop climate change, stop Donald Trump, or whatever. Civic duty is important, but most of go and serve on Jury Duty because we have to. DO NOT MAKE RIDING THE BUS A CIVIC OBLIGATION LIKE JURY DUTY. It's a service.

4) It's been said so often that it's become old hat to suggest that Metro Board members and senior staff use the bus a minimal and even obligatory amount to best understand what bus riders have to put up with. To be clear, bus riders shouldn't have to "put up" with ANYTHING. We treat our bus riders like dirt and take them for granted. That must end.

5) Buses serve people best when--like trains--they CONVENIENTLY and ATTRACTIVELY encourage (not require!) they allow for a delightful form of mobility that would make people feel foolish to drive their own car and use Uber/Lyft. Until we focus on bus riders (and train riders) as valued customers, ridership will remain only with those who've no other choice.

With alternative Uber/Lyft, Metro Bike Share, and other first/last mile opportunities to access buses and trains becoming increasingly more prevalent, the time is NOW to revisit our buses. Abusive and mentally ill homeless individuals, gangbangers, loud and difficult troublemakers--all of them need to be shown the door and booted off our buses.

And let our police forces regularly get on and off buses to let everyone know that a safe, secure presence is the new law of the land on our buses and trains (as it should be on our sidewalks and public venues). 

Let the doors close behind the troublemakers, and open for the valued customers who need affordable and convenient mobility. Make buses fast and pleasant.

Not hard to conclude, but certainly hard to implement.

And although I doubt that the current City and County leadership have the spine and decency to do what's right by their voters and stakeholders, it's hoped that these voters and stakeholders will weigh in to fix what their so-called leaders are REFUSING to do for them.

After all, we DO live in a representative democracy, even for those who take a bus to get from Point A to Point B in the City and County of the Angels.

 

(CityWatch Columnist, Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D, is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father 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 Outreach Committee, and currently is Co-Chair of both its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure and Planning Committees. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. 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.)

-cw