Why Mass Transit Will Financially Destroy Los Angeles

CORRUPTION WATCH-Subways and their above-ground siblings, trolleys and light-rail trains, are Weapons of Mass Financial Destruction (WMFDs). Like subprime mortgages and nuclear power, their lethality arises from the way they are used and not from any inherent characteristic. Angelenos need to understand the serious financial threats that fixed-rail mass transit poses for the area’s financial viability. 

The Fixed-Rail’s Portal to Portal Problem 

Mass transit has a portal to portal problem. For a hundred years, the generally accepted distance that people will walk to take mass transit was ½ mile. Buses mitigate this problem, but they do not solve it. Also, mass transit takes people where the City wants people to go and not where people want to go. 

The Myth That the Poor Like Mass Transit 

The poor like mass transit the same way they like being malnourished. They don’t. Mass transit is seldom helpful for reaching work. In Los Angeles, for example, only 12% of the poor use mass transit to get to work while 73% drive in cars. In fact, people who rely on mass transit are unable to reach the vast majority of jobs in Los Angeles. Having a car means a better job.  

“Marty Schwartz, president of Vehicles for Change (a Columbia, MD, organization that provides cars to low-income people) says that about three-quarters of clients who acquire a car through the organization get a better job within a year, and see an income boost of about $7,000.” 

When California wisely allowed undocumented individuals to obtain drivers licenses, there was a significant drop in mass transit ridership. They had been using mass transit because the law prevented them from driving.  

It is easy to understand why mass transit is not helpful. Jobs are spread all over the LA area. White collar jobs in DTLA, Bunker Hill, Century City, and Beverly Hills do not provide enough jobs to widen job opportunities for poor people. Office towers are white collar jobs, while poor people are concentrated in the construction trades and other blue-collar jobs. 

Poor with Cars Get Jobs the Poor Without Cars Cannot Get 

Mass transit advocates proclaim that mass transit helps the poor with jobs. To the contrary, the link between owning a car and having a job is so great that “in 2006, construction was a large and promising industry that accounted for seven percent of jobs in the Los Angeles region. However, LA was importing 43,000 construction workers from outside regions with a resulting net loss of 3,000 jobs for local residents, while 20,000 construction workers living in the County remained unemployed.”

(Concentrated Poverty Neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Michael Matsunaga, Economic Roundtable 2006, page 3.) Poor construction workers living outside the city with a car were able to reach so many LA construction jobs, that 20,000 construction workers living in the city without a car were unemployed. 

After the Hollywood Subway opened, Hollywood lost so many people that Hollywood CD 13 with its Purple Line Subway ceased to qualify as a legal council district. Clearly, the subway did not benefit people, otherwise 15,000 people would not have moved away.  

The Aftermath of Constructing Mass Transit Harms the Poor 

Since Los Angeles made the foolish decision to construct a massive fixed rail system in the 1980's, Los Angeles’s housing and transit policies have increased its concentration of poor especially among the homeless. (Ibid, p 3) 

The destruction of over 22,000 rent-controlled units also played a significant role in concentrating poverty in certain areas like Skid Row, near the various help agencies.  One rational to destroy poor people’s homes is to construct more apartments near mass transit in Transit Oriented Districts [TODs]. This policy has increased LA’s poverty in the Basin, while the poor who own cars have been spreading out into the Valleys. That is why the dense area of Los Angeles from Glendale to Long Beach, which has the most fixed-rail service, fell 13 points down to position #61 in the 1-10-2018 Milken ranking of U.S. cities.  

The correlation between our spending billions more on mass transit and LA’s becoming a third world economy is well established. The more money Los Angeles spends on fixed rail mass transit, the worse its GINI Coefficient becomes. We are the seventh worse in the nation, although the size of our wealth should allow us to have a very good GINI Coefficient. 

The facts show that when people can escape dependence on fixed-rail mass transit, they can get and retain better jobs. Cars break the poverty cycle, but mass transit holds people in poverty. 

Mass Transit’s Harmful By-Products 

Mass Transit takes a lot longer than owning a car. Commuting to work is not the only use for cars.  People who work at home also needs cars. 

According to an article in The Atlantic, “How Car Ownership Helps the Working Poor Get Ahead” (July 24, 2014), “For single, working moms like Newman-Gross, there's an additional benefit to having a car: managing a family's schedule. "When you're by yourself, you know—your kids have got to pretty much go wherever you go," she says. 

“[Ms.] Newman-Gross runs a day-care business out of her apartment. She doesn't commute. But she has young children, and that means doctor's appointments, meetings with teachers, and travel to stores where she can get a good deal on food and clothing for a family of five. She used to spend a lot of money on taxis, sometimes as much as $60 to get to one doctor's appointment.” 

Time is money and mass transit consumes a huge amount of time. People with cars not only can take their kids to the doctors, but they also can go grocery shopping on the way home from work. They can drive to school for Parent Teacher Conference Night. When traffic is congested, it is worse for the bus, making a car the fastest mode of transportation. A single mother who misses the bus home after the Parent Teacher Conference may have an extra hour wait at that time of night. Then, she has to get up early to catch the bus or subway to get to work, if she has a job. All that wasted time could have been spent with her children or taking a correspondence course. A poor person with a car has that extra time. 

Why the Rich Get Richer 

Los Angeles shows how the rich become wealthier. The 1%ers, i.e. the Davos Set, own the international construction companies and the land where the mega-projects are constructed. Transit Oriented Districts always enrich a few people since high-density construction enriches whoever owns that land. When TODs are linked to the developers who construct mass transit, we have a vicious upward spiral of housing costs coupled with a corresponding downward spiral in standard of living. 

That is why Los Angeles fell 13 places to #61 and Riverside San Bernardino rose 24 places to #20.


(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.