Public Displays of Transportation

Public Transportation seems to be a tricky beast. Some cities just get it right. The trains are clean, the buses have simple, yet comprehensive routes, and the price is right. Then there are the losers of this battle of the people-movers.

Los Angeles actually has an interesting story behind its (lack of) public transportation. Apparently, there was a time when LA was a leader in mass transit. In the 1920’s and into the 40’s, Los Angeles boasted one of, if not the world’s largest rail systems. That all changed when General Motors along with a consortium of money-hungry oil and rubber companies decided to buy the rail lines, pave them, and replace them with oil-and-rubber-burning busses — or so goes the conspiracy.

Whatever the reason behind modern day LA’s transit woes, the consensus is that nobody walks or rides the bus these days – in fact, everybody is driving in LA, and for a good reason.

Well, yesterday I rode the bus in LA for the first time ever, and it really wasn’t that bad.

I was stranded at the office in Downtown LA, and I had to get back to Johnny’s place (my current pseudo-residence / squat) in Miracle Mile. I went to www.MTA.net and punched in my starting and ending cross-streets. I was instantly greeted with a page informing me that I should take the Metro 28 towards Culver City, the ride would take about 15 minutes, and I’d have to walk 1/3 of a mile. Additionally, the page informed me that the bus price was $1.25 and that according to AAA, the driving cost would be about $3.32 (that’s 56.2 cents per mile for all you nerdy math kids).

Armed with my new arsenal of information, I slipped my laptop into my backpack, locked up the office, and headed for the bus stop. After a short wait and a quick fumble with the automatic, onboard cash-taking machine, I was on my way home – and it didn’t even smell like urine!

Sure, the bus wasn’t super-clean, and sure there was a weirdo / crack-head who was mumbling to himself WHILE trying to hit on the terrified Mexican woman sitting in front of him, but this was LA – these things were commonplace in almost any setting!

Whether you’re leaving the office or leaving a posh Hollywood club, there will always be a crack-head, and there will always be a junky, and there will always be a terrified Mexican woman (well, hopefully not). What would LA be without its crack-heads and junkies and supposedly shitty, but undeniably convenient bus system? Well, it just wouldn’t be LA.

The ride I took was pretty simple: a straight shot from Downtown to Miracle Mile. On longer and more confusing busventures, I can understand why people would rather drive. Hell, I had a good experience on the bus and I’d still rather drive — it’s just convenient. But with the internet making life easier and easier, the intricate (albeit confusing) bus system already in place, and the Red Line expansion plans of the Metro, I can see some definite potential in LA’s public transportation.

Coming to the rescue could be Google, who, in yet another bold move towards world domination, has launched Google Transit Labs (www.google.com/transit) which is basically a way awesomer and way more national version of MTA’s Los Angeles website. Right now, Google Transit Labs only supports a few cities around the US, including Burbank, Seattle, Portland, Austin, Honolulu, et al. You type in your starting and ending locations and you get a Google map, with detailed instructions and information including distances, routes, walking and riding times, and sweet and simple graphics.

Anyway, ride the bus, kids. It’s good for the environment, you can feel self-righteous and hip, and you can meet random crack-heads to talk about with your rich friends at cocktail parties, you rich yuppie bastard.

Oh, and since you’re busing and metroing around, maybe I could borrow your H2?

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  • Chelsea

    Why do I feel like we rode the bus together in La once upon a time…?