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Riding Along in My Automobile, No Baby beside Me at the Wheel

by V (writer), Venice!, December 08, 2006

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Since I can remember, wanderlust has coursed violently through my veins. So it was an aggressively adventurous seventeen year old girl who stepped aboard the Paris Metro for the first time, with no particular place to go. As the spider’s web network of the Parisian metro spun itself to the farthest reaches of the city, I let it deliver me to the threshold of experiences that would become the fabric of my life - a particular favorite was disembarking at Montmartre at dusk, bottle of wine in hand, with a short meander up the hill to sit atop the steps of Sacré Cœur, and watch the sun set over Paris. But all of this was simply a bonus. Riding the metro was what I really wanted to do.

To this day, whenever I arrive in a new city, I hit the public transport system. If you want to get down to the nitty gritty of a city and have it reveal its true self to you, there’s nothing like a few rides on a general public, commuter train or bus to show you a city’s personality and its repertoire of people. So it was this way that I befriended the city of Los Angeles.

Each morning, after I tether my beach cruiser to whatever pole is available and board my “Rapid” bus from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills, I become one of the 152,435 Angelinos who commute to work on public transport. It is only a small portion really of the 1,690,316 people in the city of Los Angeles (not county), who are of working age and work.

My insistence on bus riding is a constant source of surprise and then bewilderment for my work colleagues, acquaintances and most people I meet here. Because I am a foreigner, I find that the common misconception held by many Angelinos that public transport is for those fallen on hard times, foreign college students and the help, is lost on me. Fortunately for me, this stigma holds about as much weight in my world as a Rubik’s Cube in a rabbit's let’s say.

In a city where only 152,435 of the working populous commute on public transport, only 53,386 walk, only 9,052 ride a bicycle and only 220,408 carpool, leaving a small portion who use other, extraneous methods and a vast majority who drive to work alone in a motor vehicle or on a motorcycle; it is fantastic to note that last year, use of public transportation actually grew 23%, twice as fast as car use of 13%. Even better news, the city of Los Angeles is leading the way in the national trend in increase.

When I first arrived in the City of Angels, I felt an old, familiar, teenage rebellion rising in me. I did not like that the city seemed to be dictating that I drive. I don't like being told what to do. And I don't like thinking I have little option. The way it had been explained to me, there was not really an operable public transport system here. People led me to believe that if I even attempted to catch a bus, I would find that I would need a packed lunch and a good book to while away the hours I’d spend waiting for it and then, it was likely that I would disembark on Mars. They were obviously misinformed. Other than a dangerous experimental stage I went through early on in the piece, catching buses randomly, without reference, boarding anything that appeared to be heading in my general direction, I have found the bus service here to be nothing but efficient.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transport Authority’s web-site, www.mta.net offers access to any information you could need to set off on a public transport excursion. Easy to use, you punch in the co-ordinates of where you want to leave from and go to and the time you need to arrive at your destination and voi la, your entire route, including changes and alternatives listed neatly for you to choose from. It even tells you how far your journey is, how long it will take, what the fare is and what it would have cost you in gas. And from my personal experience, the bus has stayed within five minutes of its scheduled time every time.

In a world that will soon enough no longer be able to sustain the 600 million motor vehicles that exist, with a current projected increase of 30% over the next decade, the USA leads the world in car ownership. There are 776 cars for every 1000 people and approximately half of all the petroleum refined in the U.S.A. is used for motor vehicles and their infrastructure. It is of course necessary for us to be mobile, but the resulting impact on the environment is great. In the U.S.A. alone, the transport sector accounts for 30% of our total greenhouse gas emissions.

There are many countries all over the world where public transport systems are the primary method of transport. In cities such as London, Tokyo, Madrid and Paris, a public transport commuting community, is as commonplace as the palm trees that line the boulevards of Los Angeles. There is no reason that more Angelinos can’t be using public transport and/ or some other alternative to private motor vehicle.

Government conspiracies and gripes with bureaucrats aside, the existing system already works. There is much room for improvement (like introducing electric or alternate fuel vehicles), but the system works enough to be using it regularly right now. I know because I and hundreds of thousands of others do it every day. I ride my bike, I walk and I catch the bus. Occasionally I take my petrol guzzling car.

If you can’t afford or can’t be swayed to buy a hybrid car or 100% electric (see www.littleradioev.com), you could perhaps start with some baby steps toward improving the situation. Pick a day of the week (not just weekends) and set it strictly aside as ‘No Car’ day. If every Angelino left their car at home one day a week, it would make a very real difference. Try increasing the number of 'No Car' days down the line. See your city from a different angle out the window of a bus. You will soon find that you have an hour and a half in your day to yourself to read, think, write (I wrote these very words you are reading on the 720 to Santa Monica), knit a scarf or have a conversation with a willing stranger. Save the world and reconnect with the citizens of your city.

What started out, so long ago as the eccentricity of a teenage girl, has grown into something so much more. I still ride the bus because I am curious about the world and the people in it, but now I know that I have to ride the bus if I want there to still be a world in which to continue my curiosity.


About the Writer

V is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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6 comments on Riding Along in My Automobile, No Baby beside Me at the Wheel

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By Ariel on December 08, 2006 at 11:36 am
Great article! I completely agree with you. I myself come from Paris where cars are useless. I loved taking the subway. Yes, it's dirty, often crowded, often on strike but it's a great way have a feel of what the city is about, to connect with the heart of Paris, both literally and figuratively. This is something I felt in NYC too and I definitely miss this feeling in L.A.
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By Noa on December 11, 2006 at 12:31 am
Awesome article! I like the stats. and talk about the world tied into the personal experience. Great writer with a point!
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By mattjosh on January 04, 2007 at 02:42 pm
Great article, and a perfect answer to a column by Mariel Garza I caught in the Daily News a few months ago that came to the complete opposite conclusion. I had a dissenting point of view to express to her, because of my time in Vancouver, living happily with no car for almost 4 years. Something I thought impossible from a childhood in LA.
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By Hassassin on January 09, 2007 at 06:03 pm
This is my favorite article of yours (although admittedly, I had wanted to write a similar article because I've been taking the bus for about six months now). There are a multitude of experiences and perspectives to be gained by taking MTA. Most LA drivers would be surprised to find that buses are not driverless ghost trains that should be cut off whenever necessary, there's actually someone behind the wheel. Well done!
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By rictusette on January 13, 2007 at 01:16 am
very pleased to see this article. a native and lover of l.a., i am happy to see any attention given to potentially healthy changes for our city. well-written and simple, clean and i like the stats as well. neat job, in my layman´s opinion.
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By sairajeswari on March 05, 2007 at 12:22 pm
This site delals with extraneous methods and a vast majority who drive to work alone in a motor vehicle or on a motorcycle; it is fantastic Riding Along in My Automobile, No Baby beside Me at the Wheel. automobile
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