Thursday, June 12, 2008

Transit and "Broken Windows"

I like taking transit--it allows me to read and/or listen to my ipod while getting from one place to another. Driving is a waste of time and in Washington is quite frustration.

So last April, when I made a visit to USC to prepare for my move this coming August, I used transit to get around LA to see what it was like. In terms of convenience, it is actually not too bad--buses go nearly everywhere, and the routes are sensible. It is also very cheap. Yet there was one huge difference between DC and LA transit--and I am not referring to the fact that Washington's Metro rail system excellent and LA's Metro rail system doesn't go enough places to be all that useful. Rather, it is the fact that one sees all economic classes on transit (including buses) in Washington, but not in Los Angeles (perhaps I am making too much of an assumption based on people's attire, but I don't think so.) A conclusion one might reach is that people who don't have to take transit in Washington do so anyway, while only people who have no choice but to take transit do so in Los Angeles.

Perhaps a reason for the difference is that Washington Metro rigorously enforces its rules prohibiting eating, drinking and loud noises. While I long thought the eating and drinking rules were extreme (especially when I really want a coffee during my ride in), I have to admit that one of the reason Metro is so pleasant is that it remains very clean. On the other hand, when I rode transit in LA, I encountered three winos drinking out of brown paper bags. And the vehicles themselves were no where near as clean and pleasant as their DC counterparts. I must confess that such conditions make me less likely to use transit.

It is important for transit to be considered an acceptable option for travel for all economic classes--it is one of the ways to develop a political consensus behind it. While once upon a time I couldn't imagine myself saying this, perhaps all transit systems should consider adopting Washington's rules--and enforcing them.


Uncle Billy Rides Mt. Pelerin said...

I personally only know one person in Los Angeles who ever took a bus, and that was a blogger who did it to see what it was like. (I did something similar back in the 80's, and then once again in the 90's).

Our family have taken the subway downtown on occasion. It's fun and lets you out right at Union Station, close to Olvera Street and the unforgetable "Golondrina". It seems a lot safer than the New York subway system.

I don't think enforcing the rules will help much with the ridership though as its a cultural thing here: If you don't drive a car, there's something wrong with you.

Kevin P. said...

I don't agree. The T in Boston allows food and drinks and I actually prefer it to the Metro in DC. The mixing of classes is also just as evident.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with Kevin P. I've taken the New York City subway all my life (of course, I'm only 30) and I regularly see all classes on the train-- folks in black tie on their way to performances at Lincoln Center, street vendors late at night carting their wares home, mothers with fancy strollers and mothers without, homeless people, young hipsters in strategically ripped clothing, etc., etc.

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