As Los Angeles continues to centralize into a more compact city (into Downtown LA and environs) and the metro system continues to attract a higher and higher ridership, we must continue to upgrade and modernize our system to make it as comfortable and clean as possible as other mature urban cities have done with their metro systems
A couple of weeks ago I attended the ARA (AIDS Research Alliance) fundraiser in Downtown LA hosted at Cicada Restaurant on the ground floor of the beautiful historic 1927 Oviatt Building. I met a gentleman from San Francisco named Steve Villano who flew down to LA just for this fundraiser.
We chatted a little bit about the Downtown LA renaissance and how mass transit will play a more-than significant role in LA’s revitalization as a energetic urban city. He was telling me how much he loves Downtown LA because of its authentic urban landscape (compared with the rest of a very much suburban region) and all the tremendous changes that have been happening downtown lately such as LA Live and the countless restaurants popping up.
He also told me that he was planning on using our metro system for the very first time by walking up to the 7th/Metro station from his hotel in South Park (the O Hotel) and taking the subway to Union Station to catch the Amtrak down to San Diego before flying back up to San Francisco. I thought it would be great to get the opinion from someone with “virgin eyes,” so I asked him if he would be willing to let me know what he thought about our metro after using it.
Lo and behold, Steve kept his word and emailed me last week with his thoughts:
The ride on Metro was easy, but a bit strange.
It was a very easy walk from the O Hotel to [7th/Metro] Metro Center, and we were greeted outside by one of Downtown’s “Purple” guides, who was tremendously helpful. Going down the escalator was easy, and I was impressed by the cleanliness of the entrance area to the station–something we don’t always have in SF, and we frequently didn’t have when I lived in NYC. The fare machines were easy to operate, and the fare of $1.50 was a real bargain, compared to both SF and NYC.
But here’s where the strangeness came in: None of the turnstiles worked. We put our fare cards against the spots on the turnstiles designated to read them, but nothing worked. One gate–usually used for the disabled–was wide open and everyone was going through it, with or without tickets. So, we followed the crowd since it was the only way to the trains, but felt strange doing it, and also felt that the Metro was loosing a helluva lot of money from this glitch at a major station. Once past the turnstile, we could not locate any signs that said “to Union Station,” which the Purple Guide said we would. Nothing was well marked. Only after several minutes of searching, when a Transit worker rushed by did we find out, when I shouted out, “Which way to Union Station?,” and he shouted back, “the other side.”
Since we just missed one train, we only had to wait four or five minutes for another, which was posted clearly on the digital electronic board down on the platform. The crowd waiting on the platform was very sparse, and there were no other transit workers in sight, or “Purple” guides, whose presence on the train platform would have been greatly appreciated. Once on the Platform the maps were clearly marked. The train to Union Station arrived on schedule, and only took about 5-8 minutes to get there. The train cars however, were dreary and grimy looking, with blue material seats that looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in a while, and wobbly yellow lighting that was depressing. Brighter lights and brighter colored plastic (easy to scrub clean) seats would go a long way to improving the Metro-riding experience, as would platform attendants who could serve as Downtown LA “Ambassadors.”
When we arrived at Union Station the signs were well-marked to get to Amtrak. We were glad we took the Metro, but we are urbanites and have ridden subway systems all over the world–including the NYC Subway system before it was upgraded and renovated in the 1980′s. To attract more riders who are new to the trains, LA needs to do a lot more to make it a pleasant, easy, welcoming experience. I’d call upon that long-time LA resident, the Walt Disney Company, to do a pro-bono analysis and demonstration of how to upgrade Metro service, so that Angelinos and visitors want to ride it as much as they enjoy riding on a Disney train.
Thanks for reaching out and giving me the opportunity to send you my comments. –Steve Villano
Since the turnstile issue is already being worked on
, I want to direct the attention to some other issues that have been bothering me about LA’s metro system. I especially agree with Steve that the next thing we should do is change out those nasty upholstered seats
(that I rarely sit on) and replace them with cleaner plastic ones like in New York or Boston. Even SF BART is considering changing out the cushion seats
in favor of plastic ones because of the billions of bacteria and viruses that infest these cushions. Imagine the millions of different people a year–all with varying levels of personal hygiene–sitting on these upholstered seats (germ magnets), in addition to those who rest their germ infested (E. coli?) shoes/feet on the seats as well.
Not a great incentive to sit down if LA Metro’s intention is to make it more “comfortable” for people to ride the train.
Los Angeles Metro Upholstered Seats :(
The blue upholstered seats in LA’s metro are not only a bit dowdy looking but have become generally dirty, and sometimes even filthy, as many people insist on putting their feet/shoes on the seats
Gum (and who knows what else) on the upholstered seats make it very unpleasant to sit on
Wears and tears over the years give our metro a bad image to discretionary riders, who we definitely want to attract more of to boost overall ridership
New York City Metro Plastic Seats :)
The wide and spacious cars of the New York City metro with the smooth plastic seats make for a much more enjoyable ride compared to the more cramped and dingy feel of the LA subway
Madrid Metro Plastic Seats :)
Madrid is another city I have been to where I was very impressed by how clean and modern their metro system was, and again, with the smooth plastic seats that are much cleaner than your upholstered ones in LA’s subway system
Also, Let’s Switch to Countdown Timers in the LA Metro!
Fred Camino of The Source was the first person to point out to me over a year ago that we should switch to the easier to read and quick-to-grasp countdown timer instead of the current “scheduled timer” which you must know what time it is in order to know when the next train is coming
New York City is switching to the countdown timers as I saw in this subway car ad several months ago
Countdown timers are being rolled out all across the New York City metro system that should nudge LA to do the same thing
Even Salt Lake City’s metro system is rolling out countdown timers as I snapped this picture a few months ago
The Madrid metro system uses all countdown timers as well as I saw on my trip there this past summer