Los Angeles Transportation Finally Shows Promise for the Future

| by Will Hagle

FYF Fest, an annual two day, genre-spanning music festival in Los Angeles, took place this past weekend. The 2014 installment of the festival featured a new and improved location in Exposition Park, as well as a new partnership with seasoned festival organizers Goldenvoice. Although the festival did have some unfortunate complications with long entry lines and limited access to the indoor stage in the L.A. Sports Arena during the first day, one thing went surprisingly smoothly for a highly-trafficked festival held in downtown Los Angeles: transportation. 

Exposition Park is accessible via the Metro’s Expo Line, which was opened in 2012 and runs from downtown to Culver City. The second phase of construction on the Expo Line, expected to begin in 2015, will extend the route to Santa Monica, providing a long overdue rail link between downtown and the beach community. 

Although the Metro has a somewhat negative stigma attached to it in car-loving Los Angeles, the scene at Exposition Park this Saturday and Sunday would showed promise for the mode of transportation’s future. The festival was offering free bottles of water to anyone who presented a TAP Card (fare for the Metro) upon arrival, advocating for an ease in vehicular congestion and parking problems around the property. 

It was obvious that many L.A. residents were using their city’s public transportation system for the first time, as there was extra staff on hand to direct crowds to the proper locations and the conductors made repeated announcements regarding train protocol that became a slight annoyance to the train’s regular commuters. Still, an event such as FYF could be enough to encourage Angelenos to take the train more often. 

While a one-off festival such as FYF may be a statistical anomaly in terms of ridership numbers, the amount of monthly Metro riders has been significantly increasing since 2000. The Red/Purple line, which provides service to the Valley, Hollywood, Koreatown and several downtown locations, had 1,542,690 monthly riders in January 2000, compared to 4,198,742 in March 2013. As of July 2014, the Expo Line had reached 863,910 monthly riders. An interactive visualization of the Metro’s ridership growth is available via this website created by Lawrence Sims. 

As the Metro has gained in popularity, so have car-sharing services such as Uber, Sidecar and Lyft. The latter company had a huge marketing presence outside Exposition Park on Saturday and Sunday, heavily campaigning against the L.A. Metro. Company representatives passed out cards with promo codes for cheaper rides, and flyers describing the service were boldly posted directly on top of the Metro and bus maps at the stations adjacent to the park. 

Car-sharing services such as Lyft do provide a cheap alternative to taxis and an innovative use of technology, and any service that makes it easier and more convenient to navigate a city such as Los Angeles should be applauded. It is hard to justify the direct opposition to the city-provided public transportation, however, especially because Lyft and Uber do not solve the problem of congestion or reduce the risk of traffic-related accidents. 

Automobiles are more dangerous than is often discussed, accounting for a high rate of deaths in the U.S. as well as pollution and congestion. Los Angeles was recently reported as the city with the second-most amount of pedestrian traffic deaths, with 99 fatalities in 2012 compared to New York’s 127 that same year. 

The Metro is not a completely safe alternative, as it has also caused several injuries and deaths or been used in suicides throughout the years. In 1999, for instance, L.A.’s Blue Line caused 50 accidents that killed 10 people and injured 40. As the L.A. Times notes, however, most of these accidents involved motor vehicles. 

Lyft and Uber do have the advantage of being private companies, able to roll out new services quickly and adjust prices according to the market and competition. The painfully slow bureaucracy of city government can make achieving quality public transportation seem an impossible feat. Judging by the crowds streaming off the Expo Line at Expo/Vermont on Saturday and Sunday, as well as those driving themselves, taking the bus or using their smartphones to call an amateur or professional driver, Angelenos are finally starting to have a choice when it comes to transportation. The best, safest, cheapest and most convenient methods of transportation vary depending on an individual basis, but at least there are options.