Public Transit: Driving for a Better Commute

Driving from Irvine to Los Angeles is hardly an enjoyable experience. Even when traffic is light, it is tough to make the drive to L.A. in an hour, and when there is rush hour traffic, one can generally kiss a big chunk of an afternoon goodbye.

However, perhaps the only thing worse than getting to L.A. by car is getting to L.A. without a car. Although a driver may not want to sacrifice part of his or her day getting to L.A., for a pedestrian living in Orange County, the journey to L.A. essentially is their day.

For instance, when traveling to L.A., a UC Irvine student will first have to rely on the bus system of the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA). This will turn into a task in itself, as the $272 million drop in revenue projected by OCTA over the next five years will be passed on to the customer. From there, the student then takes a train on the Metrolink and then another bus or train on the Metro Red Line to get into the actual city. While this sounds simple enough, the wait times between trains and buses have a tendency to drag on, and that combined with the times of the actual rides can eat up hours of a person’s day.

In short, if you plan to go to L.A. as an Irvine pedestrian, better make it a weekend trip or longer, as making this travel more than once is hardly worth the effort.

In such a car-centric culture as Orange County, it may often be difficult for people to see why public transportation should be enhanced. Likewise, because public transportation has been continually deemphasized with the growth of the interstate highway system and auto industry in the 1950s, it is difficult to imagine that the situation can improve.

Yet as long as pedestrians are out there, the call for progress should not end. How pedestrians choose to go about this may vary. For instance, the petition/movement “My Commute Sucks” has been one approach taken to combat shortcomings on a national scale. The petition’s use of social media such as Flickr and Facebook makes it have just about as much credibility as any online petition. That is to say that even though online petitions can have some impact on the real world, these cases are few and far between. For this reason, while signing the petition may be a start, it should not be the end for a pedestrian wanting to make a difference.

Last November, California voters took a huge step forward when Proposition 1A was passed, laying the foundation for the construction of a high-speed train system. While the goal for this plan may not be realized until 2030 (and realistically later), segments of it, such as a route between Anaheim and San Francisco, are within a much closer reach.

In fact, the importance of public transportation rests in the segments rather than the whole. For example, though many may not see a reason to improve public transportation, for other segments of the population ranging from some UC service workers to license-less teenagers, public transportation is a necessity. When poor public transportation gets in the way of otherwise willing workers performing their jobs, the whole is then affected, as these workers often are the building blocks upon which higher-paid positions rest. Just because a person may not work directly with a service worker does not mean they are unaffected by the work that this service worker performs.

Yet, as important as it is for car owners to call for the improvement of public transportation, this burden more realistically rests on the shoulders of those in constant need of this service. In Southern California, it may be expected that these individuals are largely California natives who only have the state’s public transportation to hold up as any sort of model.

However, such individuals should not be limited by state borders and should not be afraid to ask for more than what the state has previously provided. For example, as mentioned earlier, as much as it is a pain to get from Irvine to L.A., at least once a rider is in L.A. they have the Metro Red Line to rely on. Yet the usefulness of this system is an anomaly that only allows riders to get to specific parts of L.A. If one wishes to get to more specific parts of Anaheim, Fullerton or for whatever reason Lancaster, they are mostly either left relying on unreliable bus systems or are out of luck altogether.

Thinking outside of state borders, take for comparison the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). The MBTA is far from perfect, as this month’s cell phone-related trolley crash showed. According to The Boston Globe, the crash has cost an estimated $9.6 million in trolley damage alone, which does not include whatever payment will be awarded to the roughly 50 individuals injured in the crash. For all its faults, the MBTA has train lines comparable to the Metro Red Line that are not limited to the state’s most metropolitan cities as the Metro Red Line is limited to L.A. Instead, these train lines extend beyond Boston and go into specific parts of less metropolitan areas such as Malden, Quincy and Revere.

Whether raising your voice about public transportation by signing an online petition, voting or employing another method, every bit helps because without action, your commute will continue to suck.

Daniel Johnson is a fourth-year literary journalism and film and media studies double-major. He can be reached at dcjohnso@uci.edu.