OPINION: Public transit isn’t as intimidating as we think

Ankit Mukherjee | Daily Trojan

The $270-million renovation of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum recently reached its halfway point. Amid the ongoing construction, however, the USC football team and the Los Angeles Rams will still be playing at the venue this season. The University’s first home game is on Sept. 1 against UNLV, and though gameplay will not be affected by the renovation, the fan experience will be. With football season approaching, fans should consider taking public transportation instead of driving, and put aside their negative perceptions of public transportation.

The construction on the Coliseum’s west side has already eliminated 1,200 parking spaces. But it doesn’t stop there. On the south side, construction on the Scholarship Club Tower means one less entry gate. In addition, fans won’t be allowed to walk through the construction zone surrounding the Coliseum.

There’s only one feasible solution to these problematic changes: public transportation, especially the Metro light rail.

Interestingly, only about 339,000 people out of the 13 million residents in the Los Angeles metro area use the Metro light rail on an average weekday. But general ridership is decreasing every year, and one concern is safety. According to a Metro survey from 2016, almost 30 percent of riders left the system because they did not feel safe. Another concern with the Metro is that it takes much longer than driving.

LAist columnist Matthew Tinco writes, “Why wait 30 minutes for a 20-minute bus ride when you could drive the distance in 10?”

Indeed, it can be tempting to call an Uber or Lyft when looking at the estimated time of arrival on a Metro route. For many people, however, the mental shortcut that attempts to make an immediate decision — in this case, negative perceptions of the Metro — may be to blame.

“Availability heuristic” is a term first coined in 1973 by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Khaneman. It describes the human mind’s tendency to place more importance on the things that it can easily conceive, falling into the mental trap of “If you can think of it, it must be important.” They proposed that the availability heuristic occurs unconsciously and often reflects the world in a negative light. Here’s a simple example: After seeing articles about child abductions, parents often begin to believe such tragedies are far more likely than they actually are,

This so-called availability heuristic does not protect us from potential dangers but rather adds to our pre-existing paranoia.

The biggest problem with our mental shortcut such as the aforementioned example is that certain events tend to resonate in our minds more than others. Excessive media coverage and stories about the risks of the Metro may come up and stand out in our minds — because the event is unusual, our brains place a greater significance, leading us to assume the event is much more common that it really is.

Thus, Uber and Lyft ridership remain in good standing. People don’t take note of the reported incidents involving Uber and Lyft; they conveniently avoid the assaults, harassment and fatal accidents that Uber and Lyft drivers have been implicated in. 

The Metro is easy to use, relatively cheap and has stations that are only a short walk from the Coliseum and Galen Center, some close to L.A. hotspots like downtown Santa Monica, Pershing Square and Universal City. The system is in fact the third most comprehensive in the nation, trailing only New York City and San Francisco, which is impressive considering Los Angeles is geographically larger than those two cities combined.

Personal security shouldn’t have a price tag. The fear of feeling unsafe, however, is not a valid excuse to not take the Metro. The number of tragedies from cars and Uber or Lyft speaks for itself. In the last five years, there have been 18 alleged kidnappings, 384 alleged sexual assaults, 101 alleged assaults and 51 deaths attributed to ridesharing services, according to the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association. Compared to those numbers, the Metro, where major crimes are rare, may be safer than the ridesharing alternative.

The renovation of the Coliseum is a new opportunity to not only physically influence L.A. residents to take the Metro, but also to fight our impulsive judgment of the immediate information available to us.