It has been over two months since I became a regular bus rider. As I shared in my previous article, my office recently moved from Koreatown (where I was able to reach with ease riding the subway) to Alhambra (which is not served by Metro rail at all). Thus my morning commute now consists of 15 minutes of walking, a short ride on the subway, a 30-minute bus ride, and another 10 minutes on foot. This is just to get to work; I have to do the reverse to return home. Taking public transit to and from a suburb located about nine miles east of my home has been anything but convenient. It would be easy for me to just complain about it endlessly or even give up on the bus altogether. However, I have chosen to stick with it for now because I cannot dismiss riding the bus as an entirely bad experience. As a planner who tends to think about and reflect upon my experiences (perhaps too much), I want to share the following observations about bus riding in Los Angeles. I must clarify though that my comments are from my perspective as a public transit user only, not as a transportation planner, since I lack formal training and experience in the field of transportation planning.
- Riding the bus to work enables me to relax, rest, or catch up on e-mails/text messages, rather than having to drive, focus, and deal with traffic on streets and freeways.
- Bus riders regularly show appreciation to their drivers by saying “Thank you!” as they exit the bus. This is refreshing as it does not (and perhaps cannot) happen on Metro rail because the conductor is in the front car, separate from the passengers.
- I have observed how strangers have become friends simply by riding the same bus at the same time every day. Just imagine, people who drive alone will never experience this. The only time someone talks to a fellow driver is probably when s/he rolls down the window to yell obscenities to the other person for cutting her/him off!
- Random acts of kindness are often on full display on buses. For example, I have seen a fellow bus rider picking up the cans and bottles that accidentally spilled out of another passenger’s bag. Another instance is when one passenger patiently and carefully explains to a first-time bus user how to get to a particular place.
- Even though my commute to work is longer these days, I cannot help but smile whenever I hear Cantonese spoken by fellow passengers because it brings back memories from my childhood in Hong Kong.
- Buses are often off schedule, i.e. not arriving at the times listed in Metro’s schedules, resulting in very long wait times. There was a week when my bus going home was 15 minutes late on three out of four work days. My worst experience thus far was having to wait for about 40 minutes one day, a delay of about 20 minutes each way.
- It is annoying and discouraging when I get on the bus and try to sit down as quickly as possible only to discover that some people have either situated themselves on the outside seats or placed their bags or belongings on seats to prevent others from sitting next to them.
- I have seen on numerous occasions when two buses of the same line arrive at the same stop at the same time. This seems to reflect a lack of coordination on the part of Metro and/or bus drivers, and gives the impression that the bus system is inefficient.
- It takes a lot longer to get to my work on a bus than in a car. This is obvious given the many stops along a bus route, but I am including this just to make my list as exhaustive as possible.
- Everyone should be aware by now that homelessness is a major issue in Los Angeles County. Unfortunately, it has become commonplace to find homeless individuals sleeping and/or finding refuge at bus stops or on buses. This is a even bigger problem at Metro rail stations and on trains, as I often see people sleeping on stair steps, corners, and other locations at the 7th St/Metro Center Station, Civic Center Station, and Union Station, especially in the early mornings. Homelessless is an ugly and embarrassing crisis that we must collectively tackle as a society; we simply cannot neglect the shelter, health, and other basic needs of our fellow Angelenos.
- I consider myself a fairly patient man and can endure long waits, but I get very frustrated when I have to wait at an un-sheltered bus stop in the rain and/or the cold. What makes things worse is that bus riders have no way of knowing what is going on. The GoMetro App looks nice, but it appears to only show scheduled arrival times, rather than reflect real-time arrival information. Not knowing when the next bus is actually coming or what is causing a delay only makes a bad situation worse or uglier for bus riders.
My observations above are based primarily on my recent experiences on a Metro local bus line and probably cannot be generalized to other bus services. After all, not all bus lines or services are created equal or perceived equally. In the minds of many Angelenos, there seems to be a hierarchy of public transit and buses in L.A. County, with Metro rail, commuter express buses, and the DASH lines being at the top of the pyramid and Metro local buses at the bottom. And by “the top” I do not even mean that most people in our primarily auto-centric region think very highly of these services; they just consider them to be relatively acceptable means of commuting to work. I say this based on the typical reactions I get from friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. Provided below are simplified snippets of conversations for illustrative purposes:
Me: I ride the subway (i.e. Metro rail) to work.
Co-worker who drives: Wow, that’s great! I wish I could do that. (My interpretation: It seems that most people generally consider trains to be “cooler” than and superior to buses.)
Me: I’m going to take the DASH to Little Tokyo for lunch.
Co-worker who drives: Great, I’ll join you. (My interpretation: The DASH is a well-liked and well-used form of transportation in Downtown Los Angeles, especially during lunch time.)
Me: I started taking a Metro local bus to work.
Co-worker who drives: Sorry to hear that. You know, we would not think any less of you if you just started driving. (My interpretation: This is coming from someone who knows that I have been taking public transit to work for much of my career. People almost seem to feel sorry for me when I tell them that I take the Metro bus. I never got this reaction before when I was using Metro rail to get to work.)
I will just conclude by saying that riding the bus is never a dull experience. Each bus ride is literally a journey that is filled with things that are good, bad, and/or ugly. There have already been times when I want to quit riding the bus because of its inconsistencies and instead seriously consider the possibility of getting a second vehicle for my family. But for the time being, I can still appreciate the benefits of taking the bus, and I am just stubborn, patient, and committed enough to maintain my status as a proud TAP card-holding public transit user.
Photos: Screenshots of the GoMetro App taken by author.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.