Metro Gold Line Foothill extension convenience attracts new customers

Like many residents of the San Gabriel Valley, I watched as progress slowly marched forward on the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension. The new light-rail line extended service from downtown Los Angeles to Azusa, from its previous terminus in Pasadena. Eventually, the Gold Line will run further east to Claremont, on Phase 2b of the extension.

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The Metro Gold Line Extension mapped.

I was excited. I had used the light rail in my hometown of Denver to get to downtown on a number of occasions. Maybe I could take this to my internship in Monrovia rather than sit in traffic on the 210—Interstate 210, for those unfamiliar with the California way of referring to every freeway as “the.” I wasn’t the only one that wanted relief on the freeways, many people in the San Gabriel Valley pushed for the nearly $1 billion extension, despite Metro rail lines never reaching so far into suburban bedroom communities before. It’s a new demographic, with a stretch of average to above average income areas being serviced continually, rather than the lower income, high-population-density areas that previously received rail service, according to the LA Times.

The plan was to leave from the Azusa Downtown station on Saturday morning at 10, for the 50-minute journey to Union Station, planning to walk to the (apparently) famous Olvera Street nearby the station and have lunch before returning home on the Gold Line.

My Girlfriend and I ended up catching the 10:15 train, although not without hassle, as I struggled to figure out how to use the machine to pay for the damn thing and almost missed the train.

The trained zipped out of the station headed south (well west, but it’s considered a north-south route) toward Irwindale and we took our seats.

I hear a recording repeat something about using a tapping card when boarding the train. My girlfriend hears it too, but we decide just to ignore it, after all, we paid.

Another young couple came and sat across from us as the train pulled out of the Arcadia station. We got to talking and found out they were doing the same thing we were.

“We just wanted to check things out. We normally just avoid going in to LA for fun,” Alecia Waters said. “Between traffic and parking, it’s not worth it to drive in.”

The four of us represent the type of passengers the Gold Line is hoping to attract. Metro projects 13,500 boarding a day from the extension by 2035.

“Part of why I’m doing this is to see how long it would take to get to the Wilshire and Western Station,” Waters’ boyfriend, Matt Lawson, explained. “I work near there, and the commute is normally over an hour, sometimes closer to two.”

We arrived at Union Station and headed down the steps, into the arms of fare inspectors. My girlfriend and I both looked at each other afraid that we were gong to be sent to Metro jail for not tapping our TAP card when boarding. The fare inspector took my card, tapped it, and handed it back. No Metro jail for me.

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The concourse at Union Station in LA.

We set out for Olvera Street. We looked lost apparently, as someone tried to offer us directions. We thought we knew where we were going and declined the generosity.

“Thought” is the key word, as we went the wrong direction proving just how novice we were at taking public transportation. I whipped out my phone and got pointed in the right direction.

While walking, I thought to myself how nice it was to not have to worry about driving unfamiliar streets while having directions barked at me searching for parking.

We finish the short walk to Olvera Street, enjoy an overpriced lunch at what turned out to be a tourist trap, and return to the station to catch the train back to Azusa.

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We made sure to use our TAP cards on the way back.

On the way back, I talk to a Jose Iglesias, a welder who works in Pasadena. He takes a bus to Union Station and catches the Gold Line to the South Pasadena exit.

“I’ve already noticed an increase in riders on weekday mornings coming into LA,” Iglesias says. “I’m thankful that I go against the rush.”

As the train headed back toward Azusa, I noticed a man with a push-cart full of bags. After a couple of stations, I asked him what he was doing.

“I go to the Trader Joe’s near the Sierra Madre station. I used to take the [Foothill Transit] 187 to get there, but now I take the train,” said Joe Worthington, a retiree living in Azusa.

“At my age, it’s easier than driving,” he explained.

I got off at the Azusa Downtown Station and walked the short block to my apartment.

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The Azusa Downtown Station

Despite the mistakes that came with my first time using the rail, it was easy and convenient. Most importantly to Metro, it appealed to a variety of people in a way that buses can not.

Morning Commute on the 187

It is 7:45 in the morning, on an abnormal Tuesday, as I awaited the Foothill Transit 187 bus on the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Alameda Avenue. The abnormality was not due to a change of the bus schedule or its occupants necessarily, but rather in my typical weekday morning choice of transportation. On my ride on the 187 towards Pasadena, I encountered students, 9 to 5 workers and small families.

I sat at the bus stop, fiddling with loose change of $1.25 that   would soon be my fare to ride. As the bus rolled to a quick stop, I stepped into a world of travelers from all different socioeconomic, religious and cultural backgrounds.

As I scanned the bus to find a seat, I saw a small child who sat quietly on his mother’s lap. Sitting with them was a young boy-he must not have been much older than the other child.  With sudden urgency, the small child climbed across them to press the requesting-to-stop button for the next route stop.

“Why did the bus driver take us all the way here this time?” the child asked.

“Because last time, we missed our stop,” his mother replied. “This is the right one, so we don’t have to walk as far this time.”

Facetiously the boy responded, commenting about how her short-term memory loss affected their last bus  experience.

“Yes, sometimes.” She chuckled quietly as she hurried both children off the bus.

The  Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) can be attributed for the long walks from stop to stop. The LACMTA decides specific bus stops and stop spacing. According to metro.net, distances between stops vary on ridership density in major commercial districts versus outlying areas. The LACMTA  ideally wants stops to be as far apart as possible without too much passenger inconvenience.

The number of travelers began to increase as the bus made its way through parts of Irwindale, Duarte and Monrovia. The bus that started off with no more than 10 travelers, soon became filled with close to 25 passengers.

According to the Foothill Transit website more than 48,000 people weekly are served by any of the 36 local and express transit routes.

I noticed an older rider and several others beginning to shift over one seat to make room for oncoming passengers. Following suit of the man in business attire directly adjacent to me, I too slide from the aisle to the window seat.

The practicing 81-year-old lawyer and legal counselor, George Turner, recently started commuting to and from work via public transit. Turner shared that the reason for transitioning from commuting via car to public transit, was caused by the suspension of his license. Five months ago, he was diagnosed with acute diabetes, resulting in the attorney’s ability and driving privileges taken away.

“Sometimes the bus is quiet, and others it’s a zoo,” Turner said as the increasing number of individuals came aboard.

Although the bus has been a necessity  in Turner’s daily life,  its timeliness is not always reliable. In several instances, he has had to wait longer than five minutes after the bus was scheduled to arrive. I was able to witness the delays for myself during the ride to Pasadena and back home. I waited an extra seven minutes passed the expected arrival time.

“I’ve waited up to an hour and a half for the bus,” explained Turner. “The bus companies just don’t give a damn.”

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View of the bus on route back to Azusa 

On the commute back home, I met a young math student by the name of Dave Beacher from Monrovia, Ca. Beacher takes the 187 almost daily for his commute to both Pasadena City College (PCC) and Citrus College (Citrus) to cut down on financial spending.

“I am riding the bus this semester because of the way my [school] schedule is laid out,” stated Beacher. “It ended being a lot cheaper for me for gas and avoiding having to pay parking fees for both campuses.”

Beacher traded his full time work position at a local movie theater to become a full time student, taking 21 units per semester. Without the consistent income, Beacher found that riding the bus to and from both campuses cut spending tremendously, as well as avoiding the 210 fwy traffic.

“It’s pretty feasible actually than driving to PCC and Citrus,” said Beaher. “And if transportation [in Los Angeles] was more effective and reliable than I would totally always use the bus.”
My entire trip cost me $2.50, less than the average gas price in Los Angeles at $2.74 per gallon. This average is taken from the Daily Fuel Gauge Report for March 15, 2016.

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The end of my journey at Foothill Blvd and San Gabriel Ave

Beacher is not the only rider who can not give up driving completely. According to the LA Times, for nearly a decade transit ridership has continued to decline despite efforts from the LACMT to encourage people to partake in the transit system. The decrease is due to the amount of time it takes to travel versus driving.

Despite decline, riders like Turner and Beacher choose to focus on the benefits offered by the public transit, whether the 187 is the only option or not.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s So Easy..for Some People

photo by me

photo courtesy of Stephanie Fuentes

I sat there clenching to the silver cold bar that stood cemented into the long stretched mobile that was able to bring so many different people together. Despite what seems like a place to unite people, I was left feeling sheepish about where to look to.

Looking out the window got tiring and for someone with a weaker stomach, not the most enjoyable position. Unfortunately, if I looked straight ahead, I was stuck with the awkward view of the person sitting directly in front of me where a game of ‘don’t look into the person’s eyes’ begins to play between the both of you.

You must also know the silent rule of not sitting next to someone you don’t know..you just don’t do it. One space per person is the comfortable rule and is socially accepted. So then you would find my confusion when a man decides to sit right next to me..amateur. Of course came my next challenge, how to talk to someone on the bus.

If ever experiencing a bus ride in Los Angeles,  the only sound playing includes the pre recorded voice stating, “For your safety please watch your step while exiting” at every single stop, a couple who have a hard time controlling their voice volume, and in common cases, the sound of someone’s headphones playing for more than one audience member. I was lucky enough to witness the unexpected wake up call of a poor man in the back, whose sleep was disrupted by the loud engine of the bus on a rainy day. The humorous moment shared with all the passengers in the backseat reinstated another unspoken rule, don’t fall asleep on the bus.

Still, I was eager to hear the opinions of my fellow bus riders. Looking around my choices of participants included a good amount of college students, elderly, and minority workers.

I grabbed the attention of Glendale Community College student, Abbey.  She expressed her long hours on the bus using it as her priority means of transportation for work and school Monday through Friday. Although she was grateful for the public service she commented, ” I hate planning my schedule around it, the limited bus times make it really restrictive for when I have to leave everywhere.” An older gentlemen who stood to exit the bus stopped and turned to me, agreeing with the opinions of Abbey before stepping out onto the street.

photo by me

photo courtesy of Stephanie Fuentes

After sitting on the bus for approximately 90 minutes, I arrived at my destination. Many Angelino’s are familiar with the wonderful smells that arise from The Grand Central Market. Walking into the rainy March afternoon, I took cover under the roofs of the market just like many others. Sitting down with my milkshake, I began conversation with two workers who stood waiting for their next customer.

David Walker and miss Gloria Vasquez are active participants of public transportation. With their job sitting in one of the most well known parts of downtown L.A, they both agreed public transportation was the most ideal means of transportation. Walker explains, “where my house is, I am lucky enough the bus stop is right out in front so getting to work is so simple and easy. I save so much money on gas and parking.” Gloria Vasquez seemed to be on the same page with her equally convenient route to work from home, “taking public transportation honestly isn’t bad at all. It’s so convenient because I only have to take one bus and if I ever want to drink and not worry about driving, you see a lot of people just take public transportation.”

“It’s super easy to understand what bus to take because they all keep rotating the same loop.” – Vasquez

Miss Vasquez was right, planning a trip using strictly public transportation was not as scary as I had anticipated. The Metro has made it  uncomplicated to plan a trip with their Metro Trip Planner conveniently placed on the home page. After enjoying my time at Grand Central Market, it was time to head back home.

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photo courtesy of Stephanie Fuentes

For this, I had downloaded the Transit App onto my Iphone for no charge.  This application was my ticket to routing back to home sweet home. I inputted my final destination and gave myself a 50 minute wait time to walk around the city and find the final bust stop home.

I decided to begin my search for the final stop by following my small navigator as it lit up the closer to the destination I got. When my blue little navigator hit my target I looked up in horror to see a construction block off and a sign spelling in big bold letters ‘D-E-T-O-U-R’.

This began my long inflicting anxiety of what would have been my 20 minute ride home, into a 2 hour search party for the final bus stop. I rounded the giant green fence enclosing the construction corner only to realize my navigator kept pointing me back. Figuring a new stop could be at any corner, I continued forward. I reached an opening to the metro and rode the escalators into the dark underground station leaving the noise of traffic behind me. Arriving to a map of the colored bus lines, I gawked trying to find something familiar that would lead me back home.

Retreating back up to the streets, I was welcomed to honking buses and crowds of commuters practically running over each other in fear of not making it on their correct bus. After realizing grabbing someone’s attention in this chaos would prove almost impossible, I moved back to the streets in search of another bus stop without the assistance of my transit app due to the wonderful timing of having no service.

Reaching a new bus stop, I went back to my application to make sure I would make it onto the correct bus. A kind gentleman who noticed my confusion stopped to help. He pointed to the correct street to find my way back saying, “You really do get the hang of things after your first few try’s don’t worry. L.A makes it easy, you will always find your way back.” Before getting his name he hurriedly left for his bus ride waving goodbye as he stepped in to find a seat.

Although my mishap may be all too familiar with someone new to the hundreds of

photo courtesy of Stephanie Fuentes

photo courtesy of Stephanie Fuentes

routes and confusing map equations. Listening to the history of others shined a light on Los Angeles public transportation. Los Angeles has seemed to please it’s commuter population with the reliability, convenience, and ease of transportation. I hope to join these selected few and one day help the new girl on the streets.

 

Public transportation: a benefit or a burden?

Passengers on a bus. Courtesy of Ryan McGuire.

Passengers on a bus. Courtesy of Ryan McGuire.

The first thing I learned on my big public transportation foray in Southern California is that you can spend more money than necessary if you don’t play your cards right. My first bus fare to get to the train station will forever be a mystery because I put two dollar bills in, and upon my expectant expression, the driver asked, “You expecting change or something?” which garnered laughter from other passengers.

My initial attempt to blend in did not fare well for me.

My most recent public transportation adventures were on Chinese subways in the heart of Shanghai. There it seems everyone, from schoolchildren to businessmen and foreigners, uses this method to get around on a day-to-day basis without a second thought.

Through my travels, domestic and abroad, I’ve realized public transport is viewed differently around the world and even in different parts of California. What is a godsend for some is a burden for others.

For this trip specifically, I wanted to experience traveling from Azusa Pacific University to the University of California Riverside (UCR). Although ridership has been on the decline in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas in recent years, it’s not so around the nation.

According to a report by the American Public Transportation Association, public transit ridership in the United States in 2013 was the highest it has been since 1956. Americans took a record 10.7 billion trips on public transportation that year alone.

I rode that first bus until my transfer to another bus that would take me to the Pomona Transit Center. Other than sarcastic comments, the bus driver offered conversation to an older African American gentleman sitting adjacent to him. He seemed to be a regular.

“If I got to ride all the time with the same 3 people, I figure I shouldn’t be quiet around them. I’m loud by nature,” said the man, who I later found out to be Southern California native Alan Glover. The outgoing rider saw the everyday hustle and bustle as an opportunity to chat with those around him, both regulars and others.

Unfortunately, this amiable approach isn’t always the case with other passengers. On the second bus I met a tall woman in business attire around her late 20s named Eileen Teran. She was heading home after a day of clerical work at the Pomona courthouse.

“I stay quiet, mind my business. You never know what kind of weirdos there are when you’re a lady riding alone,” said Teran. “A couple of months ago I had to switch bus routes when this guy—he looked okay at first—but this guy showed up one day, talks to me once, and thinks he can predict my schedule and sit next to me the rest of the week. Oh no.”

She then explained that she was just trying to scrape up enough money to finally buy her own car. She saw the bus system as a waste of time in the mornings.

 

“I’d even say I prefer [public transportation] to cars, but that might just be because I’m broke.”

 

On the way to Riverside from Pomona, I met Allison Harris, a bike-clad college student with a different perspective. She was originally from the bay area and moved to Southern California earlier that year for school. She explained the difference between traveling through San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“Up north, it’s kind of just more convenient for people—anyone really—to use public transit like BART because getting in and out of the city [San Francisco] is a traffic storm every day,” she said. “Down here, I feel like people use it if they don’t have any other way. It’s like the last resort. I think I’d even say I prefer it to cars, but that might just be because I’m broke.”

She commented that she takes advantage of a discounted Metrolink pass program set up through UCR, a common practice at many universities set in place to encourage students to arrive at school through modes of transportation other than driving alone.

I used the last leg of my trip to observe those around me and focus on my stop. It was getting darker by the minute, and although slightly on edge, I couldn’t help but appreciate the availability of public transport in the Riverside and Los Angeles Counties. Even though it isn’t as extensive as that of New York or Shanghai, this complex network of trains, busses and subways is practical for anyone looking to save money and encounter interesting people.

 

 

 

 

 

Put Down Your Keys And Travel On Foot

It was a brisk Monday morning in La Habra, California as I stepped out of the house and headed down the hill to the nearby shopping center. On any other day, I would hop in the car and head down the street to make a Starbucks and Target run, however today I was walking.

For those unfamiliar with the city, La Habra is a small suburb in Northwest

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Courtesy of: Creative Commons 

Orange County with a population of approximately 61,000 people.

While the statistics for walking pedestrians in the city are not available, Citydata.com was able to determine that in Orange County, 77% of residents travel by car alone to work, and only 2% by walking. This was confirmed by a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau study that stated in Orange County over 88% of people travel to work by car, van, or truck, with only a small percentage of 3% walking.

This statistic became evident as I headed out the door, bundled up in layers of jackets, at 7:30 a.m. on an exceptionally gloomy Monday morning.

As I headed down the large hill, it began to rain, something that I clearly was not prepared for as I had not even thought to bring an umbrella.

In the past, when I had driven down this road it took me a mere 7-8 minutes to get to the nearby shopping center, however traveling by foot took at least 35 minutes.

On a typical weekday morning, as I drive down to this part of town I often noticed many children and parents walking to the nearby middle school. However, on this day I only saw one mother and her two sons, presumably because of the cold and gloomy weather.

As I continued walking, there was not a single person other than myself out walking. The only person in sight was a woman bundled up in a large windbreaker jacket sitting at the nearby bus stop.

I approached her to ask her about her experience with public transportation, and soon realized that she did not wish to talk.

Remaining optimistic of other social encounters, I headed to the Starbucks about a mile and a half down the road.

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As I arrived, I immediately ran into a fellow La Habra resident named John who was sitting outside with his dog, and large containers of dog treats.

I stopped to ask John if he was out walking with his dog today and he quickly replied with, “We usually walk, but not today,” as he pointed to the dark clouds above us.

As I walked up and down the major road, Imperial Highway, there was no one else in sight.

I began walking back towards the bus stop where I saw the woman sitting, and this time accompanying her was now two men, also waiting patiently for the next bus to arrive. As I approached them I noticed that they both had headphones in each ear and their heads were hung low. It seemed as though no one wished to be bothered, they were simply trying to get where they needed to be.

After feeling a bit defeated about the lack of people out walking, I headed towards the nearby park that intersects with the busy street and is located near two large housing complexes. Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 10.51.44 AM.png

It was there that I ran in to about six more people, many in which who also did not wish to talk. I tried to stop one couple, and they waved and kept walking, as to not be bothered.

I approached the next couple, two La Habra residents who did not wish to give their names, and asked them how often they are out here walking and whether it was to get from one place to the other, or just for leisure activity.

“We walk about every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, mainly for health reasons.”

Following behind them was another couple, who waved in agreeance, followed by a “us too.”

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Courtesy of: Creative Commons

As I thanked them for their time, I continued up the hill back towards my house, and arrived home precisely at 9:15 a.m., leaving me just enough time to get ready for my commute to work.

What I was able to determine from this experience was that in Orange County, particularly the area in which I live in, many people did not walk to get from point A to point B. Instead, they walked simply for the health benefits.

According to the Orange County Transportation Authority, “Walkers on average lose weight, strengthen their hearts, and have less stress.”

In order to encourage Orange County residents to continue moving and walking each day, a variety of programs and resources have become available: OC Healthy Steps, 10,000 Steps-a-Day Challenge, and Wellness Walk Wednesday in hopes of getting more residents on their feet and moving.

While for me walking in the rain was not all that enjoyable, in the future I would like to walk to the local shopping centers more often. It felt nice to get outside early in the morning and enjoy a relaxing walk through the city I call home.