Busway facing uphill battle

first_imgCommuters in Los Angeles say they would love to take public transit if only … the buses came more often … the subway took them where they wanted to go … the system was faster than their cars. As the $330 million Orange Line opens this month, commuters are sizing up whether the busway – with its promise of a 40-minute ride across the San Fernando Valley – will be good enough to draw them in, or whether it will come up short. Many are intrigued by the chance to leave their cars at home. But many others complain that the busway will not be not fast enough, comfortable enough or convenient enough to get them out from behind the steering wheel. “Why would anybody with a car want to take that, even with the cost of gasoline?” said John Nakahama, a retired architect in West Hills. “I won’t do it myself. I’m not even curious to try that. It’s a bus.” But West Hills resident Barry Seybert – tired of shelling out $70 a week on gas for the 70-mile round trip he makes downtown every weekday – plans to give it a chance. “This is something I want to try,” said Seybert, who works in the entertainment industry and also is a member of his neighborhood council. “If you’re not driving, you can relax – even if it is longer,” he said. “My judgment’s not in yet because I haven’t tried it, but I’m looking forward to it.” And if ever the time was ripe for mass transit, this would be it. Angelenos’ love affair with their cars has been put to the test as soaring gas prices crimp their budgets and mounting congestion makes it increasingly tough to get around sprawling Southern California. Transportation experts warn that taking public transit isn’t quicker or easier than driving – which is why New Yorkers average a 38-minute one-way commute while Angelenos enjoy a 29-minute trip. Using public transit is just different. “It’s kind of like if you drive to work or you walk to work. You change your judgment of what was a good trip,” said Alan Pisarski, author of the book “Commuting in America,” and a former official with the U.S. Department of Transportation. “If people have grown up with transit, they perhaps have a little more faith in it. But people who have become accustomed to the automobile, it’s hard for them.” For all the buzz about the innovative busway and the substantial investment of public funds, there’s plenty of grumbling about the Valley getting shortchanged with construction of a busway rather than commuter rail or a subway. After all, it will take 40 minutes to get across the floor of the Valley – about as long as it takes to drive the distance on the Ventura Freeway. Plus, you’ve got to spend time getting to a station and connecting to your final destination. Those are the kinds of hassles that sour Angelenos, who say it’s easier just to climb in the car and drive, even if that means sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Transit advocate Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition, has cooled to the Orange Line after taking a test ride and seeing how it will connect with the rest of the MTA’s bus system. “It’s a herky-jerky ride,” he said. “Would you drive a Hyundai or an Acura? People generally aspire to get something nicer, better, an upgrade.” Buses have long suffered a historic bias in society, ever since the car became king in the 1950s. Buses were often seen as what was left for everyone else, often dividing along racial lines. In Los Angeles, buses are mostly used by the working poor and minorities. Trains, though, have a sleek ride and nostalgic attraction that wins over many fans. But trains don’t always win over passengers from their cars. The Metro Gold Line to Pasadena has been slow to gain riders. It makes the 14-mile route in 34 minutes, somewhat faster than the Orange Line will go the same distance. Former Los Angeles transit official Tom Rubin said at an average speed of 20 mph, light-rail trains wouldn’t be much faster than the Orange Line’s buses, which will go 21 mph. “I got news for ya,” he said. “If you’ve got problems with buses, you would have the same problems with rail lines.” As for those who claim they would use mass transit if it involved a train: “There’s a technical word for those people. They’re called drivers.” The Valley’s not getting a train anytime soon – having lost that chance to neighborhood opposition and budget cuts nearly a decade ago. Seybert is among those who would have preferred a train, saying the valley got “cheated.” “They put all these rails all over town. We get shorted,” he said. Still, he’s going to give the busway a shot, hoping it’ll ease the commute and save some bucks going into the gas tank. “I plan on trying it,” he said. “Even if I do it a couple of times a week, I’m ahead of the curve.” Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more