Anyone who has hopped on a bus in Los Angeles can tell you that it is sometimes an experience to forget. There are awkward sights and smells everywhere, which is tolerable, but if you’re a regular commuter, chances are you have been left stranded every once in a while. This is because Los Angeles public transportation, frankly, sucks.
As a late-bloomer in the world of driving, I became a seasoned veteran of the Los Angeles Metro bus and rail lines. Admittedly, I grew to even love riding public transportation out here, but it was a love/hate relationship. I loved every aspect of being around people, and going on wild bus adventures. Even reading while commuting
was a luxury to me. However, I also hated the bus, because it was like a bad friend– never around when you needed it the most.
Compared to most other major metropolitan cities, Los Angeles has a primitive mass transit system. This is partially because Los Angeles, as a city, was built much later than those on the east coast. In New York, for example, it is incredibly easy to get from point A to point B without using a car. This is because the city was modeled traditionally before the advent of the automobile, so buildings were closer together, and the infrastructure for a huge subway system was made.
In Los Angeles, it’s an automobile’s world, and if you don’t have a car, you’re kind of screwed. At most, the city provides busses and some semblance of a subway or rail line, but many of the bus lines are unreliable. When I was a freshman at CSUN, I rode on the 239 Bus, which runs from Encino to Sun Valley, using White Oak Avenue and Lindley Avenue as two of its main arteries. This bus would show up once an hour, and though there was a timetable schedule, it would often show up randomly within the hour. Many times, I was left stuck at the bus stop on Lindley Avenue and Nordhoff Boulevard, waiting. Sometimes, it was raining. Sometimes, there were creepy men trying to talk to me.
One time, when I was able to catch the 239, I realized just how awful some of the busses in Los Angeles are. Every time the bus would stop, it would stall, and every time it stalled, it took longer to start back up again. By the time we were nearing my Encino stop, I was praying to the bus gods that I would get home. If the bus broke down before my stop, I would probably have to wait for another 239 to come, and that would undoubtedly take an hour, at least. I ended up barely making it home, and I suspect that the bus broke down somewhere toward the last stop.
The heart of the problem is that highways and streets are of a higher priority in Los Angeles than other modes of transportation, and as such, they are funded the most. The city was built around the concept of an automobile, and this also explains why there is urban sprawl, and everything is so spread apart here.
This city did, at one time, have a great transportation system. It was before World War Two, and it was a rail line called the Red Car. The Red Car would run throughout the entire city, connecting everyone in a fashion similar to that of San Francisco’s cable car lines. However, in 1961, the infrastructure of the Red Car was ripped apart, and replaced by wide freeways and track housing. Currently, Los Angeles has improved its public transportation, with its subway lines and the newest Orange Line, but there is still much work to be done. Had the city never ripped out the Red Car infrastructure, we would have never been in this mess to begin with.
In the times before I had a car to drive, I would constantly have thoughts of how to make Los Angeles a more connected city with public transportation. The more I would think about this dilemma, the more I would realize that the answer is very complicated.
The truth is, we had our chance, Los Angeles, and we blew it. We could have kept the Red Cars, but instead, we are now all slaves to gas-guzzling, anti-social automobiles. And though the city has made vast improvements on how to commute sans-car, there is still a very long an expensive road ahead of us.