THE BLOG

A Transit App for Los Angeles

05/04/2015 07:04 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2016

This is a true story. It's about the way many people get around Los Angeles and how more of us should navigate the City of Angels. Native Angelenos, new arrivals, older transplants like me, tourists and everyone in between.

Last Friday night I was at my usual spot, waiting for the music to start and for my friends to arrive at Jazz at LACMA. If I am in town during the Spring and Summer, schedule permitting, that's where you can find me most Fridays.

I go for the music, for one of the best open air scenes in LA and to spend time with friends and the friends they drag along.

Carolina Cortella is new to LA, a filmmaker from Argentina who hopes to find creative work here in film or advertising. She arrived recently and has been crashing on a friend's couch in West Hollywood until she can find safe, affordable housing. If you have a place for her, please let her know.

LA would do well to welcome more people like Carolina. She came prepared, shipping her bike from Buenos Aires. Like all of us should, Carolina gets around LA primarily on bike, on foot and on Metro. In my world, Carolina might be the sort of new Angeleno who gets to cut to the front of the line at Immigration. People like her would get a green card as well as a Metro TAP fare card and a phone preloaded with Transit App, a real-time public transportation app. I can't help with the green card but with the TAP card and Transit App I am on it.

Moovit and Citymapper also do the trick though I prefer Transit App for its user friendly large font that I can actually read when I'm looking for the next bus.

I met Carolina during intermission after the band's first set. She had come to LACMA with my friend Yael. When she said she gets around by bike and bus, I told her about Transit App. Later, after dinner at Yael and her husband Danny's, I got Carolina set up with a TAP card and explained how to use it on Metro, Culver City Bus and Big Blue Bus. If you missed my tutorial, you can buy a TAP card at vendors all over the city. What's not to like about Metro's money-saving free transfers with TAP?

I was feeling good. I had paid it forward helping out a new friend.

The rest of the evening didn't go as well. A few days earlier, Carolina had rented a room in a house out in Venice. The locals at dinner didn't like the sound of it. $850 a month but it came with a dog and there were four guys living in the house as well. Carolina had her own room but the bathroom was shared with the guys.

Yael in her maternal way wanted to see the place so around 11 pm we got in her car and drove over to XXXX Tivoli Avenue. The dealers sitting on the corner, across from Venice High School, weren't a good start. Let's just say I wouldn't be crazy about my kids going to a kegger at the house. Anxious to spend the Summer near the ocean and work opportunities in Silicon Beach, Carolina had found the place on Craigslist. Not knowing any better she had paid two months down with a money order.

Once at the house, we went in through the unlocked back gate. Carolina knocked on the door and was met by one of her "roommates," shirtless, and his pit bull. Next we met a snarling, mangy black Labrador at the opened screen door to Carolina's part of the house. We calmed the dog down and went in but you know where this is going. Before we reached the filthy room with its stained carpet and dirty clothes left by the previous renter, we had decided for Carolina that she wouldn't be living here. Is there a My LA 311 app for reporting slumlords?

Other than the lost money which is likely already spent, Carolina will be fine. She has Yael and other new friends who will help her navigate LA's punishing affordable housing crisis. But countless others have been or will be priced out of a city under tremendous pressure to house all of the millions already here, or those who hope to relocate.

I love LA.

"Everybody's very happy 'Cause the sun is shining all the time..."

And now that the New York Times has declared that New York hipsters have discovered that Williamsburg and other parts of Brooklyn can't hold a candle to LA's East Side, we can expect another wave of affordable housing-busting arrivals.

Are we really the only place on the planet for Winter- and Bedford Avenue-weary New Yorkers?

When I met over the weekend with Jake Sion, the Director of Strategy and Development for Transit App, he sang the praises of Montreal where the startup real-time transit app is based. Montreal is a great city but why would a New Yorker like Jake chose it over the Best Coast?

Because of the job opportunity and because he can afford to live there.

Also, Jake wasn't loving LA. He'd been down in Long Beach the day before for the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT)'s Southern California Regional Conference and most of what he had seen of LA so far was the 405 and the autobahn-like stretch of Wilshire Blvd from the freeway to his hotel in Westwood.

By the time my tour including lunch in Persian Square at Attari Sandwich followed by ice cream at Saffron and Rose and a walk through the best parts of Westwood including the Geffen Playhouse was done, Jake was looking more enthusiastic about Our Fair City. For the evening his plans included a Dodgers game and dinner downtown. He seemed to be leaning towards Uber until I suggested the Metro 720 bus and the Dodger Stadium Express. My dinner recommendation was a place at the Grand Central Market or one of the dozens of options on Broadway, Spring and Main.

Jake's happy, as he should be, living and working in Mile End in more traditionally urban Montreal. And, employed as he is, he can afford it.

Here's a word to the New Yorkers arriving in LA in droves. Like Randy Newman's anthem, LA's not all sunshine and sea.

The cute apartment or house you bought or rent in Highland Park used to be where a big family with less money than you have used to live. We also have too many cars and billboards and plenty of our own hideous development.

What's a transplant to do?

We want you. We need you. But please, if you have one, leave your car in New York. And get a TAP card and Transit App.

Yours in transit,
Joel Epstein