The commodity of time

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The view from the back of the bus.

When one thinks of Los Angeles, public transportation is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, it’s probably one of the last things people associate with the city of angels.

When I set out to take one a bus in Los Angeles County, it was the first time I had ever done so. However, my experience seems to be typical of many Angelinos. Our reputation of being a people that drive are not unfounded.

In other cities like San Francisco, public transportation is an everyday reality that people of every socioeconomic class utilize. In a report by governing.com, the median income for all San Francisco commuters in 2012 was $47, 951 and the median income for public transportation commuters was $42, 230. There is not a large income gap between private and public commuters, which means that a large portion of San Franciscans take public transportation.

However, in Los Angeles the median income for all commuters is $27, 952 and the median income for public transportation is $15, 28, which is an income gap of $12, 671.

Part of the discrepancy between the two cities can be attributed to car ownership. According to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, in San Francisco there are an estimated 397, 238 registered vehicles. In Los Angeles, there are 6, 079, 057 registered vehicles. According to U.S Census data, the population is 837, 442 in San Francisco and 10, 017, 068 in Los Angeles. Less than half of the population of San Francisco has registered vehicle, but in Los Angeles more than half of the population has a registered vehicle.

Despite the large amount of Angelinos relying on vehicles, there are more than 3 million people living in Los Angles County that do not have a registered vehicle and therefore must rely on other means of getting around.

I decided to take a bus to one of my favorite study spots, Klatch Coffee in San Dimas, in order to experience what it would be like to do part of my routine without the luxury of my personal vehicle. Normally, the drive to Klatch Coffee takes me about eight minutes. However, the journey is not so simple by bus.

The wet trip.

The wet trip.

On a rainy, hailing morning I set out at 11:30 a.m. to catch my 11:40 a.m. bus at a stop right outside my apartment complex on campus at Azusa Pacific University. I looked up my journey on Google Maps and determined that I needed to get on the 281 South, ride it for 6 stops, get off, get on the 492 East, ride that for 12 stops and then walk a couple feet to the coffee shop. The trip was set to take one hour.

I missed the bus because I went to the wrong stop and had to catch the 12:11 p.m. bus instead. I noticed the other people shivering at the stop with me, trying to stay out of the hail and I realized how difficult it must be to have to ride all the time. Despite this inconvenience, I was surprised at how kind and respectful of one another my fellow riders were. They gave each other change when they were short, thanked the driver and helped older or disabled patrons get on and off the bus.

The first leg was brief, but comfortable. The driver was patient with me while I struggled to get my payment into the slot and forgave me when I accidently paid too little. I got off with no trouble and easily found the next stop where I had a brief wait for the next bus.

The second bus was packed with people and I struggled to find a seat. The other riders were a mixture of ages. The oldest looked about 80 and the youngest was a baby that slept on her mother’s shoulder for the duration of the trip. Almost all of them were Hispanic or African American.

When I finally arrived at the coffee shop after a little over an hour of travel, I had enough time to grab my latte before it was time to head back. This time I took a different route, the 284 North and then the 187 West, which went through Glendora instead of West Covina. There were fewer riders and the buses appeared to be in better condition due to lack of wear and tear. The journey was shorter as the driver made fewer stops and by 2:00 p.m. I was back in front of my apartment.

One of the buses serving the Foothill area.

One of the buses serving the Foothill area.

In Los Angeles, time is a commodity and the bus system takes time. A journey that normally takes me 16 minutes round trip took me more than 2 hours to complete on the bus system, including walking. I can imagine the toll it takes on people without other means of transport to get around the sprawling streets of L.A. Perhaps that’s why the people I encountered on the bus were more patient, kind and courteous than anyone I’ve ever encountered while merging on the freeway.

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