To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Monday, May 19, 2014

Riding the Metro


By Matthew Fleming, May 17, 2014

Commuters on the Gold Line pass by a series of parked train cars as the metro rail makes its way towards Chinatown on Wednesday.

One of the first lessons I learned when I moved to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., was I didn’t have to sacrifice my experience riding the Metro system.

It took only three trips on the L.A. Metro to learn it’s just as good as the one in D.C. I’d ridden all my life. That D.C. Metro has built a venerable reputation worldwide for its ability to move people around.

Here, I’ve mostly heard complaints: the L.A. Metro doesn’t go anywhere; no one uses it; it’s awful.

Truth is, people who say that don’t know just how good they’ve got it.

It’s no surprise that art is a big difference between L.A. and D.C. The art at L.A.’s stations is amazing. Each is unique. From random mannequins hanging from the ceiling, to mosaic benches and an artistic bazaar in between, L.A stations are far more aesthetically pleasing then D.C.’s brown and gray tunnels.

L.A.’s stations are like a hip spot; D.C.’s feel like the underground world from the movie “Demolition Man.” D.C. is a pretty uptight place.

But what D.C. loses in style points for it’s lack of station decor, it makes up for with its Metro drivers.

An automated voice informs riders what the next destination is in L.A., but in D.C., this job is done live, and no two drivers are the same. Some talk really fast, some have a broken mic, some are peppy, some sound sad. Occasionally, you get one that’s not afraid to show some spunk.

 During rush hour one time, I remember a D.C. driver saying “there’s another train directly behind this one. You don’t need to pack into this one. Seriously. It’s coming. You can trust me. Yes, I’m talking to you.”

Cell Service
One distinct advantage D.C. has is cellphone service at underground stations. It could just be that my carrier doesn’t get a signal down there; it has certainly let me down before. Regardless, there was no signal.

Fare Evasion and Enforcement
D.C. Metro makes sure you pay for your rides. There are turnstiles that allow access upon payment. It’s a pretty standard system.

To get through without paying, you’d have to either follow someone closely through or jump the turnstiles – difficult since the turnstile is hip-high and there are usually Metro employees at the gate.

Meanwhile, much of L.A. seems like an honor system. Some stations have turnstiles, but they don’t appear to lock. I don’t know for sure, since I now have a Pavlovian response whenever I see a turnstile. In D.C., you know your card didn’t work, because you’ll walk into a locked turnstile and bruise your hip bone.

In L.A., a sheriff’s deputy checks each tap card with his or her phone. If someone hasn’t tapped, then that person receives a $75 ticket, as happened with one lady in my car.

Due to a combination of a rapidly expiring tap card balance, my lack of experience riding the subway, and an unwillingness to figure out the proper procedures, I would have certainly been fined near the end of my journey had I been asked to provide proof of tap.

 On a recent trip to the Valley, I evaded fare accidentally. At the North Hollywood station was a sheriff deputy. I wasn't near him, so he didn't check my card, and I didn’t realize the inconspicuous pedestal where I was supposed to tap. Honestly, in the bus-boarding melee, I didn’t even think to pay and didn’t realize what happened until much further along into the trip.

All of this could be avoided with turnstiles.

The deputies do make me feel safer, though. Neither Metro system has a big crime problem. Both systems’ crime rates are less than 1 incident per 100,000 boardings. I never felt threatened on the L.A. metro. But I did feel safer with the occasional deputy’s presence. D.C. doesn’t have a roaming sheriff.

The lack of turnstiles and the presence of sheriffs highlight another difference: If you have to transfer in L.A., you’re going to pay. D.C. has a minimum fare of between $1.70 and $2.10 depending on time of day, but total cost is determined by final destination.

On a trip to Redondo Beach, I needed two transfers one way – I avoided a transfer on the way home. Some of this could be attributed to rookie mistakes, but I had no idea how much transfers cost. I just kept tapping away as if they were free – which I thought they were. By the end of the trip, I think I spent about $17, although I have no way of knowing since I never saw a balance at any point throughout my trip.

I have since learned that transfers cost $1.50 each. And the savvy metro rider purchases daily, weekly or monthly passes that allows for her or him to not get double charged.

To sum up about cost: D.C. has a maximum of $5.75 per ride. L.A. charges $5 for a day pass. The advantage goes to L.A, but I think too much institutional knowledge is required.

 Station Location
Truth is, the subway works great if it’s convenient. I don’t ride the Metro, because the two offices I go to are located at the two closest Metro stops to my apartment. I’m walking either way.

The L.A. system is reliant on buses to offset the limitations of station location, which is something few people want to deal with. There are a lot of commonly traveled places that are inaccessible by the subway.

As I got out of the train at the Redondo Beach station, I realized that the Metro station is not near the beach and is instead in an office park. I was expecting more water. Or some water. And some sand. But it’s about 2 miles from the water.

This is not a problem for just L.A.

Georgetown is one of the most desirable places to go in D.C., mainly for the shopping. But there’s no Metro stop there. Actually, there isn’t one in the next best shopping site, either, Tyson’s Corner, Va., although one will be opening soon. There’s a lot of great shopping in L.A. that the subway can't seem to find.

If you live near a station, so you don’t have to park, and you are going somewhere that’s also near a station, Metro is really helpful.

Only the ends of the line have parking in D.C. I haven’t seen any parking lots at stops in L.A., although I think I saw one in the Valley, and there could be others.

Even if parking is provided, it comes at an additional cost. It costs $5 per entry in D.C., so a commuter could spend around $10 round trip on an average day. I don’t know the cost to park in L.A., having never seen a Metro-specific parking lot. But day parking will cost anywhere from $6-$10.

 Escalator Etiquette
Once I get to the L.A. station, I’m reminded of a more subtle difference. It’s more of an insider-type difference, yet one that every Washingtonian would notice.

It is a local custom in D.C. that you do not, under any circumstances, ever, for any reason, ever, ever, stand on the left side of an escalator.


In L.A., it’s more of an anything-goes-type situation. People standing on the left and passing on the right. Or standing on both sides creating a back up. It’s pandemonium. Did I mention that D.C. is uptight?

Everything is always under repair in D.C. I’ve been told that L.A. has a lot of repairs, but so far I haven’t seen many.

In D.C., I’ve seen a supposed fix of a door, which used two plastic trash bags tied together. One end of the plastic bag rope was connected to a door handle to keep it closed, the other end was connected to a metal beam inside the frame of the adjacent wall, accessed through a hole in the drywall. This lasted for several months.

In D.C., it’s not uncommon to spend your ride mired in frustration over of being jammed into a car, face-to-face with a total stranger, with one selfish person holding up the train by squeezing in as the doors try to close.

On another trip through the Valley, it was crowded 90 minutes before rush hour. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and it was standing-room only. Pretty busy for a system that I’d heard no one uses.

This problem is worse on a rainy day in D.C., when riders are less likely to walk anywhere – it’s like the Hunger Games trying to board a train.

Speaking of uptight, there is an annoying trend in D.C. of people listening to songs without headphones. It’s tough to explain why exactly this is annoying, but it is, even if I like the song. I didn’t think this happened in L.A.

I was wrong.

I also thought that only in D.C. would there be people rapping to themselves, but not really keeping it to themselves, with no music and little talent.

Again, I was wrong.

It’s not uncommon to find people outside a D.C. station playing a random assortment of buckets arranged like a drum set. It’s actually pretty cool and is derived from Gogo music, native to D.C. and an acquired taste.

Somewhere past Willowbrook, I saw a man selling candy bars on the train. I’ve never seen that in D.C., which surprises me. It’s actually not a bad business idea.

Final Stop
Transferring to the Orange Line at North Hollywood felt like a bait and switch. It’s not a train, it’s a bus. It is unencumbered by traffic on a dedicated road, but it still is at the mercy of traffic lights. My trip down the Orange Line ended in Reseda, for no other reason than I felt satisfied with the answer “Yes, this is all that’s going to happen.”

Satisfied with the conclusion that the L.A. Metro is at least as good as D.C’s, I headed back downtown.

 Three more questions for Art Leahy 

When we we be able to get to LAX on the Metro? So we have two things going on: We have the airport looking at the development of a People Mover and we have Metro looking at the Crenshaw Line. In December, Metro and LAWA (Los Angeles World Airports) met together to talk about different options, and we’re in the joint planning phase. I hope that by the end of the year we come to some conclusions.

And then we’d start doing project development which will probably take several years. So I don’t think we’re going to have the connection done in two years, but when the Crenshaw Line opens up in four years, by then we’ll have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to do, so we could begin construction reasonably soon after that.

There's been talk of rate increases. How are those justified when so many stations are on the honor system, which seems to promote fare evasion? About four years ago, we began to install turnstiles at the bigger stations. We've also directed the sheriff to increase the amount of fare inspections to make sure that everybody is paying. Even if we had no fare evasion, we would still need a fare increase. Our fares are too low against the cost of the system. It will still be amongst the very lowest in the big cities in the world.

Our current system does not permit transfers. Part of the fare proposal is to permit transfers. What we want is for bus lines and rail lines to work together as one system. When you don't permit transfers, you're combating the ability of people to use it as one system, which is simply not reasonable. So we do have low fares, and we'll continue to have low fares, and we'll offer the additional significant benefit of transfers.

What other improvements are coming up for MTA? Several things. First of all, the Gold Line in the San Gabriel Valley will open up in about 18 or 20 months – it will go all the way out to Azusa. The Expo Line, which will run out to Santa Monica, will also open in about 18 to 20 months.

In the next few weeks, we're going to have a grant for the subway to La Cienega. We'll award the contract this summer sometime, and we'll be under construction later this year.
 We'll be under construction on Crenshaw – the subway and the regional connector – that will hook up the lines on the Eastside, Pasadena and East L.A., with the lines on the Westside and Long Beach.

We are buying 550 new clean-air buses – we've just received a delivery. They have improved safety features and accessibility for wheelchair passengers.

In addition to that, we're buying $1.5 billion of new rail cars, so that they can run the lines that I've just described.

We're investing substantial sums of money in reducing maintenance. When I arrived here, I discovered a fair amount of deferred maintenance on signal systems and power distribution and landscaping, so we're going back systematically to correct those defects.