Musing on Trends and Challenges of Increased Transit Use

6_2_10_rapid.jpgMetro Rapid map.  Photo: RJM Connel/Flickr

David Lazarus, in one of his recent L.A. Times columns on public
transit
, off-handly laments neglect of the "long-term promotion of
public transportation as a practical alternative to traveling by car".

Is
that what transit in Southern California in the modern age has had as
its goal? My long held suspicion is that transit as an alternative to
the automobile is mostly an empty slogan that officials speak of but
that as a practical matter receives little attention beyond lip
service. And the great danger is trends may actually be leading us
toward having transit use widen while officials and others aren’t
preparing for the many challenges this presents.

Our
present public transit system is structured to meet two markets: peak
hour commuters and the transit-dependent population (mostly made up of
folks of modest means, seniors, the disabled and youth). Over decades
service and funding structures have been built up predicated on that
being the population it serves.

With the emergence of Metro
Rapid and the growing grid of Metro Rail services the demographic that
transit draws is widening. Which actually presents challenges, both
political and practical.

A peek at what we may be facing is
the huge spike in transit use that occurred when gasoline bolted past
$4 a gallon in 2008 — agencies struggled to meet the demand, often
bringing out of mothballs old buses that had historically been part of
a reserve fleet.

Because nearly all purchases of transit
equipment by public agencies involve federal capital funding, rather
stringent "buy america" provisions constrain the universe of
manufactures that can bid. It can often be upwards of 24 months from
when an order is made before deliver occurs, given the limited capacity
to manufacture buses to serve the American market. Also most urban
areas are extremely difficult to facilitate expansion of bus repair and
storage facilities. Some of this is NIMBYism (folks don’t want a bus
yard in their neighborhood) plus in many cases plots of land large
enough for a bus yard are few and far between (or entail the long
difficult process of building on a brownfield). While many may think a
lot more use of transit would be a good thing the transit
providers right are now are nowhere near ready to handle it.

Then one tries to contemplate where the funding would come from to have
transit as the main mode of mobility for a significant portion of the
urban population. I think that takes us to about the limits of any
possible prognostication being possible. Perhaps we need a more honest
and engaged dialogue on these issues. I certainly think we are falling
far short of that at the moment. The American landscape is evolving and
I fear we are not remotely preparing for what it will need to fulfill
its ultimate aim of better cities and better lifes for the people
therein. Transit that is good enough won’t cut it.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Epstein Extra: Metro is for All Angelenos!

|
In a cover story I penned for this week Jewish Journal entitled, “All Aboard the Case for an All-Pervasive Metro,” I argue that mass transit in LA has finally arrived at the door of the Jewish community.  Thanks to the region’s population growth, as well as Metro’s considerable expansion over the past twenty years and […]

What Should Be Done with the Crenshaw Corridor

|
Photo: Practical Visionary/Webshots I’m going to be honest with you for a moment.  I haven’t been paying attention to the Crenshaw Corridor Transit Study in South L.A.  Maybe it’s that a preferred mode hasn’t been selected yet.  Maybe it’s that more controversial projects have grabbed my attention.  Maybe it’s that it’s mysterious.  Regardless all of […]

From Russia, with Transit Love

|
View of a departing Moscow subway train. All Photos: Alexander Friedman I just returned from a trip to Moscow and noticed an interesting trend. Despite the economic slowdown, which Russia is also certainly experiencing, their public transportation is not only as efficient as it’s always been, but – it keeps getting better and better.  Unlike […]

Public Meetings: Green Line to LAX

|
Metro will host three community workshop meetings in late August to introduce community stakeholders to a study underway examining ways to connect the growing Metro Rail system to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).       The focus of the study is a four square mile area bounded by La Cienega Boulevardon the east, Manchester Avenue to the north, Imperial Highway to the south, and the […]

Governor’s Veto of State Budget a Good or Bad Thing?

|
Candidate Schwarzenegger, Transit Rider As details of the state budget, that Governor Schwarzenegger has threatened to veto before it has been passed, emerge a familar trend emerged.  Continuing a proud tradition in California politics, the proposed budget balanced the budget by taking $1 billion earmarked for transit and transportation.  While this will even the ledger […]

Metro: Eastside Transit Corridor Public Meetings

|
As environmental work continues for the Eastside Transit Corridor Phase 2 project, Metro will hold four community scoping meetings on February 22-27 in Pico Rivera, South El Monte, Montebello and Whittier to review two build alternatives: light rail transit via State Route 60 and on Washington Boulevard in addition to a transportation systems management (improving […]