If I *beg* you to stop saying “LA has no transit” will you stop saying it? Please? Pretty Please?

Pretty please with sugar on top? Would rainbow sprinkles do it for you?

A general overview of why: People not engaged with transit as an important part of their awareness wind up crediting it, while everybody who lives and works in LA transit knows perfectly damn well we need to improve it. Thus there is no audience for the statement. LA does not need smartest boys and girls talking shit about our transit and putting more dust in the air, whether it is ever-so-clever NY writers trading in cliches or transit nerds who want to demonstrate how smart they are about operations. Go bother Orange County, would you? They deserve it.

Actually let’s get real. Just like there is endless money for the NYT to pay twats like David Brooks, there is endless money for them to pay journalists to grind out the same dipshit stuff about Los Angeles they have since forever. Who am I to disrupt this grand mill of dumb writing about LA?

But I expect my transit brothers and sisters to do better by our system here in LA.

Here are some individual reasons why saying “LA has no transit” is counterproductive.

  1. It misleads people unfamiliar with the region into thinking that no matter what, transit is not an option, so they make dumb residential choice and car purchase decisions when they come here, thereby reinforcing one of the tricky things about transit in LA.

My life in LA as a transit expert is governed by nontransit scholars moving here from other places, plunking themselves in some westside neighborhood (because, grabs pearls, the gangs!) which has had bad transit *on purpose* for decades, and then lecturing me on how bad LA transit is and how great it was in San Francisco. This is analogous to me plunking my big fat arse in Marin and then bitching that I need a car in San Francisco when I didn’t need one in LA.

A second, common scenario in my life: student/faculty moves to DTLA from outside the region and then says to me “I bought a car because everybody said I would need one, but I don’t!” No, you don’t. BECAUSE THERE IS TRANSIT IN LA. But you got stuck with the expense and difficulty of a car because people promulgated a lazy myth instead of really talking about which locations in LA are accessible to where and which are not.

It is possible to make stupid residential location decisions in any region with regard to transit; there are inaccessible parts of the NY, Chicago, Boston, Philly, and DC regions. It is easier to luck into a good transit neighborhood in places like those where service spans, frequencies, and OD pairs are better than LA, but if you do some research you will find that some areas of LA have entirely satisfactory, 20-minute commute transit trips. We are working on making that better, but EXACTLY HOW ARE YOU HELPING BY ACTING LIKE THAT DOESN’T EXIST AT ALL, ANYWHERE ? HOWWW is this helping? How?

Feel free to say things like “LA has spotty transit, so be careful where you pick your hotel/apartment.” But saying “there is no transit” just contributes bad information, and don’t we have enough of that in the world already?

2. The “There is no transit in LA” narrative excuses people in LA who are perfectly well-served by transit from not taking it because it’s just not “there.” Or it’s supposedly “no good.”

Look, every year except this year in PPD 245, I give students an extra credit assignment to ride the train from USC to downtown LA. These are undergrad students, most of them are around 18 to 20 years old, most are from the region, and most of them HAVE NEVER SET ONE FOOT ON TRANSIT in their entire lives.

This would be a different story if I worked at one of the Cal States.

Many of them tell me their parents “are worried about them doing the assignment because transit in LA is so bad/unsafe.” (Risking fiery death by crashing and burning up on the freeways between LA and Orange County is apparently safer.)

The students are floored–utterly floored–by how nice and easy this little trip is. We spent $900 million dollars on that damn train, the campus has three–COUNT ‘EM, three!–stops, THEY GET A DISCOUNTED PASS EVERY SEMESTER….and without my class, most do not set a foot on that train even though it goes to a vital downtown with tons of things of to do in one direction and in the other direction to ONE OF THE NICEST GODDAMN BEACHES ON THE PLANET…and they STILL haven’t gotten on it.

Of course, these are my white students, usually. My Latinx and Black students are mostly like “I’ve ridden the bus with my mom since I was a little kid and now I get credit for taking a ride…thass good.”

Which is another point:

3. Saying “there is no transit in LA” erases the fact that LA Metro and the many service providers in the region are supplying an essential serviceā€”millions of rides every single day for riders, many of whom use LA transit as an important part of their economic survival.

No, these riders aren’t getting the service they ideally should get in a better world, but goddamnit they exist, they have been loyal customers for years, and it’s not like LA Metro, Foothill Transit, etc etc staff spend their days watching tv and huffing glue. There are a lot of operators driving buses right now risking the worst contagion threat we have seen in 100 years to provide service, only to have knuckleheads dismiss it all for a clever turn of phrase.

That is deeply uncool, brothers and sisters. It erases how some groups in LA have, through their daily practices, kept our system going (yes, with subsidies, but so what?) and done the right thing vis-a-vis climate change without all the bells and whistles and conveniences y’all think we’re supposed to have in order for you to acknowledge transit’s existence in LA.

(The above is a roundabout, white lady, perhaps even Karen-esque way of saying that erasing transit in LA is a l’il racist, so knock it off, or I want to talk to your manager.)

4. Promulgating the notion that there is no transit in LA means developers who are not dialed in/sympathetic likely overlook opportunities, unchecked. I can’t be everywhere, all the time, people.

Some even do dumb things like, say, build an entire big, giant LA Live complex without improving the transit walking environment one little jot. Or….

I was once dragooned into one of the infinite planning meetings conducted by developers of one of the many, varied and myriad stadium proposals that LA had floating around for years. The site had access to an Amtrak branch that had been left unused.

I asked who owned it. Well, Amtrak, jovial developer said.

Have you thought about asking whether Amtrak might be willing to make the line available to provide some special service on game days?

Developer looked at me like I was the dumbest dumb girl in the entire world of dumb girls.

“Errrrr, nobody wants to take a train to the stadium.” he said and moved on to other, smarter people.

EVERYBODY WANTS TO TAKE THE TRAIN TO THE STATION. Moreover, everybody ELSE wants EVERYBODY AT THE STADIUM to take the train. Even more moreover, you can sell more concession-stand beer to people who aren’t going to drive away from your stadium.

Erasing what is erases what can be, too. I very much doubt that running special service would have penciled out for anybody, especially because he wanted to bank on parking fees, but it wasn’t like I suggested he go plant potatoes on the moon. (The margin on beer has GOT to be better than trying to get what you pay to provide parking in a place with land prices like LA. Think of the shoppes you could put on that land instead.)

(This site was not chosen but the issue remains.)

5. Reasons 1 through 4 make you sound like either a clueless outsider, a sheltered suburban child, or a hater who doesn’t actually *want* LA transit to make it onto anybody’s radar because that would ruin your dunks.

One of my (beloved) friends in the physics department once said (IN A PUBLIC FORUM NO LESS) that people who claim they can’t take transit in LA are “stupid or lazy or both.” Now, I am a gentler soul than he, and having studied mode choice for a long time I understand that there are many, many sound reasons why transit may not be a great option for you or any, one individual.

But please bear in mind that not everybody is as kindly as your dear Auntie Lisa and every time you say “there is no ….blah blah blah”…my friend and others like him are probably judging you in the very harshest of terms.

So let’s come up with a new shorthand for characterizing LA, okay?