LA TRANSPO - I am no stranger to riding buses and trains in the Metro network, and other municipal bus agencies.
In 1993, to individually reduce my carbon footprint to lessen air pollution I began riding buses, and when built subways and light rail trains. Now, the greater urgency, if not the greatest urgency we all face, is to try to slow down, and eventually lessen the warming of the planet which is feeding climate change, by lowering carbon gases going into the atmosphere.
The predictions from climate scientists warning of the dire consequences of global warming are being met at a frighteningly fast rate. Their predictions of global warming trends and severe consequences are met earlier in the predicted time lines.
Transportation is the greatest source of carbon gases in the United States according to the EPA LINK. To reduce the pollution from driving, the changing of the vehicle fleet from gas burners to electric engines will take decades to reach, and we do not have the time to spare. To make instant changes to lowering the amounts of global warming carbon gases emitted into the atmosphere driving must be consistently reduced and greatly curtailed.
The fastest way to accomplish this is to drive less. In Los Angeles riding bicycles will not do it. The Los Angeles Basin is too spread out, getting too hot, and with an aging population bicycles cannot move the hundreds of thousands out of their vehicles which is needed to make the reductions in the emitting of carbon gases.
The fastest way to reduce our driving is to stop driving and ride mass transit: buses and trains. Billions of dollars have rightfully been spent to build a rail network in Los Angeles County. (And this means heavy and light rail, not monorail.) And billions more will be spent.
People must be convinced that individually the way to reducing carbon pollution is to not unlock the vehicle’s door and not turn on the engine, but to leave it parked, get to a bus stop or train station, and ride transit.
The years of my transit riding parallel what has happened in society: the coarsening of society, the rise of public drinking and drug use, and the rise of the homeless population.
To convince drivers to overcome reservations on riding public transit they must feel safe. I feel no less safe riding buses and trains than when I drive or when in public spaces.
Indeed, driving is one the most dangerous activities a person can do.
A vehicle accident is possible every time we drive, and if not killed in an accident, injuries sustained can be life-long and lead to an early death. If drivers can become aware of these always present, dangerous probabilities with driving, and aware of the present, and increasing dangers of global warming, then transit ridership could increase.
To try to make current, and hopefully future transit riders feel more secure, Metro has approved a $122-million pilot program to place “ambassadors” on buses and trains. Their responsibilities, according to the Los Angeles Times will be: “,,, help with directions, alert police of a threat, point people to homeless services, keep an eye on vulnerable people and check that seats are clean and passengers are safe.” (July 3, 2022 edition.)
As a transit rider, I support this, and hope the ambassadors bring a sense of order and safety to riding buses and trains. It is hoped that these ambassadors can lessen the harassment of riders from police which has occurred over the years.
But beyond those actions, a police presence will always been needed for the transit network. On buses and trains there are those who commit the minor offenses such as eating or playing some device too loudly. A talk from an ambassador to stop these activities could lower the temperature of the interaction better than if the interaction is between police, and it would go a long way to making a better riding experience.
The issue of feet, or shoes, on seats, is old and ongoing. Who wants to sit on a seat that is wet when someones’ wet shoe was on it, and even if not raining, who knows where the sole of the shoes was. Police involvement with this situation can, and has caused friction, but if an ambassador can get that shoe off the seat without conflict, that is tremendous.
But, without the backing of more serious consequences from law enforcement, ambassadors in their interactions will be straw men and women. There are times when talking and persuasion by itself will not enough to change a person’s behavior.
With the overall coarsening of society, and with too little respect shown towards others, I seen too much drinking on buses and trains, and if shared it is probably alcohol. I’ve seen, and smelled, too much pot smoking.
There are people who sit on stairs. This is a dangerous situation. I attest that like other riders, I walked very fast or ran between levels of a train station to try to make a transfer. I had to carefully skirt around one person sitting on the stairs, blocking access for others, creating a logjam, with one false move leading to a potential tumble and fall for me and others.
Would an ambassador be enough of convince a defiant person to move?
Women can feel vulnerable on transit. Sexual harassment is real, on transit, and everywhere. The Times article states the ambassadors will alert police when they perceive threats. This must be done, but the guidelines must be clear, and result in quick actions. Will ambassadors make sexual harassment less? Will a pervert be less likely to act when talked to?
If the ambassadors program is to be effective, the police presence will be in the background, ready to quickly step in when needed. There must be some kind of continuous, obvious police presence.
Like others, I feel anxious when there is a police presence on buses and trains, but there is also the feeling that if there is a nervous situation of bad actors, my safety is looked after.
If harassment of riders by police will be reduced by the presence of ambassadors, this would be a welcomed situation, but the police cannot disappear. If they disappear, then the vacuum of their removal will be filled with the bad and evil. Similar to the laws of nature when there is a vacuum, human nature will fill that vacuum in ways which are not safe.
The billions of dollars spent on buses and trains must be put to full use to move the people of Los Angeles, and very importantly reduce carbon gases feeding the ravenous craw of global warming.
The billions of dollars should not make transit agencies social work agencies, but the money must be spent for Metro to become highly efficient, safe, secure, environmentally beneficial, and welcoming.
(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and President and Executive Director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra.)