Mass Transit…Dangerous or Dreamy? Depends on Who You Ask

2009 August 20

by Branko Mac

So I’m on a business trip in Los Angeles, Santa Monica to be precise, staying at an expensive hotel in an expensive area.  It’s Tuesday, noontime, and I want to get back to the airport.  Taxis cost approximately $4.00 per mile.  The taxi to the hotel on a Sunday afternoon took almost an hour and cost me about $50.  So, I’m thinking, the hell with that – I’m going to take a cheaper route back.

The concierge, who was not an Anglo wuss, was flummoxed when I inquired about taking mass transit to the airport.  He s-s-stammered, seemingly afraid for my very safety.  The fact that I’m a big guy from New York in his 30’s did nothing to assuage the concierge’s fear.  Nevertheless, he reluctantly searched out an option for me, which took him an astonishing amount of time considering that he’s the concierge in a business hotel.  One would think that he already knows about little things like … how to get to the airport!

His co-worker was similarly concerned about my safety.  Great – two local residents think that I’m out of my mind to take the bus.  Should I heed their advice?

After much hemming and hawing, the concierge produced a route for me.  Walk a few blocks to the shopping district, catch the Rapid-3 bus, and that will take me out to the airport.

“OK, I’ll do that.”

He looked at me as if I were the new private in a war movie, the one who just joined the platoon but is going to get killed in a senseless explosion, and then told me, sotto voce, that he’s had nothing but bad experiences on the bus.

So, after lunch I did take that bus.  Being the express bus on the route, it stopped only twelve times over a distance of 9 miles.  The people on the bus were just fine.  Nothing unusual for a New Yorker.  Nobody was rich, but nobody was a thug, either.  Just regular folks from all walks of life, trying to get on with their life, the same as me.

That bus did get me to the airport, where I had a flawless transfer to the free terminal shuttle bus.  Both drivers were friendly and helpful, getting this tourist to his plane on time.

Total cost: $1.00.  Total travel time: ten minutes faster at the start of rush hour than the taxi cab on the freeway on a weekend.

So, let’s think about that … In Los Angeles, I can pay $50 in a taxi to get stuck on a freeway to nowhere on a weekend.  Or I can take a $1.00 metro bus and accomplish the task faster than in the private car, at the beginning of rush hour (!), simply by sticking to city streets.

It’s kind of a no-brainer, huh?

The reluctance to take advantage of this simple solution to a simple problem explains why we have a long way to go if we’re going to “green” this society.   How can grown men be afraid to take a bus in their hometown, whereas the outsider finds it fast, cheap and convenient?  That’s absurd.

Get on the bus.  You might like it.

Oh, and I’ll see you on the subway when I get back to New York.

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