The ‘Common Sense’ of Transit Ridership: If It Makes ‘Sense’, It Will Become More ‘Common’

GETTING THERE FROM HERE--Aren't you getting sick of hearing why we're "supposed to" ride transit, and why transit ridership isn't always where it should be?  Certainly, "doing the right thing" is what most of us will do based on our innate striving for our better human nature, but human nature hasn't changed and we're leaving the Bush/Obama politically-correct era and entering a Sanders/Trump era of telling it like it is ... and that includes transit! 


So let's cut the PC-quasi-theologic approach to transit and focus more on common sense:  if there's too much traffic, then we'll want more options.  But those options have to be competitive and reasonable, compared to what we currently have. 

Did the shared car usage of Uber and Lyft become the cottage industry that it did because there was a hatred for either cars or buses or trains, or was it just convenient and cost-effective?  Did the cell phone become popular out of a hatred for land lines or desktop computers, or did that cottage industry explode because people needed a mobile version of their non-mobile phones and desktop computers? 

So hopefully it'll be pretty obvious for all of us why there's not more transit ridership: 

1) LA Weekly came up with a pretty good list, but it wasn't a big surprise or revelation that the #1 reason was the lack of a big rail network.  Make transit a place that goes everywhere in an easy-peasy way, and more people will use it. 

Hence the beauty of mixing the Olympic bid for 2024 with our transit plans.  Not only does our intensified transit building become more urgent based on the memory of past inadequacies, but it has become more urgent based on the potential of a future big winner for LA:  the Olympics, and that we're one of the few worldwide cities that are set up for, and will likely profit from, a Summer Olympics. 

People don't want to hear about the Wilshire Subway reaching the 405 freeway in 2036 ... they want to ride it now!  With the memory of the rapidly-rebuilt I-10 freeway after the Northridge Earthquake, and with cynical doubts about government doing anything right in this modern era, taxpayers should be thrilled about any local/federal Metro/Federal Transit Administration cooperation to accelerate the full Subway to 2024. 

And ditto with the Crenshaw/LAX Metro Line and the LAX People Mover--finish it by 2024, and with the Downtown Light Rail Connector to connect the Blue, Gold and Expo Lines by that same year, and then you've got a full north/south/east/west network...which more riders would gladly use. 

2) Transit--and rail transit in particular--allows for more housing near future rail stations.  So if more affordable housing can be built either downtown near Piggyback Yard or near UCLA, it better be within easy walking distance of some transit station...and the Olympics bid can facilitate that as well.

But let's keep common sense in mind here--if the housing isn't affordable, but rather for higher-income individuals, forget about "transit-oriented development".  It'll be market-based housing, which means more affluent individuals, and which means more car trips than transit trips. 

So let's cut the malarkey about pleasing developers and focus on three true affordable housing goals:  student affordable housing, senior affordable housing, and workforce affordable housing.  Without the cooperation and oversight and blessing of universities, senior advocacy groups, and commercial employers, then transit-adjacent development will be located "next to" rail stations, but with more car trips than rail trips as a result. 

3) Isn't it time we dragged all the "utopian" planners to the School of Common Sense and forced them to write the sentence "long-distance drivers can't access transit without parking" 1000 times?  Sometimes these "experts" come across as the stupidest crop of individuals ever known, and yet they shield themselves in the perception of their own brilliance from any appropriate and timely criticism they could really use. 

There's no Metrolink in the Westside, either for the 405 or 10 freeways, so any driver from the San Fernando Valley or South Bay wanting to access the Expo Line, which is as close to anything we'll ever see for a widening of the 10 freeway any time soon, will ideally park at either the Exposition/Sepulveda station or the Venice/Robertson station...or will just stay in their cars and go Downtown directly. 

It's the same for the Gold Lines, too, by the way.  Look at the freeways they parallel.  Not hard to figure this out, folks. 

Hence the plan to start charging for parking at some rail stations makes sense.  At either the county level or the city level, we've got to arrange for more parking at our Expo Line, Gold Line and other lines, and if charging an affordable fee allows for that, then it's long overdue.  Maintenance and security of these lots must also be paid for, and non-transit users need to stay the heck away from these parking lots). 

4) Similarly, we need to appropriately and affordably raise rates on bus riders, train users, developers, and taxpayers so that we can pay for more buses to connect to the rail lines, pay for more bicycle and pedestrian facilities, get more DASH shuttles, etc.  And we need to make that transit riding experience enjoyable and convenient. 

With no intended disrespect to the Bernie Sanders crowd, we can't make transit "free"...unless, of course, anyone reading this will volunteer to become a bus driver or train operator for "free" as well.  Certainly, taxes and developers fees should be focused on transit betterments.

Also certainly, and with the understanding that those offended by what comes next needs to "get over themselves", we need to enforce the Metro Code of Conduct.  Stinking drunks, screaming crazy people, frightening gang members, mentally ill individuals who urinate on the seats, etc. have no business in the public and shared investment that is our transit system. 

We paid for this, and will pay a lot more for this, dang it all, so our public transportation system should be safe enough for any senior, child, or family to ride on.  To the Sheriff's Department: do your job and let riders of all races and backgrounds enjoy their transit ride and boot out the losers! 

5) Finally, Planning and Transportation truly ARE linked at the hip, and one cannot be done without the other. Planning is akin to spending, and transportation is akin to income, and responsibility of coordinating the two is just a matter of adult common sense.   

We will likely have two measures--both another transportation sales tax measure, as well as a second measure limit-setting an out-of-control LA City Planning that's let unsavory developers run this town like their own personal fiefdom. 

We can either have these two ballot measures run as companion measures or as competing measures--your choice, Mayor Garcetti and the LA City Council!  

Make Planning legal and appropriate, and no one will care about or fear Planning--but Neighborhood Councils and grassroots leaders rightfully fear the corruption, conflict of interest, and politically-driven juggernaut that has run LA City Planning and our collective quality of life into the ground. 

Imagine if we passed BOTH the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative at the City level, AND the "Measure R-2" at the County level, to ensure we have laws that work as well as to pay for overdue transportation operations and betterments.   

That means more money for public works and mobility, as well as limited overdevelopments that are environmentally and economically unsustainable.

With a local city and county government that finally and actually listened to its taxpaying residents. 

As my CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee Co-Chair and dedicated transit rider Matthew Hetz recently opined in CityWatch, transit riding can be both healthy and fun. 

But it has to make common sense...which is itself a concept based on common sense, is it not?


(Ken Alpern is 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 CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs 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 Mr. Alpern.)