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Gelfand’s Attack on the Venerable City Bus: ‘It Must be Satire, He Can’t be Serious!


CROSS TALK - To try to make sense of Bob Gelfand’s article, “LA Street Hazard, The City Bus is a Moving Traffic Jam”,  I read it twice. The first time I read it on my iPhone while I was riding the Culver City Bus No. 3. Then I came home and reread it on my computer. Is it satire, or is it serious? He is serious, to which I reply, you cannot be serious. 

The first city bus was in New York City in 1905. City buses are as much part of any city street as any car, truck or SUV. I’ve been regularly riding buses since 1992 out of environmental concerns. Those remain, but with today’s traffic, riding buses and rails instead of driving is an act of sanity. Perhaps Mr. Gelfand has been driving too much and it has clouded his vision. 

From my recollections, since the 1990’s, city buses have become narrower. While they are not the same as riding in a luxury sedan, the new buses are quite ergonomically designed, and comfort can be achieved. I’ve had cars which were more uncomfortable than today’s buses. 

I wonder how often Mr. Gelfand rides buses. If he rode frequently he would know that buses must be a certain width to have two rows of seats and a center aisle. This moves people quickly and safely on and off the bus. If buses were narrower and shorter, then to move the same number of people as they do today would probably result in at least twice as many buses on the roads. This would increase maintenance costs as more buses would require more cleaning and service. 

I ride mostly buses since there is no light rail or subway in my neighborhood, but I do ride these whenever I can, and their quality of ride is far superior to buses. I repeatedly hear and read arguments against building less light rail and buying more buses. Rails carry more people faster and more comfortably than buses, which is more economical. What gets me is that this argument seems to be made by those who don’t appear to be regular transit riders. This is an argument against giving transit riders a better ride.  

My argument to that is we are spending too much on roads and freeways, and that money needs to be shifted to more mass transit. To achieve this financially, I propose that we stop wasting money paving roads with asphalt and concrete, and just use gravel. This would save a lot of money. Drivers would argue this would not be good for their cars and their ride. That may be true but if people want to prevent transit riders from having the better transit experience from rails, then they should look to their own modes of transportation first and make sacrifices before throwing around their opinions. 

This is not to say buses are bad, they are great. I ride them all the time. In gridlock, when I am on a bus, as I was today on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, and I see each lane filled with cars for blocks, I imagine the rage slowly building inside each car.  I also know that too much vehicle exhaust continues to be wasted and goes into the air giving Los Angeles the worst air in the nation, and making climate change worse. After looking at the traffic, I went back to reading the paper.  

With the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, buses now have ramps for wheelchairs, so they must be a certain width to accommodate these riders. With an aging population, more people who depend upon walkers use the bus, and they too need adequate room inside the bus to maneuver. The bus width is out of necessity. 

It is good that Mr. Gelfand waits behind buses in traffic until they pull away from the curb. Too many times I’ve been on a bus when a careless driver does a sharp turn in front of it as it pulls away from the curb. The bus driver slams on the brakes to miss the offending vehicle and the bus passengers are jerked around. The poor bus driver experiences needless anxiety and we passengers hope no one on the bus was injured. 

What is very puzzling is Mr. Gelfand’s rage against the pollution from buses with his assumption that they are still powered by diesel engines. Metro has the largest clean burning natural gas powered fleet of buses in the nation, and the conversion to these cleaner buses probably happened ten years ago. I ride Metro, Culver City and Santa Monica Buses, and their fleets are entirely powered by natural gas. This is plain to see, written on the sides of the buses. I cannot fathom where this argument came from. 

Mr. Gelfand, like all of us, is witnessing the tremendous increase in traffic in Los Angeles, and for whatever reason, he is taking it out on buses. This is a common train of thought, but it does not go to the final point--as we drive we have become part of and are causing traffic gridlock. It is the mindset:  “I’m entitled to drive, (which we really aren’t) then all of those other drivers and buses are not entitled to be on the road, messing up drive times.”  

Yes, there are too many cars on the road creating too much pollution.  A very quick solution to this is not to drive all the time.  Take the train or bus. 


(Matthew Hetz is co-chair of the Los Angeles Council District 11 Transportation Advisory Committee, a bicycle rider since 1965, a driver since 1975 and a dedicated transit rider since 1992. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected])  Secondary editor: Linda Abrams.





Vol 13 Issue 59

Pub: Jul 21, 2015


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