As we face a climate emergency and our cities become overcrowded, the idea of individual car ownership has been brought into question. In response to this, many people have begun to turn away from the idea of owning a car and instead towards environmentally conscious forms of transportation. Whether it is busing, cycling, or simply walking, cities have begun to transition toward the implementation of this idea (Bamberg 2007). One major city that has failed at this is Los Angeles. Los Angeles has not only failed to attract new riders, but has also been haemorrhaging them for nearly 50 years. The problem with this is that each rider Los Angeles public transportation loses could be a new car on the road. As mentioned in Robbins, the effects of this cannot be overstated: “The average vehicle emits ∼ 150 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer traveled. Since the average American driver covers ∼ 19,000 km per year, the average car is actually producing around 2,800 kilograms of CO 2 every year, significantly more than its own weight.” On paper, the conditions of the city make it ideal in order to attract new riders. Los Angeles is infamous for its traffic and bad roads. When you drive through its congested highways, you can see trains speed on by. What is then the reason for the city's public transportation failure? For many, it is a lack of coordination and a confused identity.
Los Angeles has a long tradition with public transportation. The famed trams that lined the cities in earlier days are gone, replaced with sprawling freeways and highways. This happened due to a shift in the perception amongst the city’s inhabitants surrounding the idea of public transportation. The shift in perception began to transform after World War II. After WWII, the enemy shifted — the enemies were no longer the Germans, but the Communist Russians. The Red Scare brought with it a hostility that pushed towards collectivism and community and ushered in individualism. Los Angeles had a large post-war population boom that developed alongside the emergence of car affordability. With this in mind, the situation was ripe for the prioritization of the automobile over the development of public transportation. When considering this, we must also remember which neighbourhoods were deemed acceptable to demolish for this new infrastructure. It is usually low-income, minority, and immigrant communities who bear the brunt of car infrastructure development. These minority communities already do not have access to cars and making the commute more tedious will lower the area range they are able to travel to work. Once more, this leads to cars having the reputation of being more reliable than public transportation. The 1980s saw the last major push to eliminate social programs and privatize everything (Sanchez 2008). As a symptom of privatization, public transportation lines that brought in little revenue were scrapped in favor of more profitable ones. This was due to the new idea of trickle-down economics. This new economy-driven ideology can best be seen through the words of Former President Ronald Regan’s friend Margaret Thatcher when she stated: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” The early 2000s saw a shift away from this position. As the world began to become aware of the impacts of climate change and the green revolution erupted, people began to shift to a more environmentally conscious lifestyle.
Lens/Framework 1: Coordination
The main complaint with the Los Angeles public transportation system is lack of coordination. A major example of this lack of coordination is how the rail system and the bus line system are not synchronised to work together. This causes low ridership in both systems. The problem is especially pronounced in the rail system. The rail system is by far the smallest system and is often called inefficient by Los Angeles residents. It is inefficient in its station of positioning. The system is often positioned in places that require an external form of transportation to get to. Thus, the rail system is not seen by the population of Los Angeles as being reliable, once again promoting the usage of cars over public transportation. Metro, however, is not fully at fault. We can trace some of the poor planning by Metro needing to mould itself to existing roads and infrastructure already set in place. As stated, until recently the development of efficient public transportation systems was not something thought of when initially planning cities — it was rather a secondary addition. This lack of coordination in development also leads to the modern public transportation system in place today to receive numerous complaints on its punctuality. It is reported that in the year 2015 approximately 21.4% of buses arrived late and in early 2016 approximately 22.7% did as well, illustrating a slight increase (Vas, Mitchell 2017). I myself can attest to how unpunctual the system is. When I moved to Humboldt to attend HSU, I noticed people trusted the times on the transit app. I never did because the Los Angeles Metro app was always wrong! Making plans with public transportation in mind in Los Angeles is near impossible as the buses are never on time and thus you cannot plan around it. You have to give travel time a vague approximation. I have never used public transportation for commuting to essential activities such as work and cannot imagine how frustrating this must be for the rest of the population of Los Angeles who can only depend on public transportation as a means of being able to get where they need to get to.
The second main complaint in regards to public transportation within Los Angeles is communication. The problems with communication primarily stem from the public transportation system's confused identity. When viewing the ridership statistics website on the Metro website, we can see its primary user bases are commuters and students (Metro 2020). When viewing the current map of the Metro rail line system, however, we can see it does not attempt to cater to this user base. Instead of catering to their riders, the rail line stations instead serve tourist and recreation areas. The future expansions planned by Metro also communicate this as they are not expanding into the major industrial zones of Los Angeles. They are instead extending towards Hollywood and other tourist frequented areas. Public transportation also carries the belief of it being unsafe. Although the crime rate of Los Angeles is usually lower than its surrounding communities, the stigma of encountering danger during the usage of the public transportation system seems to be strong within the public mind. The way to get rid of these misconceptions would be for the rail to invest in expanding into commercial and industrial areas. I myself use the metro rail line system frequently but never go anywhere important. I use the rail line when my friends and I want to go to some sort of leisure locations such as a restaurant or amusement park. At most hours of the day, the rail line is empty and the people inside seem to be there for similar reasons. This is in stark contrast to the bus line system which is always full of people. First-hand experience can affirm that the rail line system of Los Angeles is truly lacking behind in several departments.
Reversing 50 years of decline the public transportation has experienced seems to be a monumental task. However, the problems facing the Los Angeles public transportation system do not seem to be that grave. It primarily suffers from a lack of coordination, a bad reputation, and not knowing how to communicate or cater to its audience. First, the system should synchronise with all of their other systems. It is not feasible for the rail line system to go everywhere just yet, so the bus network should fill in the gaps in the meantime. Although it already intends to do this, they still exist as mostly two separate systems (Vas, and Mitchelle 2017). The reputation issue is more abstract to fix but with an improved system, it would fix itself. As they say, if someone enjoys something they might tell a few people, but if they did not, they will tell everyone. The primary complaints with punctuality would also improve with a more efficient system. The improvements would involve better station placement, which primarily includes removing redundant stops and adding more commuter desired stops. When looking at a map it very clearly avoids the most industrial areas of the city such as the City of Industry, and Commerce (Nelson 2019). As of now, all of the rails expansion plans seem to not be focused on commuting. As such, it is essential for the public transportation system, especially the rail line, to instead expand into these sectors as well as the suburbs if it wants to be seen as a reliable commuting option for the residents of Los Angeles.
Works Cited Robbins, Paul, et al. Chapter 9, Environment and Society : A Critical Introduction, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/humboldt/detail.action?docID=1582846. Panagiotopoulos, Vas, and Jason Mitchell. “The Los Angeles Metro Is Great – so Why Aren't People Using It?” CityMetric, 25 Jan. 2017, www.citymetric.com/transport/los-angeles-metro-great-so-why-aren-t-people-using-it-2742.
“Ridership Statistics.” LA Metro Home, 2020, www.metro.net/news/ridership-statistics/.
Nelson, Laura J. “L.A. Is Hemorrhaging Bus Riders - Worsening Traffic and Hurting Climate Goals.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 27 June 2019, www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-bus-ridership-falling-los-angeles-la-metro-20190627-story.html.
Bamberg, Sebastian, et al. “Social Context, Personal Norms and the Use of Public Transportation: Two Field Studies.” Journal of Environmental Psychology, Academic Press, 22 May 2007, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494407000357.