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Friday, October 31, 2003

Happy Halloween. I apologize for not updating the blog recently, but after 18 days of no buses and trains, I didn't have much in terms of transit riding experiences to share with you all.

As all of us transit riders have continued to piece together our transportation arrangements day by day, the MTA and the ATU have managed to completely alienate each other and stop negotiations. It culminated this week when the MTA declared an impasse and submitted their "best, last and final offer" directly to the mechanics in hope of circumventing the union leadership.

This morning though, the ATU has agreed to consider binding arbitration through a state mediator to bring an end to the stalemate and get the buses and trains moving again. Here's hoping I'll be riding a bus again very soon.



Thursday, October 23, 2003

Well its day 10 of the MTA mechanics strike and the parties are still far apart on the major issues of their dispute -- though reportedly they've moved a little in their stances.

I'm still catching rides with people and using Flexcars. Today I took a Flexcar down to Long Beach for work, and when I returned the car, I locked my wallet with my keycard in the car. I called Flexcar, and after waiting a few minutes to speak with a representative, they told me they could unlock the car electronically. Another five minutes, and the car opened. I grabbed my wallet and went on my way. The local fleet manager told me that because the technology is new and they're still working it out, I had to wait a bit longer than I should have, but I still thought it was pretty cool. Much faster than waiting for AAA when I've locked my keys in my old car.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Just to update you, I made it through the rest of this week and the weekend with a combination of carpools, DASH buses and Flexcars. As the strike heads into another week, there is some optimism that a resolution between the two parties will be reached very soon.

One good thing the MTA has done during the strike is advertise its new ride matching website, www.ridematch.info. Users go to the site, enter their home and work addresses, and the site returns other people who live near you and work where you work. Apparently the site has been reasonable successful in helping people find rides. From my own experience, I've found someone to share a ride with when I have a car, and I've also been contacted by one person who usually drives to work but was happy to offer a ride to people impacted by the transit shutdown. Pretty good in my opinion. Basically another good example of technology helping people (for those fortunate enough to have access to the web).

I also found out that the MTA will extend its Red Line emulator bus to Wilshire/Vermont, meaning I could take the DASH (with three transfers) down to Wilshire/Vermont and take MTA contractor bus into downtown. I'm thinking it would take at least two hours. Maybe I'll be forced to try it one of these days. Better news is that the Hollywood DASH now runs until 8pm, making it easier for me to catch a ride home with my co-worker in the evenings.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Day two of the strike, and no word yet on how negotiations are going. Today's L.A. Times quoted a few people, including spokespersons from the MTA and the ATU, who had varying opinions on how long the strike might last. The most optimistic prediction was 10 days -- which really isn't very optimistic to us transit riders.

I drove in to work early this morning to return the Flexcar, and then this evening I took another one home. But this time I gave a ride to someone I met through the MTA's RideMatch website. He is a nice guy who just moved to the United States from the Philippines eight months ago, and I've offered to carpool with him on the days I have a car. Tomorrow evening and Friday though I won't be driving though, since I'm planning on getting rides with a co-worker who's going to a conference with me on Friday.

I'm also seeing about the possibility of borrowing an electric scooter from someone, which will at least enable me to get to and from my co-worker's apartment to carpool with him, if not possibly all the way to work and back. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

I woke up this morning to find myself in the midst of a transit strike, the second one in three years here in Los Angeles. For all the car-free people (or if you insist, transit dependent) out there who ride the buses and trains everyday, the shit has really hit the fan. Except for 22 special lines being run by private contractors, none of the nearly 200 MTA bus lines or 4 rail lines was running. To get to work this morning, I caught a City of L.A. DASH bus, which is really just a local circulator bus that doesn’t get much use in my neighborhood. However, this morning at 7:30am it was jammed pack with people. Kids trying to get to school and Grown-ups trying to get to work. The bus driver was constantly bombarded with questions on how to get to this destination or the next, while people tried to cope with the frustration of being late to work or school and figuring out how to get where they were going. I got off at the end of the line, and walked about five blocks to my co-worker’s apartment to catch a ride with him.

After work, I walked west down 7th Street, which was bumper to bumper, as were most of the streets in Downtown Los Angeles. I stopped at the 7th St/Metro Center station where I heard the MTA had a private contractor running a bus that emulated the Red Line, only to discover the bus was only going from Union Station to Macarthur Park – hardly a quarter of the Red Line’s route. At that, I whipped out my cell phone, reserved the nearest Flexcar, and walked up a few blocks to pick it up for the drive home.

You might think that this major inconvenience and expense would put me over the edge – that I’d be ready to say “to hell with transit.” Well, I’m not there yet. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m very upset at the MTA and its labor unions for inflicting this costly burden on the general public (see my last posting). But driving home today in heavy traffic made me realize again how nice transit is when it is working. It took me almost 45 minutes to get home (it usually takes 30), and then I had to circle for 5 minutes to find a parking spot. My normal transit commute takes about the same amount of time, and is much more leisurely. No fighting with irate drivers or searching for parking. Instead, I can read a book or magazine, or just quietly sit and observe people.

If there’s one thing good about the strike, it’s that today showed everyone how big an impact transit has on both riders and non-riders alike. Hopefully, when this is all over, we won’t forget how valuable transit service is in the region, and will work to make sure this doesn’t happen in another three years – or twenty.

An Open Letter to MTA Chief Executive Roger Snoble and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1277 President Neil Silver.

Gentlemen,

I’d like to ask both of you to do me one favor. Tomorrow morning, when you’re ready to go to work or drop your children off at school, please walk outside your door and figure out how to get to where you are going without a car, without a bus or train, and without enough cash in your wallet to even think about hailing a cab.

I want you to feel for one moment what it feels like to be stranded, unable to go to work or school, or meet your daily obligations.

Or please try boarding one of the few City-operated buses to see and feel the desperation of regular transit riders first hand, struggling to piece together some way to get to their destinations.

These experiences will be just a small taste of what I and roughly half million other daily transit riders in Los Angeles County will be dealing with every minute of every day that the current work stoppage that has brought bus and rail service to a standstill continues.

Please understand that because of your inability to reach an agreement, you will be putting thousands of people at risk of losing their jobs and threatening the precarious financial situation of many families.

Please understand that because of your stubbornness, the education of thousands of children and young adults will be disrupted, putting their chances of a better economic future at risk.

Please understand that because of your lack of leadership, thousands of small and large businesses will suffer significant losses in productivity due to late and absent employees who are unable to arrange transportation to their jobs, or stuck idling in the gridlock that has been exacerbated by the halt in transit service.

Please understand that at the end of your dispute, whatever concessions either of you win for your constituencies will be gained on the backs of thousands of working people who can least afford to carry the burden you have imposed on them.

Rather than making transit a more viable option for more people, you are forcing working people to spend more of their incomes on private vehicles, while adding to our already appalling air pollution and traffic congestion.

I’m asking all of my fellow transit riders, as well as business and civic leaders, as well as the public at large, to call for immediate talks between the Amalgamated Transit Union and the MTA to bring this strike to an end.

In addition, I’m asking that the two parties agree that whatever differences they may have in the future, they will work endlessly to avoid actions that would keep buses and trains from running.

Like electricity, police or fire, transit is a service that the public relies on, and any disruption in service is unacceptable. No one benefits from this strike, especially not the MTA or the employees of the ATU.

I trust that you will use your enhanced understanding to work together to resolve this conflict, and continue your partnership to improve the level of transit service for all the citizens of Los Angeles County.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Well, it's become apparent that a strike by MTA mechanics is very likely to occur, and by midnight tonight, the county’s bus and rail system could shut down. This leaves me and all the other Angelenos who use the MTA’s transit services scrambling to make plans to get to work in the morning, let alone go about our normal lives for what might be several very long weeks. Fortunately, the City of L.A.’s DASH bus service will be running, and so if tomorrow morning the strike is in effect, I’m planning on taking the local DASH bus over to Los Feliz to carpool with a co-worker. However, since the DASH buses don’t run past 6:00pm, I’m not entirely sure how I’m making it home. I might just take a Flexcar for the night, at which point I’m going to have to determine if I’m going to have to go rent a car for a week, if not longer. The last transit worker strike three years ago lasted for 32 days. I’m sure hoping that isn’t the case this time, and both parties can come to an agreement ASAP.

Looking at this from the big picture, if transit ridership is to grow and neighborhoods are to be built around it, transit service needs to occupy a much higher priority as far as public services go. That being the case, work stoppages, or any other foreseeable problems that could bring service to an end, should be prevented at all costs. We aren’t expected to tolerate electricity blackouts or boiled water alerts – and when these events do occur, there’s a demand for some kind of accountability from our leaders and the public at large as to why it was permitted to happen. We shouldn’t have to expect less when it comes to transit service.

No, I don't own a car.
Yes, I ride transit.
No, my license isn't suspended.
No, I've never had a DUI.
Yes, I can drive.
No, I don't have bad credit.
Yes, my vision is fine.
Yes, I do work everyday.
No, I don't work from home.
Yes, Los Angeles has a subway.
No, my license isn't suspended.
Yes, I do enjoy riding transit.
No, I don't hate cars.

Well, I'm glad we got that out of the way.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

I had quite a few errands to take care of this weekend, and with the weather being so nice I decided to use my bike for the trips I needed to make. All the major supermarkets, including my neighborhood Ralphs, are facing an employee strike right now, and since I didn't want to cross the picket lines I ended up riding down Santa Monica Blvd to my local Trader Joe's for groceries -- toting my purchases back on my panniers. Later on I went to the Rite-Aid drug store to pick up a few things, and then had lunch while I waited to get a hair cut. For a few moments this weekend -- usually while I was pedaling down a quiet side street while going from one place to another -- I felt like I was a kid again, biking to the corner store for some sweets or some item my mom needed for dinner. With so many people in Los Angeles trying to stay young, I wonder why more of them don't try running errands on their bikes. It's healthier than driving, and for those of us who grew up in neighborhoods rather than subdivisions where we could walk or bike to everything we wanted without asking our parents to drive us, it can bring back memories that sure make you feel younger.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Today was a busy day. I started my morning by taking the #304 bus down Santa Monica Blvd to the grand opening of a new affordable housing development in Chinatown. The developer of the complex is part of a partnering with Livable Places and another developer to build over 300 apartments and condominiums at the new Metro Gold Line station in Lincoln Heights. After the mornings events, I hopped back on the #304 at 11:30am to head back to Hollywood for a meeting of the Hollywood Business Improvement District at 12 noon. At a little past 1pm, the meeting was over, and I walked down Fountain from Wilcox to Vine, where I caught the #210 just as I got to the intersection, and rode it up to the Hollywood/Vine Red Line station. My luck was running high, because the train going downtown arrived just as I got to the platform, and I made it to the office a little after 1:45pm.

In the afternoon, some of my co-workers and I took a Flexcar out to Playa Vista, a huge new development near Marina del Rey, for a event and tour organized by the Westside Urban Forum. On the way back, I was dropped off at a LAUSD community meeting in Pico Union (albeit a bit late). After talking to a few people and getting the meeting materials, I walked up to 3rd St and after waiting 5 minutes, boarded a westbound #16 bus. I got off at La Brea, and again waited about 5 minutes before a #212 bus came to take me home. Whew. Good night.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

The organization I work for is expanding its office, and today a co-worker and I took the #38 bus from the Livable Places office down to the USC surplus warehouse to look for some office furniture. After a short wait, we boarded a southbound #38 bus, and after a 15 min trip, arrived practically at the doorstep of our destination. However, we ended up waiting 30 minutes for a bus on the return trip (the bus is supposed to run every 15 min). This seems to happen occasionally, and I am really starting to wonder what causes buses to end up MIA? I can understand running behind schedule, but there's no excuse for a bus to not show up. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity one day to ask someone at the MTA why this happens, and perhaps contribute some ideas on how to improve reliability.

Monday, October 06, 2003

I used a Flexcar for the first time yesterday. It was pretty cool. You call the automated line to make a reservation. Then when you get the car, you just hold your membership card over a sensor on the car's rear window to open the doors, and type in a PIN number on the dash before starting the car. The cars are brand new, fully loaded Honda Civic Hybrids, which are quite nice. I'd never driven a hybrid car before, so I was fascinated to watch the gauges that indicated when the car was charging, and listening for the engine to turn off when I stopped at a light. While there's no car close by to where I live (something that I'm working on with the Flexcar people), I'm think I'm going to make the trip downtown get a Flexcar for a day a couple times a month to run errands and make a few big shopping trips. If I get it on a Sunday (like I did this time), I can keep it overnight and drive to work on Monday morning.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

So last night was quite an adventure to say the least. I had decided to visit my friend at his place in Marina del Rey, which is about 13 miles away. I checked out the MTA trip planner, and figured out the best way to go was to take the #212 bus down to La Brea and Venice Blvd, and then hop on a #33 or #333 bus to Venice and Lincoln, where my friend said he'd pick me up. I caught the #212 going south at about 6:15pm. I had forgotten my portable music player, but that didn't matter, since the bus provided plenty of entertainment. Let's just say the Saturday night transit crowd basically consists of three types of people -- those going somewhere to have fun, those already having fun, and those who never stop having fun. I made it to Venice and La Brea at 6:35pm, and joined about 10 other people waiting for a westbound bus on Venice. Unfortunately, the next bus didn't show for almost 25 minutes (the trip planner had indicated a 6 minute wait), and was very crowded. That ride proved to have some other interesting characters, including one drunk man who, in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, was rather "playful" with some of the women on the bus. By the time I arrived at Venice and Lincoln at about 7:25pm, I had even been offered marijuana to buy.

The trip home was even more eventful. I had checked the trip planner before leaving my friend's place, and had thought that it had shown me that I could get back home the same way I had come. Since we'd been drinking, I asked my friend to drop me off at Venice and Lincoln in time to catch the 1:06am #33 bus. Well, the bus came on time, but it was so packed that the driver didn't even stop. The 15 or so people at the stop with me were pretty pissed, and I learned that the two previous buses had also not stopped, and some people had been waiting since before midnight. Luckily the next bus that came a few minutes before 1:30am did have room for us all, and I tried not to dose off on the bus so I wouldn't miss my stop. I made it to Venice and La Brea at about 2:00am, with no clue if the #212 was running. I decided to wait to see if a bus would come, and by 2:20am when I was ready to give up and hail a taxi, a southbound #212 passed by, which made me think I only needed to wait a little bit more for a northbound bus. This proved to be a bad decision. Three guys who passed by decided I'd be an easy target, and swung back to rob me. They were nice about it (they didn't point a gun at me or anything), and I tried to negotiate with them. But when they starting reaching for my wallet, I decided to skip any trouble, just open my wallet and let them take the money I had -- all $21 of it. They walked off gloating about their windfall and taunting me to "try and call the police". I walked up the block to a gas station, and grabbed a $12 cab ride home, pissed off at my assailants and at myself for being in such a stupid situation.

So, what lessons did I learn from my experience? Well, the first lesson is something I already know, but will be practicing a lot more. Don't be all alone at a dark bus station at 2:30am on a Saturday night in Los Angeles, or any big city. It's just asking for someone to mess with you. I could have walked up the block to the well-lit gas station, or any place with other people, and waited for the bus there. Secondly, I've learned that you need to be absolutely sure of the route you're taking, especially late at night. After rechecking the MTA trip planner, I realized I had taken the wrong way home, and that the #212 doesn't even run after 1:30am.

Next time I take the trip, it will hopefully be more successful and less costly.

Friday, October 03, 2003

This morning I biked to Urban Insight's office on my last day as an employee. On Monday, I'll start working full-time as a policy analyst for Livable Places. While I'm sad to be leaving Urban Insight after three great years (and the short commute on my bike), I'm very excited to be given the opportunity to contribute to an organization like Livable Places and its efforts bring about a paradigm shift in urban development towards sustainability here in Los Angeles.

In other news, the bike rack and grocery bag panniers I had ordered online arrived at my front door yesterday, and after a few failed attempts, successfully fastened them to my bike. I took a maiden voyage to the grocery store, and emerged with two bags of groceries (including some bulky items, i.e. a six pack of soda and a couple of bottles of wine). My purchases fit snuggly into the panniers and all the foodstuffs made the ride home safely. Now I can make even quicker trips to the grocery store and bring back bulky items without breaking a sweat.


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