THE BLOG

The ABCs of Los Angeles Metro

04/26/2015 02:20 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2015

You think we have transportation problems? New York, our oft cited but nothing like us doppelganger to the east, is short $15 billion of the estimated $32 billion it needs to upgrade its public transportation system. The Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA) carried 1.75 billion riders last year. That billion with a B.

By contrast, in Los Angeles, an estimated 115 million riders a year take Metro's buses and trains, though "figuring out how many of those 115 million riders paid their fares and rode the trains legally" remains a mystery. It wasn't until last year that Metro locked its turnstiles at its Red/Purple line stations, and even now light rail continues to operate on a de facto honor system.

LA lags so far behind New York in transit ridership that we haven't even gotten to A, though Metro is reportedly moving in the direction of renaming our transit lines alphabetically.

Why? Doesn't it make more sense to run more frequent bus and rail service on busy lines and accelerate construction and equipment purchasing of our five new transit projects than to spend scarce resources on signage and redesigning and reprinting maps?

Like Councilman Bernard Parks' proposal to, again, rename South LA, this seems foolhardy. Erin Aubry Kaplan at KCET put it best about Parks' plan, "Let's change the name of South Los Angeles to Beverly Hills."

What is the termed out Councilman thinking? What is Metro thinking? I give both Metro and Parks an F on renaming.

People ride public transit to get from one place to another. Home to work, to the Brewery Art Walk, to the Grand Central Market, to Jazz at LACMA, to CicLAVia. They don't care what the lines are called and, unless they are European tourists, they don't ride a particular line because it's called the A Train.

New York's public transportation system features both numbered and lettered trains, the result of a merger of three independently operated transit systems.

No one really cares.

It's really no biggie if some of our lines are "named after colors while others are tied to geography (Expo Line, Crenshaw/LAX)." In fact, geographic names are more descriptive, particularly when the destination is indicated on the front of the train.

Apparently the proposed changes are aimed at helping riders avoid confusion once the Regional Connector is completed in 2020. But what's confusing to someone who boards the Blue Line in Long Beach to Azuza or the Expo Line in Santa Monica to East Los Angeles? Unless the train changes direction mid stream, these trains are going where the sign says they are going. Anyhow, just as most New Yorkers still call the Avenue of the Americas, 6th Avenue and the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, the 59th Street Bridge, the Expo Line will always be the Expo Line and the Blue Line will always be the most poorly constructed line in the system.

If you are still confused, think about this: Is Simon & Garfunkel's 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) about the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge or about the 59th Street Bridge?

'Nuff said.

We all know that stuff happens. Mistakes get made, like the costly error years ago that necessitated Metro's current construction of the Regional Connector to fix the gaping hole in our transit system.

But more recent mistakes, like the failure to order enough rail cars to allow the opening of Expo to Santa Monica in 2015, rather than 2016, are hard to excuse. According to a reliable source, it is not the contractor's fault that what looks like a nearly completed light rail line to the beach (currently in testing) won't open before year's end.

Still, New York's Subway Madness, the fact that considerable resources will be required to upgrade and expand a system that is in part over a century old, underscores how lucky Angelenos are in some ways to have a transit system that is as modern and robust as it is. As the New York Times put it, "Anyone who has squeezed into a subway car recently in New York City knows in a very up-close and uncomfortable way that the city's mass transit system is overloaded."

We are not New York and thanks to our geography, climate and world view, never will be. The fact is, the only time a Metro train is anywhere near as crowded as New York's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, D or L trains is after a USC game at the Coliseum. Even if you're a UCLA fan, what a fine site that is.

Our buses of course are another story. Though some of that could be easily remedied if able-bodied riders got up out of the seats reserved for the elderly and infirmed and moved to the back.

When I saw Mayor Eric Garcetti at last week's Move LA conference at Union Station I said to him, "Always be closing," to which he repled, "ABC," not missing a beat.

That is what we need to do. Always be closing on our transit improvements and with Washington where our tax dollars are kept.

Renaming our transit lines is small ball and a distraction compared to the construction and other work at hand.

Yours in transit,
Joel