Theoretically, public transportation should be a rapid and cost-effective solution for getting around town. It works in just about every city; however, Los Angeles is a unique metropolis in and of itself. Most of the people who reside here subscribe to the belief that if you don't own a car, it's nearly impossible to get around. I decided to use the Metro system when I moved back to L.A. a few months ago. Coming from New York, where public transportation is a commuter's lifeline, I figured going Metro while I got situated would be a piece of cake.
In all fairness, I understand that Los Angeles is not New York. Anyone who thinks L.A. is similar to New York just because it is also a large city is in for a rude awakening. I also understand that there are people who ride Metro on a daily basis and they are perfectly fine with relying on L.A.'s public transportation system as their primary -- and in come cases, only -- way of getting around. Unfortunately, there are some glaring problems that I figured out quickly, and as a result, I found it difficult to embrace the chance to "Go Metro."
The first, and most unsettling, thing I noticed is that the buses and trains are outfitted with fabric upholstered seats. Considering how anti-bacterial obsessed we have become in this day and age, I couldn't figure out the logic behind these seats. They don't seem very sanitary, and at the risk of sounding like a neurotic germophobe, I made a conscious decision shortly after my first bus ride to stand from that point on for that very reason. I felt slightly OCD about this until several incidents over the next few weeks reinforced my belief that I made the right choice.
Many cities have a homeless population and Los Angeles is no exception. Given the relatively low cost of a one-way Metro fare, it's not an uncommon sight on public transportation. Unfortunately, at times some individuals cause problems for other commuters. Between the pungent odors, panhandling, the sight of them passed out, or just flat-out harassing female riders, Metro can be an uncomfortable experience where standing and staying alert might be the better option.
Then, of course, there are my original hygienic concerns. Concerns that became even more legitimate after I had the pleasure of watching a man go on a marathon nose-picking session during an early evening commute. The discharge was wiped on the empty adjoining seat. It was a stomach-churning display at its finest. Perhaps even worse was the time a woman jumped up when she realized she was sitting on a wet seat during an afternoon trip on the Orange Line. Hopefully, the moisture was the result of spilled water because I shutter to think what other fluids might have caused that damp fabric.
Eventually, I took to Twitter to express my disappointment and disgust with the fabric seats:
— Justin Hernandez (@HernandezJustin) August 4, 2014
Metro Los Angeles quickly responded back with the following:
@HernandezJustin Hi Justin, the fabric was chosen to help prevent tagging, and can be easily replaced if unable to be cleaned. ^LA
— Metro Los Angeles (@metrolosangeles) August 4, 2014
As much as I appreciated the response, Metro didn't really address my concerns. Besides, their reply was a little silly. There doesn't seem to be a tagging problem with the plastic seats on New York's buses and trains. Again, I know, this is not New York, but I find it hard to believe that the only way to combat graffiti is with fabric-covered seats. So congrats to Metro on that "tag proof" solution, but if it's all the same, I'll stand and pass up the opportunity to bring bed bugs or MRSA into my home.
Commuting on public transportation in Los Angeles isn't all grotesque horror stories, though. I did experience some comic relief courtesy of a couple of bus drivers. One afternoon, a bus I was traveling on stopped mid-route in front of a boba shop and the driver went inside for about five minutes. She emerged with a drink and a paper bag. I guess when you're operating a bus for several hours you have to eat, right? Having said that, she could have at least asked the rest of us if we wanted to step out and get a snack as well.
Some also tend to their personal grooming while out on the road. I discovered that on another occasion as I watched my driver trim her nails every time the bus stopped at a red light. This mobile manicure session was fascinating, but we did miss a green light when she got caught up with a hangnail. Well, at least she wasn't trying to clip and drive.
My "Go Metro" experience lasted for thirty-seven days and is now in the rear view mirror of my newly purchased vehicle. Using public transportation in Los Angeles sounds like a great concept, but in my book there are more cons than pros. So once again, I have rejoined the masses of Angelenos who clog up the freeways and city streets on a daily basis, and I couldn't be happier. This euphoria could end once I get accustomed to no longer planning my trips around a bus schedule; however, if I ever complain about car payments, insurance premiums, or the price of gasoline, I'm hoping that someone will remind me about my adventures on L.A.'s Metro service.