Monday, July 12, 2010

Why West L.A. Needs a Subway

I snapped this photo with my camera phone at around 10:40 p.m. last Friday night aboard Metro Rapid bus 720 heading east on Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile area.

As you can see the bus is so crammed with riders that the driver let people onto the bus from the back doors without paying the fare because there was no room in the front of the bus. This activity happened at the Wilshire/Robertson, Wilshire/La Cienega, Wilshire/Fairfax and Wilshire/La Brea stops.

Sometimes I've been on the bus when it just blows by a stop because there is no room. This usually occurs after 10 p.m. on any given night because that is when the restaurant help in Beverly Hills goes back home to the Eastside after their shift.

This picture is a vivid reminder of the desperate need for the Westside Subway Extension along the Wilshire corridor. The ridership long ago surpassed what the buses are able to accomodate and the only solution is heavy rail.

While Metro is adding bus-only lanes during rush hour along Wilshire, what in my opinion would really help relieve bus crowding would be to run two buses in tandem down Wilshire. Right now it is common knowledge among many regular riders that there will always be another Rapid 720 bus within five minutes of the lead bus. And the second bus is usually much less crowded than the first bus that many people rush to board because they don't know there is another bus coming up soon.

If Metro timed the buses better so they arrive at each stop at around the same time, the driver wouldn't have to try to dangerously cram too many people onto one bus like I witnessed last Friday night.

There are two other suggestions for Metro that I believe would help make the experience of riding buses easier.

One is to institute transfers within the Metro bus system. Right now passengers are only able to purchase transfers from Metro to other transit agencies such as the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus and Culver CityBus.

It just doesn't make any sense that you aren't able to buy a transfer within the Metro system. For example, I took the 212 bus down La Brea Avenue to Venice Boulevard to board the new Metro Rapid 733 line which runs all the way from downtown L.A. to Venice Beach and then to Santa Monica via Venice Boulevard. But I had to pay full fare for both buses because of the transfer rule.

Another idea is for Metro to open up the TAP (Transit Access Pass) Cards to as much or as little money as a person wants to put on the card. Right now you can only buy a $5 day pass or a $62 monthly pass. Making these cards reloadable instead of fixed by day or month would increase ridership and make it easier for existing riders who use Metro a few times a week or just on the weekends.

But with all the initiatives Metro is undertaking or will be undertaking soon, dealing with bad behavior among some riders is impossible for Metro to completely control. Uncivilized behavior I've seen includes playing loud music, taking up two seats when passengers are standing, and defacing windows and walls. I've even waited for the bus next to a guy in nothing but a hospital gown as he stripped off his bloodied bandages and threw them on the sidewalk.

But the most outrageous behavior was what I saw last Sunday morning. At around 6:15 I was waiting to catch the 720 bus at Wilshire and La Brea and a man started urinating into a cup and then threw the cup into a trash can. This happened in broad daylight right in the heart of one of the main intersections in Los Angeles. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I thought I had seen it all in L.A. but this makes it near the top of the list. And this man then boarded the bus aftering pissing in the cup. So last word of advice for those riding Metro -- always clean your hands with soap or a sanitizer after riding because there are a lot more riders like the neanderthal I witnessed on Sunday morning.

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