Sunday, January 20, 2008

NorCal/SoCal Musings

Blogger Wad's plug (thanks!) for this site at MetroRiderLA may bring over some visitors (hello!) from the other end of our state, and this prompts me to put down a few musings I've had comparing our regions' transit systems.

Northern and Southern Californians all seem to be in agreement that our public transit is so much better than theirs. We should probably be a little less proud, they should probably be more so. Which is not to say that Bay Area transit doesn't rack up some impressive figures. Muni's daily ridership comes close to the City's total population. BART carries 40% of transbay traffic. Also, we have cable cars and the F line :)

On the other hand, we should give Southern California credit for getting things built. The Metrolink commuter rail system covers 400 route miles, and was started with remarkably little fuss and low public outlay (low hundres of millions, about what we pay for 2-3 new miles of BART). The Metro Rail light rail system continues to add lines, and while it's got a long way to go to be a comprehensive area-wide network, it's off and running. Not to mention, compared to our pokey Muni and VTA light rail trains, the Blue Line just plain hauls ass.

The embarassing truth is that while transit grows and prospers in LA and environs, the Bay Area hasn't built any really wildly successful new transit since the opening of Muni Metro 25 years ago. BART and CalTrain have seen steady growth in ridership in their core service areas, but their extensions to Livermore, SFO, and Pleasanton have generated underwhelming traffic. Meanwhile Muni seems determine to destroy itself, and VTA's light rail is a gift to the Randal O'Toole's of the world.

Paradoxically, one of the greatest advantages Southern California may have in building effective transit is that its obvious need for new ways of getting around is balanced by residents' skepticism. Between a "car-centered culture" on the one hand, and nutty militant bus riders on the other, transit is under far more pressure to prove its worth by carrying passengers and getting them places quickly. It's a healthier environment than our political scene, dominated by well-heeled leftists, who support transit in principle but would much rather show their love of the Earth by driving a Prius.

We should get some cool busses like this, too.


greg said...

When I lived in Venice Beach a few years ago I like everyone else used my car. Then when my car got totaled, and I had to get to West Hollywood for an event, I did some searching and it turned out there was an express bus from Venice to the WeHo area.

I was surprised at how FAST it was since we had the HOV lane...I got to west hollywood much much faster by bus than by car. But when I asked the driver why more people didn't use it, he said "Look outside. Everyone wants to be in their cool car even if it means idling in traffic for 2 hours!"

cph said...

I've not heard of an express bus between WeHo and Venice....what route was that?