Letter Heston



Not All Local Transit a Failure

Fistfights while waiting in line for an overcrowded bus. Cigarette-laden floors, scratched-up windows. Jammed, sweltering, rickety vehicles. The Los Angeles Business Journal’s recent article, “Rosa’s Rough Ride” (March 30), paints a grim picture of public transit in Los Angeles.

Not that the L.A. Business Journal has cornered the market on slamming transit. Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee last month accused mass transit of being “an expensive failure in Southern California.” And my recent Internet search of the Los Angeles Times revealed 31 articles mentioning mass transit in a one-month stretch. In those 33 articles, seldom was heard an encouraging word. “Bus riders can’t stand the jams” was a typical headline.

If you spend much time at all reading the newspapers or watching Eyewitness News, you pretty much have to conclude that public transit is a full-fledged Titanic.

But wait a minute. The L.A. Business Journal and others are painting with too broad a brush. We actually have some transit success stories right here in car-crazed Southern California.

In addition to the regional transit service operated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, there are 16 locally operated transit systems in the county, such as the Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica, Foothill Transit in the San Gabriel Valley, Montebello Bus Lines, and the largest, Long Beach Transit.

Together, these 16 systems carry over 80 million customers a year, with the Long Beach line alone transporting 25 million riders. Combined, that makes us a system that carries as many people as Atlanta or Denver. And that’s not even counting the huge number of riders carried by the MTA, which by itself is the third-largest bus system in the country. The notion that few use transit in Southern California is a myth that needs immediate debunking.

And so does the notion that we are all expensive failures. The University of North Carolina recently completed an extensive study of 127 bus systems across the country, rating them according to ridership rates, operating expenses and other key measures of efficiency. The Business Journal may be surprised to learn that Long Beach Transit was rated in the top 10 percent of all transit systems in the nation. Efficient and effective, not an expensive failure.

Each year, the American Public Transit Association names the best transit systems in the country, also based on a review of key operating statistics. Six times in the last 10 years, a Los Angeles County transit system has been named the best system of its size in the country, including Santa Monica, Foothill and Long Beach.

Then there is the most important statistic of all customer feedback. Every year we engage an independent research firm to randomly sample our Long Beach Transit riders and ask them what they think of our service quality in 19 specific areas, everything from safety to operator courtesy and bus cleanliness. Once again this year, the index was 90, meaning that on average 90 percent of our customers rate these 19 quality elements good or excellent. A failure? Hardly.

I in no way discount the story of Rosa Alvarado and the sacrifices she must make to meet her transportation needs. But in fairness, it is not the only story of transit in Southern California.


Assistant General Manager

Long Beach Transit

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