Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Year of Public Transit

As a preface, I fully admit that I'm pretty spoiled.  After my last year of college was spent with a few 2-hour (per way!) bus rides to and from UCLA per week, I started driving regularly at the age of 22 when I started graduate school.  I had my share of bad stories from riding buses back then, but I figured these were part of my rite-of-passage before I got to drive myself.

I've been to New York a few times and now Japan, and it's interesting to see how busy and efficient their transit systems are.  In Japan, they are packed, but super clean and don't smell.  In New York, they are also packed, sometimes smelly, but roomy and frequent/on time/comprehensive -- same in San Francisco.

In contrast, the public transit in Los Angeles is just as bad as you may have heard, and this is after many recent funding measures to improve things.  I've taken urban planning classes, so I definitely know about sprawl and all the things that makes LA, well, LA, but I can definitely see why more people don't ride in this neck of the woods.

In fact, I selfishly hope more people don't ride, because as it is, it gets very cramped.  There is not enough frequency or structural roomy-ness (too narrow and most people can't fit in a single seat comfortably) on either trains or buses, and to think they are expanding the lines with little room (literally) to increase either flaw.  Yikes.  In other places, public transit is commonplace, but in LA, it is still stigmatized as "poor man's transportation," so surprise, you're stuck feeling stigmatized.  Have I mentioned that homeless frequently take up precious multiple seats, smell sordid, and thus that's how both trains and buses frequently smell?  Oh, and marijuana.  I think I've breathed in so much "secondhand weed" that I've started to lose sense of the smell.  Finally, delays are common.  People jump on tracks, conductors somehow must change shifts mid-route, things break down (frequently!), and like the rest of us, the trains here don't know how to operate in the rain.  The result: more crowding and antics.

So I've hit the one-year mark of relying on LA public transit as my primary form of transportation.  My commute time is twice as long as it should be due to this, and it's kind of physically draining because I have to walk/stair quite a bit to get to where I need to go.  If you miss a ride by 5 minutes, your ETA back home is pushed back by 15 minutes.  Stressful.

My friends actually told me they were surprised that I have lasted this long, because according to them, I REALLY like order, and riding is very disorderly.  I've been spit on, coughed on, yelled at (for offering a seat!), and pushed.  And in a year, I've only been offered a seat one, maybe one-and-a-half times.  Sometimes, it's comical to see a bunch of women having to stand, and all the young men are sitting down.  Not that I don't believe in so-called equality, but work shoes render my feet numb and (TMI) cramps sometimes get the best of me.  But it isn't just me -- pregnant and elderly people often do not get offered seats.  People in LA are just as unfriendly as other places that are known to be unfriendly, at least judging by riding public transit here.  Oh, unless you count people who try to make passes at me, ugh.

Why I ever got remotely excited enough about riding a train to take a photo is beyond me.  I just want to kick my naive self in the butt.

from October 2012

However, riding transit is HIGHLY subsidized/incentivized by work, and driving + parking is very expensive.  I'm realizing there are ways to get around some of these costs (find a distant cheap lot, etc.), so I keep telling myself that I will save my sanity a little bit and starting driving so I can have some moments to myself after work and not want to yell at everyone when I get home.  I miss singing in my car, SITTING, not worrying about catching weird illnesses (I'm not kidding, and I try not to touch anything, ever), and being able to curse at someone when they do something inconsiderate.

In sum, I totally understand why more people don't utilize the transit here. Here's to a very long year, and let's see how much longer I will last.


  1. We're a public transportation family, going on one year too! My husband and I both take public transportation to work being a one car family. He works in two different offices. When he's DT he always takes the train as it's comparable timewise to driving in rush hour traffic. Plus, he can read/watch tv on his iPad. When he works in Duarte, he drives. I take one bus and it's pretty timely, not super crowded and I get a seat all the time since I catch it at the beginning of the route. Like you, our workplaces incentivize public transportation. Plus, parking is just $$$. I feel like the time on the bus is my only real "me time" right now. I can read and just zone out. I do feel a little guilty, because if I drove on the 3 days my husband isn't in the Duarte office, I would get home maybe 10-20 minutes earlier. On the other hand, relying on the bus makes me more timely since I must stick to the schedule or risk making myself 15-25 minutes later getting home.

    Thankfully, I really don't have crazy stories. The discomfort of riding the bus came from being pregnant and getting motion sickness and that's over.

  2. Glad it's working. I mean, overall it gets the job done, but what an adjustment. I already get motion sickness (thankfully there are podcasts and Pandora to fill the void), so I'm fairly certain I won't be riding anymore if I were pregnant. It's improved over time, though, as I still remember the first month having some very questionable moments.