City of Los Angeles must revamp its metro system

This past summer, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority began to crack down on freeloaders of the Metro system by locking turnstile gates and placing Metro employees throughout the subway stations for random fare checks.

Though the Metro is not wrong to want people to pay for their transportation, the system itself is pricey for riders and is not friendly to the everyday working- class citizen who uses the Metro. Moreover, Los Angeles’ subway and bus systems are infamous for being dangerous. On Aug. 6, a 35-year-old man was killed by a Metro train at the Pershing Square stop in downtown Los Angeles. Accidents like this one cause commuters to lose faith in public transportation.

Beyond safety concerns, the Metro is also agonizingly slow; the trains have to stop at traffic lights just like cars and buses, causing delays and long travel time for riders. While the L.A. Metro worked with the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation and successfully synchronized traffic lights in Los Angeles, little improvement in commute times have been seen thus far.

When the syncing of every traffic signal in L.A. was first announced, Councilmember Bill Rosendahl said, “I’m excited for all Angelenos to experience the benefits of this project, whether they’re traveling by car, bike or on foot.”

Rosendahl did not even note the effect the sync would have on public transit in his approval of the newest addition to Los Angeles.

When the Expo line opened its light rail in May of last year, Neal Broverman of Curbed Los Angeles wrote, “With all the line’s delays, it can be safely assumed that many don’t even know it’s operating yet.”

The newest problem with the Metro system, although not necessarily new at all, is its price.

Unlike in New York, where one swipe of $2.50 gets you into the subway and onto all lines, the Los Angeles Metro requires a fee of $1.50 every time you transfer stations. To put this into perspective, to get from USC to Koreatown requires two line transfers, and would therefore cost you $3.00 each way. Though the Metro does offer daily passes for only $5, as well as monthly passes for commuters and discounts for students, many people unfamiliar with Los Angeles are unaware of these options and also don’t know how much more they will be spending if they opt out of a day pass.

Ever since the crackdown on freeloaders of the Metro, the number of riders has significantly decreased. Paul Gonzales, who works with the Metro, told Southern California Public Radio, “We found in most cases that we’re seeing fewer riders during the testing period but more revenue.” While this may be a victory for Metro, there are now people who cannot afford to commute by Metro, which is the cheapest available method of getting around the city.

Without a sufficient public transportation system, people make the decision instead to drive their cars everywhere they go, further polluting the environment and perpetuating the monstrosity that is L.A. traffic. With a faster, cheaper and safer system, fewer people would have to drive their cars to work.

If Los Angeles ever wants to see its public transportation systems compare to those of other major cities, there are many things that need to change. The unfriendly pricing of the TAP card makes public transportation seem like an elitist system, and it only encourages people to drive their cars to work and create even more smog in the Los Angeles air.

If Los Angeles were to eliminate the charges that arise from switching Metro lines, commuting would cost less in the long run and enable those with lower incomes to use public transportation. If the city also made it a bigger priority to get the Metro and buses running more efficiently, Los Angeles would be more accessible without a car.


Morgan Greenwald is  an undecided sophomore.

Follow us on Twitter @dailytrojan 

22 replies
  1. Jim
    Jim says:

    Metro is dangerous because on Aug. 6, a 35-year-old man was killed by a Metro train.

    OK, but do you have any idea how many HUNDREDS of people are killed on the freeways every year?

  2. George
    George says:

    This is USC journalism? Really? I would ask for an immediate refund if I paid for USC tuition and still wrote this poorly researched, clearly biased article. Hope you kept your receipts!

  3. Fallopia Simms
    Fallopia Simms says:

    Sounds like this article was written by a privileged USC student who has never visited other Metros around the world much less the country. Buy a friggin pass! Metro constructed the pricing strategy the way they did to encourage pass on TAP purchasing. Sheesh! And yes, Expo is a pain by not having signal priority but Expo is only one line of 6! Red, Purple, and Green never stop at lights why not bring those lines into the conversation? Gold stops so minimally at lights that it is almost not be mentioned and Blue after hitting speeds of up to 55mph to Long Beach loses signal priority only when it hits that city. This is such a poorly written article that the editor should be fired. And we won’t even get into the “how dangerous Metro is” argument. Please just ask mommy and daddy to buy you a car, better yet go back to the burbs. A shameful and lazy piece of work.

  4. Brian
    Brian says:

    The author of this article is clearly not a Metro rider. As someone who has lived in this city without a car for over 2 years I can tell you that Metro works. It’s not perfect, as no system is, but it’s hardly “dangerous” nor is it inefficient. I live in Hollywood and work in Westchester and work in Culver City. It’s not that hard; you just have to plan ahead. Sometimes my commute home is actually faster using metro opposed to driving.

    • Dave
      Dave says:

      The author obviously IS a Metro rider.
      Just not a submissive apologist like far too many of you.

      I have been a Metro rider, along with regional systems, for a very long time.

      The only positive changes I’ve seen in the system over the last … well … its been a while … are the occasional realization that local service should not be sacrificed for the myth of “Rapid” operation.

      Beyond that, the system still fails to meet the most minimal standards that would entice an ordinary driver to use it. The massive investment in rail could have been engineered to do as the BRU conspiracy theory suggests, attract the middle-class “white suburban” crowd, and thus, engender super-majority support for transit, but it too, fails, every step of the way.

      And that is why the transit lobby, instead of apologizing and making amends for the error of their ways, continues to rally for punitive measures for anyone who chooses to drive.

      • Dave
        Dave says:

        Commuting in LA sucks – but then so does driving – traffic all around sucks in LA. But that is not why this article is so bad. The points the author raises, reeks of immature thinking and a bunch of thoughts cobbled together in a last minute ditch effort to get an article in time for the deadline for publishing. One of the main points the author seems to be stuck on is that MTA has the audacity to enforcement payment for riders. I have been riding metro for over 10 years and it pisses me off seeing freeloaders take advantage of the “honor system”. Given the fact the honor system now has a few more procedures in place to encourage payment is not unreasonable nor should expecting proper payment be seen as some Gestapo tactic. one of the things that pisses me most about living in LA are all the self important D-bags that think they are the answer to what poor people need. Believe me – I had been a poor person for many years and it would be highly offensive to think the only way I can commute around LA is if i was able to jump turnstiles.

        I am sure Morgan meant well but perhaps less procrastination and more thought in writing the articles would yield something other then what a 6th grader from liberal Santa Monica parents would produce

  5. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    The author should visit London where a single ride on the underground is $6
    For those living outside London and commuting, the cost of annual rail passes can exceed $6,000.
    I have visited LA over 50 times since 1982 and seen a vast improvement in the public transport network. It’s not perfect, but its not that bad, especially when you live between downtown, wilshire and the west side.
    It’s amongst the cheapest systems worldwide and is easy to use

  6. Dan
    Dan says:

    Getting to Koreatown from USC does not require a transfer. You take…the bus. Up Vermont.

    You seem to be unclear on the relationship between Metro and the City of Los Angeles. Metro is a regional agency that spans many cities, including Pasadena, Santa Monica, Culver City, and Lakewood. Metro is controlled by a 13-member Board. The City of Los Angeles controls only 4 seats on the Board, and cannot simply revamp Metro as the headline bids.

    Likewise, Metro did not partner with LADOT to synchronize LA’s signal system. Metro is a regional agency and has nothing to do with LADOT’s signal control.

    Do your research, Morgan.

  7. Roger
    Roger says:

    As usual, one can expect the transit advocates to come out of the woodwork and denounce any perspective that contradicts their unified front, as they chant their mantra, “Steel wheels good, Four tires bad.”

    The fact is that LA’s MetroRail system is in its TWENTY-FOURTH year of operation, not 15th, as ChrisJ cites in his attempt to wring our collective hands of responsibility for a failed system.
    By now, citizens should expect that the system produces results and hold a generation of politicians accountable, but instead, the same culprits that made the system so crummy, remain in office.

    The reason trains stop at red lights is because they run at-grade.

    The conflict was known long before the first ground-breaking ceremony back in 1986, but politicians and transit fascists alike pay little heed, the former looking for as many ribbon-cutting photo-ops, and the latter group seeking ultimately to punish those who choose to drive. Every subsequent extension of the system has fallen victim to this corrupt approach, and there is no end in sight.

    We are stuck with a third-rate system design, and no will to fix it.

    While the BRU may be mostly a socialist front group, and they may act incoherent at times, they were not wrong when they forced the consent decree; without adequate, timely, and safe bus transport, the system fails the lowest rung of society that is transit-dependent. Operating and capital budgets are always intentionally fire-walled from each other, but that is not license to punish the poor, or gorge on ego-boosting rail construction. Unfortunately, Metro and those charged with oversight repeatedly fail to live up to their assignment, and the results are painfully clear for all the world to see.

    Greenwald should be celebrated for daring to speak the truth, rather than make excuses for pathetic government performance and wringing his hands as so many here do.

  8. DTLARider
    DTLARider says:

    I will agree that the transfer pricing is a downer out but it’s rather intentional by MTA and would need a separate article to discuss in detail. Other than that point, this article is at best myopic in its viewpoints of public transit in LA and at worst down right idiotic. Someone falling (or being pushed) into the pit and killed by a subway has no bearing on people’s “faith in the system.” I suspect the writer is not a regular user of the MTA’s services, nor does the writer have much appreciation for the herculean efforts it took to get to where we are today. The funding obstacles and competing interests that were overcome to get the projects like the expo line and subway line were tremendous. To come out with a blanket statement that the system is broken and needs to be “revamped” without any real solutions is pretty reckless in that context. I fear the author may not take these and the other criticisms in the comments to heart in writing his/her next article and instead fall prey to some misbegotten notion that great journalists are routinely criticized. No. THIS was a bad job. Bad. Really bad, even if it is just the writer’s “opinion.”

  9. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    This article is the most conclusory piece of drivel I have seen in a long time. The author makes no effort to support any of his claims. The citing of the death at Pershing Square without ANY evidence whatsoever to show that Metro was at fault is totally useless. Honestly, I am embarrassed to see the DT even publish this garbage.

  10. Jose
    Jose says:

    Was this article funded by the Reason Foundation. Such one sided nonsense. I agree LA’s Metro system need improvement, and they are getting those improvements. I’m glad people are commenting and calling out the one-sidedness of this article and how poorly researched it was.

  11. Singer
    Singer says:

    I grew up in Switzerland, with one of the most phenomenal public transportation systems in the world, and I moved to LA from New York City. My expectations for the Metro were not high.

    That said, I ride the Metro in from Culver City to USC every day. It leaves exactly when it says it will, every time, and the trip takes exactly 18 minutes every time. Its reliability has warmed the punctual cockles of my Swiss-raised heart.

    As for safety concerns, in 2012 several hundred people were struck by subways in NYC, and 55 of them died. This will not change ridership in New York, and it will not change ridership in LA either.

    And as to cost, as a graduate student at USC, I got a pass for the whole semester (this is not monthly, this is the whole semester, until January 17th) for $85. A monthly pass on the NYC system is over $100, and there aren’t any discounts available for college students. Boston’s monthly passes are $70.00/month to ride the T, and the T isn’t much to write home about either in terms of public transportation. It’s clear that the fare structure with the Metro is designed to incentivize regular ridership. Once you’ve spent money on a month pass, there’s literally no additional cost to riding the Metro again, which will make you more likely to do so.

    All in all, I think LA is approaching this in the right way. Now they just need to keep expanding the system to really get ridership up.

  12. Cynthia
    Cynthia says:

    How many times have you ridden the Metro? As an avid Metro user I completely disagree with all your points. LA Metro is great and the public transportation system here doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

    People’s ignorance of the $5 day pass and monthly discounts is not Metro’s fault. You are so completely and unfairly biased against the Metro that you have to put a negative spin on something so positive about the system. $5 is cheaper than almost all places you can pay to park at in LA, and don’t forget to add in the cost of gas it takes to get you to and from the destination. I also find it ridiculous that you think it’s bad that they are cracking down on the freeloaders since not paying for a pass is a form of stealing. Is it fair that some people pay and other people don’t pay? $1.50 each way is not pricey at all. You also fail to realize that the working-class people you reference most likely don’t pay the $1.50 rate – they most likely get the $75 monthly pass which reduces the cost if they are using Metro everyday. And don’t blame the Metro for causing more pollution and such. Blame the people who decide to drive everywhere and not use the public transportation system.

    LA Metro is far from “an elitist system, [that] only encourages people to drive their cars to work and create even more smog in the Los Angeles air.” Do you really think that people who can’t afford the $1.50 price can afford to buy a car, pay for car insurance, and pay for gas?

    Do some actual research. Compare the cost of having a car for a month vs. using LA Metro for a month. Compare commute times on LA Metro vs. sitting on the freeway in rush hour traffic. LA Metro will come out cheaper and the commute time will most likely be the same, or perhaps even faster.

  13. ChrisJ
    ChrisJ says:

    Clearly, the writer is not a Metro rider. The LA Metro is a great way to get around. Yes the lines are not as extensive as NY, but the system is only about 15 years old. Sorry $3 is expensive??? Have you driven a car in LA? $3 is cheap even for poor people. The people that have stopped riding were never going to pay anyway. even if it was only 60 cents. Get real!

  14. Phil O
    Phil O says:

    I agree with many of the points made by Ras and Richard T – the writer comes off as an infrequent rider at most, with little knowledge of the system and why certain things are set up the way they are.

    Using the incident at Pershing Square as an indication of Metro’s safety is unwise, seeing as hardly any hard facts about the accident have been reported, aside from the news that the man was “struck/run over by a train.” Was the man having health issues? Was he attacked? Was it suicide? You need those answers to support your claim.

    You don’t like that the train stops at red lights? Talk to LADOT. Except it’s gonna be tough, because since L.A. is so fixated on cars, any proposal to prioritize trains over motorized vehicles will be an uphill battle, to say the least.

    As for transfers and paying for each ride: transfers are part of public transportation. Period. And in L.A., with the rail lines’ present limited scope, it’s likely you’ll have to transfer at least once during your commute. If it becomes a problem financially to pay for each ride, that’s what the day, weekly, and monthly passes are for. And they are moderately priced when compared to other major cities.

    It’s easy to say that more buses, faster trains, and lower fares would magically make things better, but it’s not that simple. They could have built the Blue and Expo lines underground or elevated so they would never have to worry about stop lights – and it would have cost hundreds, maybe even billions more dollars than they already did. Where was that extra cash going to come from?

    It all comes down to money and the fact is every train (and probably bus) that runs loses money. More trains/buses means less money. Granted, operating efficiency may be gained by extending service further to put more bodies on a train (and therefore more fares) to a certain extent, but you’re also adding fixed costs in terms of track, signal, and station maintenance. At the end of the day, they’re still losing money, and any gains (reductions in loss) from increased operational efficiency probably won’t cover the finance costs of the organizations share of the expansions capital costs.

    If what you want is more service, you need to look to the past when we had decent transportation services and compare it to today. Back then, these services were privately operated, because transporting people was a profitable enterprise. Who was their competition? Well the railroads competed with other railroad companies, and also competed with the trolley/interurban companies. That competition was what motivated these private operators to provide good services. Industry regulation back then wasn’t particularly burdensome, and they didn’t take a dime of taxes for operating costs until the end of their corporate lives.

    Let’s fast forward to today. What limited services exist are operated by one taxpayer-subsidized government organization (along with several municipal bus services), because it is no longer profitable. Service doesn’t go nearly everywhere it used to, and the quality of the service often leaves much to be desired. There’s really no competition in terms of mass-transportation services, because they’re pretty much the only game in town. Therefore, when they fail to provide you with acceptable service, you have no alternative but to complain. And that does very little to change things.

    Los Angeles has come a long way with transportation, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The current Metro system is not perfect, but it works. It just takes a little time and a little work. However, until more of us are willing to put that in, it’s going to be a longer time before we see some of the changes you ask for in your article.

  15. Chris Rodinis
    Chris Rodinis says:

    Ever ride the bus? Why not? Ok. I have heard all the complaints.
    And I’m not buying it. Say what you will about delays, longer trip times, bad odors and “all the weird people” who ride the bus. Folks, if you are not riding the bus you really are missing out on a wonderful opportunity.
    Why is it a wonderful opportunity you may ask? Let’s break it down. First, riding the bus is better for the world at large and second, riding the bus is better for you.
    Before we get started I ask that you read this post to the end because I have a feeling most people are too wrapped up in attachment to their own beliefs to even consider reading about reasons to ride the bus.
    So don’t hang up on me now, please hear me out because if not now, then someday you might wake up and recognize the truths I will share with you.

    Always Ask Why

    Riding the bus is better for your neighborhood, city, state, country, and world. Because the more people that ride the bus, then the less air pollution there will be. Right on! Less cars equals less carbon emissions. I know that you care about the environment, but do you act that way? If you never take the bus when you could then you are not acting as if you care about the environment.
    Simple as that. We all care. Few of us do much about it. Telling yourself you care and not acting that you care; is that hypocritical or just plain lazy? At least if you admit to one or the other you are not in denial.
    Are you feeling guilty yet? Change is more likely to occur if the approach to change is not fear based, but incentive based. So lets get to some personal incentives and benefits.
    This could actually be a case of “I feel good about myself because I am doing something good for the world,” in other words we all sleep better at night knowing we are making a contribution and by not always driving when you can ride is making a contribution. Every little bit helps, many hands make light work.
    Let’s talk about money. Money doesn’t grow on trees, you work for it, so why should you waste it? Yes, riding the bus saves you MONEY! Who knew?
    Forget about the money for a second, what about the psychic currency paid to you for not driving. Oh yes this gets deep. I am not dissing cars. In fact I like to have one while I am on vacation! And I am not dissing marriage for obvious reasons. I would like to say that owning a car is like being married to a spouse.
    We are so attached to them, like our spouses. If not a particular car, then to the idea of owning and driving a car. We are always worried, concerned or paying attention to them. Is there gas? When did I last change the oil? Are the tires inflated properly? Are my brake pads ready for replacement? Do my wipers actually clear the windshield when the rain is pouring? Do I need a tune-up? Did I make my insurance payment? Did I make my car payment? When do I renew my license? Did I pay that ticket? Do I have enough cash flow this week to get some routine maintenance? When is the last time I washed my car? Is the inside of my car too cluttered? What’s that new rattle? Did I just run over a nail and now I have tire noise? Oh wow my tire treads are wearing thin, time to get four new ones about $600 minimum. What if someone steals my car? Am I going to get a parking ticket? You got any quarters on you? Oh man a traffic cop is about to pull me over…bummer…you get the idea…the list goes on…your vehicle, believe it or not is a 24/7 serious responsibility and there is no way around that.
    Drive Less Stress Less
    By not having a car or driving less all those missives just mentioned could be off your back. That saves you money and stress too. The less stress of not having to deal with all those car relationship issues can be truly liberating. That is the psychic currency I am talking about.
    Finally, think about this fact of stress. You are it. You drive, you are responsible. What if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time going the wrong speed. You die. A terrible price to pay when you would be much safer on the bus. You see the other guy is the one not paying attention or making poor judgements while driving. That does not matter because you will still be dead.
    Driving is serious work. You have to pay attention. You have to make moves. Poor judgement on your part can cost you big time. Not paying attention can cost you even more. Watching out, turning, gunning it, stopping, gunning it again, checking left, checking right, then checking left again that is stress.
    So as you drive you stress. As it should be, because driving is a big responsibility taking care of precious cargo, that is, you, your wife and your child. So take a load off, enjoy a more stress free life, in fact live longer by not driving.
    Oh did I mention the interesting and beautiful people that you can meet on the bus? You would NEVER meet them if you are stuck in your steel womb cocoon know as an automobile. I will save “the meet the interesting and beautiful people bus riding” post for another day.
    And one more thing, you can actually look out the window. You can literally see the world without blinders. Sorry drivers, eyes on the road, hands on the wheel. Riders get the view, drivers pay their dues. The views are nice, try them sometime, you might see some amazing things. Only if you have an open mind though.
    Thanks for reading and considering where the “other side” really is “greener.” And thank you for walking or biking and then taking the bus!

  16. Ras
    Ras says:

    This article is very poorly written and researched. It reads very typical of an article about Metro from someone living in LA.

    Among the funniest points – the writer mentions that people who are used to cheating the system and not paying for their ride – find it harder to do so since Metro cracked down. This resulted in less freeloaders…uhhhh – and your point is? BTW, people who can not afford cars, but steal cars will find it harder to do so when LAPD cracks down on GTA. Is your point we should just let some people pay and other people who do not wish to pay – they do not have to and their cost of commuting is being subsidized by the ones who do responsibly pay. I can see which side of the political spectrum you veg out on.

    The accident at Pershing is as much a deterrent for regular commuters as the 40,000 car related accident deaths are to drivers.

    If you compare the price of a $75/month pass – against ANY major city – you will see the price to commute in LA is minuscule. The writer failed to mention this price amount in the article.

    Lastly – the writer says Metro needs to lower its prices so the lower income people can ride metro. Well who the hell do you think rides the Metro now? Rich people?

    I hate people who will opine on something like the Metro when they clearly do not use it. If you took the train once as a novel experience in LA – don’t spout a bunch of opinions that you have no idea on how to execute.

    As is already, Metro’s budget is cutting buses and having them crammed full of people during much of the day. With less money like you propose – how does this magically get funded – pixie dust and unicorn breath?

  17. Richard T
    Richard T says:

    An opinion piece must be based on empirical facts than perception.

    The article cites a man who was killed at Pershing Square with no mention of the circumstances. Did somebody push him? Did he trip? Was he blind? That contextual information would have explained how, in the writers opinion, that the subway system is “dangerous”. Is the Metro more dangerous than other transit systems in other major cities? Is there something specific that makes the LA worse than other systems?

    Also, how exactly did the incident cause “commuters to lose faith in public transportation”? Is there a study that shows commuter confidence to show this?

    The buses and subways follow a fixed schedule; while additional service is needed on many lines, the “agonizingly slow” doesn’t make sense. Does the article suggest on-time performance is poor?

    The conclusion in the article that scofflaws are somehow victims of increased fare enforcement is ridiculous.

  18. Danny Berm
    Danny Berm says:

    The writer forgot to mention how poorly designed, inefficient, awkward and confusing the TAP web site is.
    It looks as if it was designed by a high schooler as a class project.
    Very non-intuitive and inflexible, to add $30 cash you have to do two completely separate transactions, one for $20 and one for $10. It does not save your information, you have to re-enter it every time (even though you have to log in), you can only do one card at the time, even if you have more than one on your account, the “continue” button is on the top not on the bottom where you’d expect, I can go on and on about it.
    They need to update the site and make it friendlier desperately!

  19. grapes
    grapes says:

    Great article, and nice touch with the colorful language. LA public transit is a joke, a train stopping at red lights on a regular…please. The overcrowded expensive buses are even worse. But regarding the cost, as a poster said, it can’t be made cheaper. They should just subsidized transportation at a higher rate, that will bring the price down and increase ridership. Eventually with the increased ridership they can reduce the subsidies and be come financially sustainable.

  20. Hector Paez
    Hector Paez says:

    This was so poorly written and researched it hurts. Besides, Metro can’t afford to lower prices, it already operates at a loss and the boost in ridership wouldn’t exactly make up for that.

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