Streetsblog Interview: Fred Camino

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Web designer and Metro Rider Fred Camino became a household name in the transit advocacy community and with Metro staff by building and nurturing an online community at Metro Rider, still available at Metroriderla.com.  The popular blog attracted hundreds of readers everyday and many more to his facebook, myspace and other social networking webpages.  Then, this spring, shortly after Metro Rider launched its own message boards, Fred Camino hung up his laptop and went on hiatus.  Some of the other writers at Metro Rider still post occasional columns, and judging by the comments section the blog still has a huge following.

Over the course of a couple of days, Streetsblog caught up with Fred Camino and conducted the following online interview.

Streetsblog: Honestly?  I’m as excited to do this interview as any of the other ones.  For those of you that don’t remember, Fred and I were partners in crime for awhile trying to boost Mike Feuer’s legislative package last winter and spring and it’s great to catch up with you.

I know a lot of people were probably wondering what you thought about Measure R, the debate that surrounded it and what it’s passage means for LA County.  Would you like to share your thoughts with us?

Fred Camino: Well, I voted Yes on Measure R, it was one of the few things in the election whose outcome I actually cared about.  Not so much because I feel Measure R will suddenly turn LA into the transit utopia we all dream for, but because the outcome of Measure R proves that the people of Los Angeles (and not just a rag tag group of online transit nerds) really care about improving transit.  I mean this was a vote that required a supermajority and that would directly raise taxes… the fact that it won really shows how desperate Angelenos are for something better.  Will Metro use the money in the most effective way?  Who knows.  I’m sure there will be a great deal of waste, stupidity, and controversy, but I think that’s par for the course when it comes to giant politically driven bureaucracies. Certainly, not every one will be happy with every choice Metro makes.  But the fact that Measure R won against the odds means the people care, which means there will be a base of citizens who will (hopefully) be able and interested in keeping the politicians and bureaucrats accountable for the money we’ve chosen to give them.

Streetsblog: Outside of Measure R, were there any stories or experiences that made you want to grab your keyboard and get to work on a story?  It’s pretty clear based on the response that Calwatch and Aaron get when they post a story that the audience you cultivated hasn’t gone anywhere.

Fred Camino: There’s been a bunch of stuff I’ve wanted to post about since I "hung up my laptop".  Measure R is probably the least of what I would have hypothetically been interested in writing about had I been interested in writing about anything.  The biggest story in my mind this year when it comes to Metro is how they’ve really put some effort to modernize and make their service more customer friendly in many respects, but how despite their good intentions they still kind of fall short.  

I mean if you look at some of the stuff that has been implemented this year it’s pretty amazing, but each improvement seems to come with a disappointing little caveat or two.  We finally got TAP, and it has without a doubt been a huge improvement, but it still doesn’t live up to its promised potential.  It’s great that I can now buy a pass from the ticket vending machines instead of some random check cashing place, but what about the promised debit system, where I could simply load my card with cash and have it debited with each tap.  

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As it stands now the TAP is little more than a glorified monthly pass.  Ticket Vending Machines are something else that got a nice boost this year, but still fall short overall.  It’s hard to believe that just  a few years ago most TVM’s wouldn’t even take a 5 dollar bill when this year we were finally able to use our credit/debit cards.  That being said it’s hard to believe that our TVM’s still use the stupid buttons that are hard to line up with the selection rather than touch screens (how long have ATM’s had touch screens now??)  and that the interface is still such that not a week goes by that people don’t stop me to ask how to buy a ticket using the machines.  

Our splashy new LCD train information displays finally started displaying some relevant information, most notably arrival times, but once again the implementation has been anything but ideal.  On the web Metro revamped their homepage, but left the rest of the site a mess and gave us useless novelty sites like Metro Interactive while the Trip Planner rots and Google Transit is nowhere to be found.  

The list goes on, but it’s my hope that in 2009 now Metro resolves to not just have good ideas, but follow them through to completion.

Streetsblog:  So, I know you’re busy with real life stuff, but do you have any plans to write at Metro Rider again?  The site is still wildy popular when one of the other writers posts a story.  If you don’t have plans to do anything soon, can you at least tell people you were kidding about my and Hymon driving you out so I stop getting hate mail?

Fred Camino: I really want to bring MetroRider back, I brought it up in forum after Measure R passed and people seemed into it.  It’s just hard, because my vision for MetroRiderLA is huge – I don’t want to it to be just a blog, I want it to be a resource and a community – but my time and resources are not so huge.  If you have any ideas on how to run a real cool transit blog that either requires no more than an hour per today of work or that provides decent compensation for hours spent working on it, I’d love to hear them.  And since the LA Times has forced Steve Hymon out of the transit blogging game, all blame lies on you!

Streetsblog: Steve’s blog is still there, it’s just moved.  It’s still cool, I promise.  So, we can at least double the blame.  I ask this question of everyone as the last question.  If you could change one thing about transportation in LA with a twitch of the nose, what would it be?

Fred Camino: I would put the rail where the freeways are and the freeways where the rail is. Or I’d just make LA’s transportation system devolve about 90 years.

Streetsblog: Normally my last question is the "magic wand" question, but I bet most of the people reading this are your longtime fans, so if you wouldn’t mind, take a second to let everyone know how you’re doing and say, "hey" back at them.

Fred Camino: Longtime fans, ay?  Well, to whoever you are, I’m doing just fine thanks, hoping to get back to blogging about the Los Angeles Transit Oriented Lifestyle™ sooner rather than later, so don’t take MetroRider off your RSS reader just yet.  In the meantime give Damien’s posts on Streetsblog more comments!!!

em>Photos: Igetrad/Flickr; LAist

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  • Which bus have the purple seats and french new wave lighting? I have never taken that line…lol…

    Good to get a bit of insight into your vision Fred.

    “That being said it’s hard to believe that our TVM’s still use the stupid buttons that are hard to line up with the selection rather than touch screens…” Fred.

    Those machines take forever to process info. I’ve had to break the law so I wouldn’t miss a train. I want to buy a ticket each time, but when I have to go one stop to transfer from the red to the blue, because I’m holding a bunch of crap I don’t want to miss a train, because it takes two hours for the machine to drop me some change!!! Ok two hours is an exaggeration, but it feels like it.

    Browne

  • That would be on a TGV in France…

  • wonder where rob dawg wandered off to, eh? he’s probably digging holes in someone else’s garden now.

    metrorider was a fantastic blog, i read it every day. in any case, good to see you doing well and still riding the bus.

    good luck to you!

  • Spokker

    Get a haircut, hippy.

  • I was wondering where u had ran off 2. Between my 3 blogs (“Transit Sleuth”, “Loosely Coupled Human Code Factor”, and “My Writings, Words, and Thoughts” I’ve been swamped in keeping up with them all and working, living the social life, and working on various business ventures – so I know the pain of trying to keep up with all this blogging mess.

  • …alright, I didn’t mean to double post that… it didn’t update with the original button press. :( please delete errant comment. kthx.

  • C. Phylis

    What has happened to our beloved Fred? Many of my friends who live in economically poor but transit rich areas in LA(Koreatown, Boyle Heights, Westlake/MacArthur Park) forwent buying a car and investing in decent road bikes because of people like Fred and the Meltrope area of EHO. I guess it could happen to anyone(the twilight syndrome that is) burnout I guess…I’ve seen it personally more than once. Godspeed good health to you Fred….you r missed.

  • Thanks for the support guys. C. Phylis, love that I hear that some of your friends found my blog useful and inspirational! Have no fear, I’m set on bringing the blog back in full soon, just have to come up with a way to set that blog/life balance, and not get so involved that it consumes me. Let me shake off this Holiday laziness and I’ll see what I can do. :)

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