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Kristin Eberhard’s Blog

Southern California voters to local lawmakers: "We want you to invest in public transportation!"

Kristin Eberhard

Posted November 7, 2011

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A recent LA Times article about “Buy Here Pay Here” used car dealers highlighted a local single mother (Tiffany Lee) who works at UCLA Health Clinic. Riding the bus to work took her two hours, and she had to ask friends to drive her son to doctor appointments for his asthma. She was desperate for a car and had to accept a terrible, predatory deal ($3,000 down plus over a 20% interest rate on payments on a used car), to get one. 

With stories like these, the results of a recent poll of Southern California voters should come as no surprise: Southern Californians want more mobility options! In particular, more than 80% of Southern California voters want their local governments to invest more money to expand and improve buses, trains, and light rail.

Support for Public Transit Graph

If they were in charge of the purse strings, voters would dedicate more money to expanding buses, trains, and light rail ($25), improving existing buses, trains and light rail ($17), and expanding bike lanes, and sidewalks ($14). Voters would spend a total of $58 out of a $100 budget on public transportation. Compare this to $20 they would spend to expand roads and highways and $24 to repair existing roads and highways.

$100 Budget on Public Transit

(See more about these poll results here and here.)

Local lawmakers take heed: your voters want you to invest in public transportation to give them more mobility options.

Tiffany Lee was desperate to get a car to solve her mobility problems, and an immediate challenge is providing better options to people like her who have limited resources.  Immediate solutions could include

  • Similar to utilities, create “lifeline” auto financing that can help the poor acquire autos, and more fuel-efficient autos at that;
  • Encourage flexible auto options like carsharing and peer-to-peer carshare; and
  • Promote pay as you drive insurance, to ensure that the poor, who drive less, can pay less for auto insurance.

But the longer term challenge for all Southern Californians will be to invest in public transportation that will not leave people in the situation of desperately needing a car because there is no other way to get where you need to go. I don’t own a car, and although I am grateful that my commute is not two hours like Ms. Lee’s, there is still much room for improvement in my bus-riding experience.  Here are some of the solutions we need to invest in, followed by a few of my personal anecdotes.  To give Southern Californians mobility options, we must:

  • Design communities to be less dependent on cars so that people have real options about mobility.
  • Increase frequency of service on existing bus and rail lines. If there is a bus that could get you where you need to go, but it only runs once an hour, it is hard to consider that a viable option for getting places on-time, because if you miss it once you are out of luck.
  • Improve the on-time performance of bus and rail.  Again, if you are dependent on the bus to get to your job on-time and it is 10 or 15 minutes late, you might not have a job much longer. We need to be able to rely on transit to get us there on time.
  • Run rail lines at later times to encourage transit users to take public transportation at night and make lines safer so users feel protected when riding at night.
  • Create a more efficient, streamlined system to reduce transfer times thereby reducing transit times.
  • Improve and expand the use of real-time data to give riders better information about when their bus is actually going to come.
  • Build out new bus and rail lines and stop transit line cuts.
  • Create regional solutions that integrate fare options for a seamless rider experience. Right now you can use your TAP card on LA Metro and Culver City buses, but you have to have a separate pass for Big Blue Bus. I don’t have a car, so when I am trying to get around not just to work, but to meetings, to visit friends, etc, sometimes I need to utilize more than one bus system and it is a pain to have to figure out multiple fare systems.  Expanding TAP to be a universal regional solution would make full-time bus-riding easier. 
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Wesley ReutimannNov 8 2011 12:02 PM

I felt the same way when I read the Times series. As troubling this practice is, the answer is definitely NOT to subsidize car ownership any more than we already do, especially in areas where we have the density to support efficient public transit and encourage walking and biking.

Speaking of which, the LA County Board of Supes is going to be considering a Master Bike Plan in the coming months. The latest draft is set to go before the Regional Planning Commission on 11/16. It would be great if NRDC could support a stronger plan along with the cycling and public health community. The present draft, unfortunately, will not do nearly enough to create a network of safe streets for those who might like to bike but don't feel comfortable doing so now.

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