No Car, No Cry: 1 year study on the LA Metro

I am a Los Angeles transplant and like so many others I have tightly held on to the  belief that you can’t  get around in LA without a car. Los Angeles public transportation has gotten a bad rap for being an unreliable and unpleasant means of travel. In the Spring of 2011 I let go of my classic BMW. I was tired of inflating gas prices, and traffic, parking, and the cost associated maintaining a vintage vehicle. My dream car had become a nightmare. I took a little time to notice that I rarely travelled outside of a few general areas of the city. I was constantly finding myself going to and coming from the same parts of town, all with horrible parking and dense traffic. Everywhere I went was within a 10 or 20 mile radius, latitudes from Downtown to Santa Monica and longitudes from about the I-101 fwy, to the I-10 fwy.

Since I wasn’t stretching too far from home base regularly and, during the week I basically made the same exact trip 5 days to work I started taking the bus 2 days a week just as an experiment. Aside from finding a use for all my loose change, this alternate means of transportation had little effect on my life at first. After about a month, that I had completed a book in the two days a week from reading on the bus which was a couple hundred more pages than I had gotten to read in the prior 5 months. Still frustrated with driving in LA, I took the leap. I sold my dream car, some friends thought I was having financial troubles or that it was “just too much for me” and in a sense it was.

Without a car I knew I had to plan things a little better. I could pull out my smart phone and map the routes just like I had when driving. The listed transit times for Metro were about 10-15 longer than travelling by car, ironically this actually rounded to saving an average of 7 mins on arrival when factoring parking time and traffic. With a little timing I was actually arriving places earlier than when I was driving. Since I couldn’t quickly hop into my car and jet across town there were some changes I had to make. Remembering to bring an umbrella or a sweater became important. Also weather awareness is a must when there is a chance you might be waiting at a bus stop in the rain or cold. I started carrying a little bag with a light sweater or compact umbrella.

Nightlife and entertainment were not things I was willing to sacrifice. Again, with a little planning I was able to make it to all the concerts, award shows, dinners, and parties I had always gone to with out having to worry about getting a parking ticket or what to do with my vehicle if I wanted to leave with friends. If I didn’t want to take the bus I’d just hitch a cab.

Socially, I was a little concerned about how my “image” might be affected without owning a car but I found that not much was lost. Though my car was a an effective status symbol, I haven’t missed any apparent opportunities just from not owning a vehicle. The lack of convenience did however help me better screen events that I would be going to. Before I might go frivolously to events just to have something to do. Now I was more keen on considering the value of the places I invested my time, this  helped me stay on task with other goals that required a little more development time at home.

From what I could see there was no truth at all to the adage “You need to have a car in Los Angeles.” Of all the places in the world where walking could be an enjoyable experience Angelinos seem to be the ones that avoid it the most. Taking a stroll a few blocks on a cool night isn’t only to be done Downtown or at the 3 rd Street Promenade but its great anywhere. So I wondered what is keeping more people from saving themselves some stress and even a little cash by giving public transportation a try. The answer of course is perception. Not only has the “gotta have a car” concept permeated the city but so are a lot of the old ideas about public transportation in general. Let me take some time to address a few concerns I have gotten from my own peers.

1.) Isn’t the bus full of crazy homeless people? In my experience there is no escaping people when you go out side. The moment you step out of your door you are exposed to the possibility of running into a stranger you don’t agree with. In a car this make take the form of someone with road rage or a drunk driver. Crazy though, is relative. Homeless, perhaps, but that is no different than anywhere else in Los Angeles from Hollywood Blvd to Venice beach.

2.) Are the busses in LA even reliable?  I haven’t missed any event because I was at a metro station or bus stop at the scheduled time and there was not a bus there. True, some times they run late, and sometimes they run early, but its not any different than how we operate when we are behind the driver seat ourselves.

3.) There are a lot of places that the metro doesn’t go, what about that? The buses and trains will get you to most of your desired destinations adjacent to the main arteries of the city. If you can’t find a means to arrive to where you need to go, then consider how you’d get there if you didn’t own a car, or simply drive.

The experience now is very different than it might have been 5 years ago. LA is home to the nation’s largest clean air fleet. Nearly replacing all legacy vehicles, the Metro is marketing not only those riders that do not have cars but aim to create a more pleasant experience for those that may use it only as a secondary option. New stations, new routes, and as more people ride the better and faster these improvements can be made.

I am not saying my life is altogether better for selling my car, nor am I saying that anyone else should do the same. I am however saying, that there are very clear benefits that can add quality of life value to your residency of Los Angeles. If you are a major control freak, public transportation may not be for you. If you are creative, open minded and interested in saving some time, wasting some time, or becoming a tourist in your own city, then it might be. This may not be permanent for me, but for now it is okay and it has changed my perspective, on travel, the city of Los Angeles, and myself. I would encourage everyone to look into the places they go and consider exploring something beyond the default setting in your brain that says, “CAR”.

Los Angeles, is viewed as one of the most modern cities in the world. There is no reason we should not have a reliable, and state of the art public transportation system comparable to that of any other metropolis. We are the process of modernizing that system and in order to do so, we must modernize our way of thinking. Certainly what works for me won’t work for everyone,so maybe you do “Gotta have a car in LA” but I would also say you don’t always have to drive it.

Go Metro.

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