Said it before about mass transit around LA and I’ll say it again…

…people always think it’s way too complicated or problematic or what have you until they TRY it.

This LA Times story on how mass transit ridership is starting to perk up more in the face of gas prices and, in some cases, increasing traffic delays — very, very slowly perking up, but even so — contains further anecdotal evidence of the fact. I have to remind myself more than once that I am coming from a much different position than a lot of people — I’m not switching from using a car to going it on a bus or the like, I’ve always done the latter. It’s my baseline, not something to investigate.

I’m pleased that it’s starting to happen more often, of course; at the same time I have to sigh — loudly — at some of the attitudes expressed in the story from various people interviewed (and, to an extent, the author). For instance:

She thought about it for four years. She wanted to try it, but kept balking at the last minute.

“I was scared,” says Francine Choi, a Los Angeles county employee who lives in Long Beach. “I was worried I’d get mugged.” And then a couple months ago, filling her BMW at a Chevron near work, she gasped when she saw the total pass $60. Then and there, she summoned the courage to do it at last.

Choi rode the Metro Blue Line to work the next day.


[Sykes] loves being able to read the paper and doesn’t mind having to park farther away, with all the new riders. In fact, she is elated that she lost 10 pounds walking about three miles a day to and from her stations. And the broader spectrum of riders reduces the perception some have that the train is full of gangbangers and homeless people.


Attorney Susan Seager started taking mass transit from South Pasadena to Century City. She walks to the Gold Line train, takes it Union Station, where she jumps on LADOT Commuter Express to work. “The seats are cushiony and soft,” she says “There are no homeless people. There are no screaming children.”

Brooding about the implicit class and race-based comments in evidence here could whip me up into a righteous fury if I felt like it. Another time, perhaps, but to say I’m profoundly irritated understates, and there’s more I could say about the division between ridiculously overaccesorized vehicles as private expressions of luxury vs. the seeming ‘poverty’ of mass transit in turn. If as much money had been spent on mass transit in the whole basin area as had been spent on SUVs — and the gas it took to power them — over the last two decades, things would look and be a lot different around here.

Meantime a story at the end of the article further underscores my original point in this piece, especially since it is an Orange County story:

Richard Covey, a school teacher as well, discovered an express bus from Laguna Hills to South Coast Plaza that delivers him within walking distance of his middle school in Santa Ana.

He started taking it late March — and kicks himself for not doing it sooner.

No need for me to pile on if he’s already doing the self-kicking — but it further illustrates this idea that, for so many, car transit isn’t simply an option but somehow seen as the sole approach to the exclusion of others. And that’s just not so, it just isn’t so.

Nearly everyone interviewed made the discoveries I took for granted from the start — you don’t have to worry about the road or being behind the wheel, you can use the time to reflect, work and relax, and you can simply just gain more in the way of quality of life. Are all the transit systems in this region perfect, do they cover every possible location? Of course not — would that they did, though. And if this is the spur to take care of just that, well then, bring it. It’s long overdue.

A Megabus update — alas, they’re not in LA anymore

A couple of months back I mentioned my trip from LA to SF to visit my sis using Megabusyou can find my full post on it here — and as I said at the time, while there were a couple of problems on the trip, overall my experience was positive and I was considering future trips up north when possible.

Alas, as this story from a little over a week back indicates, after another month’s time that won’t be possible:

Bargain bus service Megabus, which touted fares as low as $1, said Friday that it would pull out of Los Angeles because of low ridership.

The decision to shut down the hub, which was expected, came less than a year after Megabus began service from Los Angeles to cities including San Francisco and Las Vegas.

“Our approach has been to go into different markets and give it a shot and see how they’ll develop,” said Megabus President Dale Moser. “If they develop quickly, we’ll certainly sustain it. But in this case, the ridership trends aren’t growing enough.”

Megabus, a subsidiary of Coach USA, will end its service from Los Angeles to San Francisco and Oakland after June 22, and from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, San Jose and Millbrae, Calif., a few weeks earlier, Moser said.

I’m actually almost tempted to make one more trip up and back but my schedule over the next few weeks is verging on the hyperpacked, building up to my Midwest/East Coast trip for the latter half of June, so that won’t be possible.

In any event, it’s a real pity the service didn’t get further traction here — as the story indicates, it’s taken off in the Midwest in particular, so it’s not like there won’t be a market in general, and personally I’d’ve thought in an era of ever-increasing gas prices that Megabus would be in a prime position. In fact, given everything from those increasing prices to the word about new fees and restrictions in plane service, arguably they could have been in total pole position for summer travel, especially between the Bay Area and SoCal, and the fact that the company isn’t ruling out a future return is a good thing.

But it’s true that the advertising they made didn’t seem to be increasing recognition much — nearly everyone I talked to down here about it had never heard of it, for instance, and everyone was all deeply interested in it. Seemed like a classic word-of-mouth situation to build on, but maybe markets needed to be targeted more effectively — for instance, I would have done something over at UCI if I’d worked for them, noting how you could catch a Metrolink ride up to Union Station and then get the Megabus from there easily enough. College-age folks were clearly a primary market for this kind of thing, based on my ride up, but I don’t remember seeing anything for the company around here over these past few months.

Anyway, what’s done is done, and crossed fingers something happens along those lines in the near future for such service, or that they return and build up from the ground floor more effectively this time. Glad I had the opportunity to try it the once, at least!

A report on the MEGABUS!

If you like. People have been asking me about this ever since I planned my SF trip around testing out this company, so I figured I would post a bit about it.

I first heard about Megabus some months back when I stumbled across this story at the LA Times talking about their service between LA and San Francisco for a low price. A very low price — $1. As the story mentions and the official site also indicates, this isn’t the price for every ticket, merely the initial starting ones, but overall the point is — we’re talking cheap.

In reading the story and noting the possibilities, I realized that I should give it a whirl one of these days, simply because I do love SF, and have someone to stay with thanks to my sis and her boyfriend and their place together is even more of a bonus. I’d initially thought over a late February trip but since late March provided a three day weekend and a chance to get away from OC for a bit in between academic quarters I sprung for a ticket in early February at $10, a mighty fine thing. I planned on only taking the trip up that way while flying back, since that way in case the whole thing turned out to be a washout that way I didn’t have to worry about problems on the return journey.

Having booked, I started talking to a lot of others about this all and needless to say there was a lot of interest. The advantage of Megabus’s service as described is not only a matter of price, but convenience and simplicity. Its two routes to SF involve only one brief rest stop around Coalinga, then otherwise you’re being put in at San Jose (which could be handy for anyone wanting to get to Santa Cruz from there, say), then Millbrae and finally SF’s main station at 4th Street, or the route I did, which went to Oakland and then the same SF station. The advantage of both routes, meanwhile, is that both Millbrae and West Oakland are major BART terminals, so if one wanted to switch from the bus to that, it’s even a handier situation than simply going into 4th Street.

However, the proof had to be in the pudding. Greyhound, the major US bus service, is somewhat notorious for its downmarket image on a variety of fronts, while friends of mine who have used it in the past always talked about problems with the drivers, creepy passengers and a generally bleh feeling. Clearly the folks behind Megabus know that and aren’t interested in gaining something similar — the company is an outgrowth of the original one in Europe, though, and there bus and coach services are a little more entrenched and of a higher reputation, at least in comparative terms. Meanwhile, the pricing reminded me of many European airlines that provide cheap flights like Ryanair and EasyJet, so I wasn’t surprised by the low cost.

In any event, I was booked for the trip and on Thursday night found myself waiting with fellow passengers for the late night trip. It should be said that Megabus runs three trips per day between LA and SF (and the same number back), so it’s not like one has to try a night trip or else. However, there’s an advantage in that if you can get some sleep on the way via the late night trip, then you can have the day to yourself once you’re in, and it just turned out to be more convenient for me that way anyway. As the service is all done online there’s no extra assistants or anyone waiting for you at the top — we all formed a general line, the bus pulled up and the driver, a garrulous but friendly fellow named Chada who is the same driver profiled in the Times piece, got everyone shipshape and loaded in as quickly as possible.

The bus itself was clearly still quite new — looked sleek both outside and in, and there’s plenty of space for both hand luggage inside and regular luggage down in storage bays below the seats. The seating was slightly cramped for someone of my height but not impossible; as I was fortunate enough to get two seats to myself (it’s first come first serve but nobody took the seat next to mine, so hey), this wasn’t so bad at all. A toilet in the back of the bus was there for anyone who needed it but I ended up not having to so nothing to report there.

Now I wish I could say that the trip from there was a dream — but there were a couple of initial problems that I have to report (and I’ll be sending a note to the company about this blog entry for their reference). First, shortly after we pulled out to head north, Chada noticed that the coolant had almost totally leaked out, which he found very surprising since the engineer had signed off on it before taking the bus out. Therefore, he pulled the bus off on Lankershim in the Valley after calling it in, as they’d have to send out a new bus as well as an engineer from their Long Beach depot. The engineer arrived in good time and started to work on it, but the replacement bus was delayed because the fellow driving it up for whatever reason didn’t know how to get to where the broken bus was at — completely on the wrong side of Dodger Stadium for a start. Chada noted a touch tartly on his call back to the depot that the GPS indicator should have been clear in terms of where they were at, so who knows? After some delay, the new bus arrived, everyone transferred over and we were on the road again after a delay of two hours.

What to take from all this as a traveller? Well, I’d definitely have to say that Chada did the right steps from what I could tell at each stage — safety was the prime consideration, and had the bus shut down in the middle of nowhere or on the Grapevine or the like, who knows where things could have gone? So while he was obviously a bit frustrated with the delays — he clearly prides himself on running a punctual service and made mention about how he always aims to be in SF before the morning rush hour ties up traffic on the bridges — he was following correct procedure, and I certainly thank him for that as well as his can-do attitude and professional attitude for the whole trip. But the combination of learning that a mechanic had apparently made a mistake of some sort in checking on the bus equipment (apparently this same bus had had an initial problem on a Vegas run just previous to this one — and without sounding flippant, I did have to wonder what the equivalent for a plane’s engineer making this mistake would be; at least all we had to do was pull off on a highway exit) and the error on the part of the driver bringing up the replacement bus made me think that Megabus might want to strongly consider reviewing these areas for the future. These may well have been both isolated situations; nonetheless they’re the ones I experienced, so there you go.

That said, and now dealing with the fact that we were quite behind, we hit the road and from there, everything went pretty much like I’d expected and hoped it would. I was near the front of the bus, and besides getting a nice clear view of the road ahead I also got to hear the conversations between Chada and a couple of passengers who clearly used this service a lot; turns out that at least one and maybe both used it not so much for pleasure but for jobs, a good cheap way to get between home and work, if an exhausting one still. As it was a night run, though, most of the conversation died down after a bit as we quietly chugged along the familiar reach of the Grapevine and then the flatness of the Central Valley, lights far off in the distance indicating other roads, towns, farms. As is often the case with night travel like this, I wasn’t able to fully nod off to sleep, but I catnapped well enough.

The stopover in Coalinga was brief but welcome, a chance to stretch legs and munch on a snack (I’d made sure to bring a little something with me — some water, an almond mix, an apple) before heading out again. Chada was able to make up some of the time; however, as we turned off from the 5 to head towards the Bay Area, traffic was already starting to pick up noticeably as the morning rush hour began to kick into gear. By the time we were over in Oakland itself I realized that rather than going all the way to 4th Street Station it would be handier for me to get off at the Oakland stop and take BART into the Embarcadero, where I could switch to the N-Judah MUNI line, which is all needed in order to get within a couple of blocks of my sis’s place. This line also runs from 4th Street Station, so by doing this — and since the Oakland stop is the West Oakland station, which is just opposite the Embarcadero station on the other side of the Bay, in essence — I ended up being able to get exactly to where I needed to go via a quick BART switch as opposed to waiting for the bus to try and force its way across the Bay Bridge in the rush hour crunch. It meant spending a couple of extra bucks for the BART trip, of course, but that’s nothing!

And so I got into the City, stopped off briefly at Arizmendi Bakery for some necessary refreshments (and hurrah for it being on a street the N-Judah line runs on) and from there have had a great ol’ time; as mentioned in the previous post yesterday was a lot of good fun out eating and drinking with folks (my friend Remy’s just finishing up a monthlong visit in town and so I got to introduce him to my sister and her crew; everyone got along great!), today’s been some relaxing and a bit of shopping indulgence (thanks to a birthday gift certificate from my sis and some store credit I had a hell of a blast today at Amoeba) and tonight will be more chat and a show (specifically the one listed here) and I fly back tomorrow — and I admit I will enjoy the quickness of that! (I’m going to be testing out the LAX Flyaway service upon arrival, since that provides a quick turn around between the airport and Union Station.)

So that all said, but final thoughts on Megabus? Well pretty much you’ve seen my take — yes, I would recommend it, but with caveats. Keep in mind that I wasn’t really following a set schedule, was only traveling with myself, was able to make a last minute change of plan on a dime — flexibility was key. If I had been with folks, if things were more incumbent on being in the city at a specific time, then maybe the inconvenience of the delays could have been worse. Meantime, I can’t say that I would totally be trusting in a bus now until we’re well on the road, and even then I’d have to wonder if another mechanic maybe made another mistake that isn’t immediately apparent. It’s unfortunate to have to say it but I can’t NOT say it! If the company is worth its salt, it’s already investigated this situation to try and figure out what’s wrong; if it hasn’t, hopefully my take on it (and possibly that of others on the trip) will help.

But yeah, I think I will do it again sometime. I think though my biggest change will be to make it a day or evening trip rather than a night one — not positive in the end, really, because eating up the time during the late night is handy, and it just took a little nap in the morning for me to get myself back in shape, whereas eating up the time during the day can feel a bit wasteful. I might do more combined trips, where I go up via the bus and fly down in return. But all in all, it was a good experience, I am glad I did it, and I think for a lot of folks who, like me, want to make the trip but don’t always have the easy funds to do so will jump at the chance to give it a whirl.

So in all, good on Megabus — but yeah, double check those coolant systems, would you?