Rules of the road

During my time abroad, I grew to love public transportation and upon returning back to the States, I slipped right back into the normal routine of commuting, listening to the radio and being stuck in traffic on the 210, 605 and let’s be honest, every freeway in southern California.

After studying abroad in Europe where public transportation is nearly perfect compared to what is often thought to be offered in the Los Angeles County, I decided to fact-check the system myself.

Understanding the system was not difficult. Instead, it was surprisingly simple. Going online, I easily found an approximation of time, stop frequency and bus-stop location. I decided to board the bus during the morning rush hour with Old Town Pasadena as my destination.


Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons / Simon Shek. Thousands of LA residents rely on public transportation to get around their city daily. 

As scheduled, on the corner of Citrus Avenue and Baseline Road at 7:09 a.m., I paid my dues and walked up the bus’ steps, where riders were already busy on their phones, listening to music, sleeping, putting on make-up, balancing checkbooks, reading and talking with one another in their business professional attire.

Jennifer Perez, fairly new to the daily commute, has a positive experience on the bus, seeing improvements in her financial, relational and mental well-being.

Both Perez and her teenage daughter take the public transportation offered in their city, but come home with differing commuter and general transit experiences, providing stories to be shared around their dinner table.

“I am happy with it,” Perez said. “It saves me money, saves me aggravation. I come home and have more energy and I can [actually] make dinner.”


Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons / Simon Shek. For three dollars, the Foothill Transit will bring you from Azusa to the heart of Old Town Pasadena.

All too often, people point out the cons of taking the public transportation. However, not only was my experience easy, cheap and fairly efficient, but those on the commuter express prefer this method of transportation as it saves money, reduces stress and allows extra free time.

Differing from the Foothill Transit 690 were those on the 46-stop Foothill Transit 187.

Thomas Montoya, sat down directly across from me wearing a neon vest. Leaning over about to ask a handful of questions, I instead began to interpret a combination of hand gestures. Montoya then pulled out his iPad, asking to talk with me using the notes application, passing the tablet back and forth.

Unemployed for eight years, Montoya is a volunteer and lead tutor for American Sign Language and has had ups and downs during his 27-years on public transportation.

“The good is that riding the bus saves my gas money and car mileage,” Montoya reflected. “However, the bad is that sometimes drivers don’t realized that I’m deaf even though I tap my pass card with the ‘I’m deaf’ alert card. The bus drivers need to understand that ‘I’m deaf’ means I can’t hear their voice speaking to me and I can’t understand them.”

Montoya was frustrated with the issues he was having on public transportation and debated relinquishing his pass after a gang-related situation. Instead of giving up, he attempted to take action, but unfortunately his efforts went unnoticed.

“I have suggested that the bus company add Foothill Transit service to the Highland Park area many times, but they never take my suggestion, saying that they would send my suggestion on to their planning department,” Montoya wrote. “I don’t feel they would respond to any of my future suggestions.”

As most who ride the bus are attracted to the low cost in comparison of lofty prices a car requires, Andrew Espindola, student at Pasadena City College, had other reasons.

“The main reason was that I was able to get a reduced bus pass from my college,” Espindola said holding his TAP card. “For $30, I can ride around on any metro bus or Foothill transit and other buses for the entire semester.”

Usually, the most important factor in taking public transportation, or any transportation, is efficiency.

“Taking the bus has kind of been an exhausting process for some reason,” Espindola said, riding the bus over two hours a day. “Sometimes it [is] a lonely experience… nobody really wants to talk to each other and you have people yelling at each other.”

There was a balance of peace and chaos that existed while I sat on the bus with nothing to do but understand the everyday experiences of thousands of LA residents.

Municipal services are a regular part of life for people of all ages throughout the world and yet there seems to be a lack of awareness of the services available for those in the APU community. Foothill Transit, the largest public operation in the county, transports a ridership of 48,000 a week and approximately 14 million a year, with a one-way ticket costing $1.75.


Courtesy of Foothill Transit. The most recent map of routes and lines Foothill Transit offers.

After over three hours on the transit, I was able to see the efficiency of the system and the true cost riders pay. My perspective on transportation has changed and I am now more willing to take these municipal services, especially as efforts continue to finish the gold line construction.

Commutes look entirely different for each individual. Instead of calculating the average cost that a rider saves by using public services, I encourage you to calculate what you could be saving by riding the Foothill Transit here.


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