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Hey, Los Angeles: What Will It Take For You To Ride Public Transportation?

Gabriella Koek, Jaci Mater |
August 15, 2011 | 4:25 p.m. PDT


Most Los Angeles residents remain attached to their cars and steer clear of public transportation at all costs. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other civic leaders want to get people out of their cars and onto public transit. But what will it take to persuade car-lovers to ride buses and trains to work? 

Children riding an L.A. bus (Beth Bolas)
Children riding an L.A. bus (Beth Bolas)

Forbes magazine ranked the Los Angeles public transportation system as the country’s 9th worst in 2008. Most commuters choose congested freeways over the comfort of trains and buses. Last year, in a county with a population of nearly 10 million people, some 1.2 million took buses every day and a little more than 300,000 hopped on trains.

For the past month, 18 Neon Tommy contributors fanned out across L.A.’s transit hotspots, from Union Station to the Wilshire/Western Purple Line station, from Hollywood to the Civic Center. We interviewed more than 100 people and heard L.A. residents’ complaints about the perennial problems of unmet schedules, dirty trains and buses, high fares and general lack of convenience and safety of public transportation.

“I’d rather be in the comfort of my own car for the only 20 minutes I have free my entire day,” said Culver City resident and City Hall employee, Al Noble, in an interview outside a City Council meeting. “Plus, the bus is not the cleanest mode of transportation to use.”

It’s not that people aren’t motivated to fix the problems. To raise money for transportation, the public approved Measure R, a half-cent sales tax increase in 2008. Now the mayor and others want to use the money to build 30 years worth of transportation projects in 10 years rather than 30.

The mayor, who also serves as the chairman for Metro’s Board of Directors, boasts of big plans for the region’s public transportation system. “Today, thanks to voters who approved the Measure R sales tax and the subsequent national initiative gaining speed to build transit, now we have a turn-key system ready to go to build a dozen mass transit projects with the incentive of creating thousands of jobs and the potential to rebuild the economy of the region."

The next step is getting federal approval to bankroll the dozen or so projects. Called America Fast Forward, the proposal’s won the support of powerful Florida Congressman and chairman of the House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica. Mica proposed a bill that would give L.A. almost all that it wants, but it faces an uncertain future in Congress.

We surveyed L.A County’s Congressional delegation to get their take on the future of Mica’s proposals.

We also took the pulse of those who use public transportation every day. See our video project

At Union Station, college student Madeline Hall was traveling home for the summer. She lives in Altadena and takes the trains, but said, “I don’t really feel comfortable taking [the buses].”

Blanca Sanchez, who also lives in Koreatown and commutes to West Hollywood for work, said she would like more efficient bus routes because “[the buses] have a schedule, but sometimes they don’t make it on that time.”

However, not everyone can afford public transit. Koreatown resident Gary Sacks is unemployed and on a tight budget. “The $6 day pass can be a little pricey for me,” he said.

Even with America Fast Forward, commuters have their own idea of how public transit could improve. Said Sacks, “I think there needs to be more rails installed and more buses put on the road. In addition to that, the buses should run more frequently.”

View our photo slideshow. Photos by Beth Bolas:


Contributors include 16 high school students enrolled in USC’s Summer Program News Reporting in the Digital Age. They are Jazmine Antico, Beth Bolas, Megan Caldwell, Akayla Caparro, Jenna DeNight, Ryan Flemming, Verna Gibson, Alice Gilmore, Moriah Grant, Katie Gregg, Victoria Lutz, Edward Murillo, Alexis Porter, Max Schwartz, Cassandra Tompkins and Jordan Wilson.

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