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Tue, Feb

The Metro Board Of Directors Is Failing The Environment And Metro Transit Riders

LOS ANGELES

LA TRANSPO - The world continues to heat. The climate is changed for the worst by global warming, fueled by humanity’s continuing burning of fossil fuels with transportation the greatest source of these carbon gases.  

Despite global summits and agreements that we as a species creating the climate change need to reduce burning fossil fuels, the burning continues, and the heat continues to rise.  

Transportation is the greatest source of carbon gases achieved through the burning gasoline to power engines for our cars and trucks. The burned carbon gases continue to drift upward and trap in heat which continues the slow cooking of this planet. 

Climate change experts of the world stress the dire need to reduce burning fossil fuels now, not later. Politicians and leaders make bold declarations on the need to change our polluting habits, yet the heating of Earth continues unabated. We continue to drive, mostly alone in our autos/trucks/SUVs, isolated in our creature comforts designed to not make us think about the environmental consequences each and every time we drive. 

Electric vehicles can reduce carbon gases emitted into the atmosphere, but their replacement of gasoline powered vehicles is too slow. The warming of the planet is not slowing, and the change to electric powered vehicles cannot is not happening fast enough. 

The quickest way to change our transportation styles and pollute less is to drive less. Governments and environmental NGOs concerned about pollution and climate change list the alternatives to driving as walking, riding a bicycle or using mass transit. In the sprawl of Los Angeles, walking and bicycle riding will not move enough people out of their vehicles to drive less.  

I know this as one who would ride my bicycle throughout the city for decades, something I no long do because of the long distances, the constant climbing hills-some very steep, and it has become too dangerous. 

I do walk to destinations when practical, but again, the L.A. sprawl is not for long distance walking outside of exercise. 

So, in the L.A. sprawl the quickest way to not drive and still move around is to use mass transit.  

In 1993 to do my part to first reduce the region’s air pollution, and later to fight global warming, I became a dedicated transit rider. First it was buses, and then when built I added trains for my transit. I remain a dedicated transit rider. 

This is my individual effort to try to stave off the existential threat of global warming. This threat was originally projected to be the burdens of today’s youth as they age, and it surely will be unless changes are made immediately, but the threats of climate chaos leading to destruction are happening today. We, now, in this moment, are all under the increasing threats of a changed global climate, and it will only worsen unless we change our driving habits. 

People must become acquainted with, and comfortable with riding buses and trains. 

Over the past few years my transit riding experience, mostly on Metro buses and particularly its trains, has decreased markedly. 

The Los Angeles Times and The Daily Breeze (Part of Southern California News Group.), both report on the continuing deteriorating situation facing us who ride Metro’s buses and trains. Both newspapers cite a recent report from Gina Osborn, top safety officer of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  

On Metro buses and trains serious crimes-rape, aggravated assault, robbery and murder increased by 24% in 2022 compared to 2021, and less serious crimes rose by 14% over the same time period. 

Complaints from riders of passengers holding or using illegal drugs while riding buses or trains, or on train station platforms, rose 99% over the past year. 

Metro has their own Metro Trans app for transit riders to report incidents. Over the past year 1,385 incidents of narcotics use, possession or sales were reported. The number of unreported incidents would surely increase that number.

There is the shocking and terrible increase of deaths on Metro’s buses and trains. In 2022 systemwide twenty-one deaths were reported. As of the third week of February 2023 it is already twenty-one fatalities.

In 2023, except for one, the deaths were drug overdoses.

From my ridings, it is almost a given that I will smell marijuana smoke when riding Metro trains. It is far less common on buses from my experiences. 

I have seen stoners roll that joint, and then smoke it within the train car. Sometimes they are smoking on the train platform and walk onto the trains with the joint still lit.

It is a miracle that with this smoking of weed on trains there has not been a fire, or at least one large enough to make the news.

I repeatedly see drug use on trains, or passengers obviously under the influence. There is alcohol use. There are the sad sights and sounds of those with mental health issues. 

I have not come across a dead body while riding Metro, or any transit agency’s buses, but for my fellow transit riders who have, I cannot imagine the shock and horrors. If there was ever reason enough to stop riding Metro or not even attempt to ride transit, finding a dead body while riding Metro would be very high on the list.

Recently another Metro study stated that its system has lost women riders from their feeling insecure and not safe while using Metro, and that decrease of women ridership is continuing.

Los Angeles County has, and is, undergoing a tremendous construction of light rail and subway lines to add to its network. I support this expansion.

As a transit rider I know trains, on ground or underneath, are far superior for transit riders instead of buses for the ease of boarding and exit, speed (which saves time), and quality of ride. Buses do incredible work and service, and in the L.A. Sprawl buses must continue to ply the streets and boulevards.

The current Board of Directors for Metro was created to oversee the planning, implementation and construction of the expansion of rail lines and overseeing Metro operations. The board is tasked with financial responsibility, management oversight, and to try to distribute equitably rail projects in Los Angeles County. 

The Metro Board of Directors is not comprised of transit experts, nor are the board members elected, but they are Los Angeles County elected officials from cities within the county. Board number representation is based on the population of the cities in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles as the most populous city has the most members. All five Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors are also on the Metro Board of Directors.

There are also appointed members from local governments to transit committees under the Board of Directors. Transit experience is not a requirement.

These elected officials and committee members confront long hours of work just for their positions, and this cannot give them sufficient time to fully dedicate themselves as a Metro Board member which has tremendous requirements of time and work.

This does not look like efficient government, yet this is the system we have to try to run Metro and incorporate the numerous bus agencies in Los Angeles County.

In the operations of Metro’s network of buses and trains, there seems to be a glaring omission of knowing and understanding the experiences of those of us riding Metro’s buses and trains.

Metro, through what appears to be the actions of its Board of Directors, has moved away from its mission to move people around the county to the role of social worker and justice seeker. 

The homeless situation in Los Angeles County, and particularly in the city of Los Angeles, is no secret. The homeless need assistance through the proper agencies, public and private. Metro is not the proper social work agency, it is a transit agency.

But some in the homeless assistance field think Metro’s trains make excellent rolling homeless shelters. That should not be the role of Metro. Caring for the homeless is the role of those whose mission is helping the homeless. 

Moving homeless to trains is a dereliction of duties by the homeless advocates. I firmly believe the homeless must be assisted, but the billions of dollars Metro receives from tax payers is not to become a social welfare agency but to move people in a way that will attract more riders as alternative to fighting traffic, and very importantly to fight air pollution and global warming.

Riders are fleeing the Metro transit system partially because of the homeless problem.

The restrictions on caring for the mentally ill who cannot take care of themselves also create great tension and trauma for transit riders. These mentally ill, locked into who knows what battles are going on in the minds, speak and shout to the wind. They roam the streets, live on the streets, and create nervous, and at times threatening situations for we the transit riders. They need help from the proper professionals, not a transit agency.

I have seen women flee from their seats when a tragically mentally ill person starts acting out. Some flee to another seat on the trains, others run from the train car they were in to another one.

There are those who through social justice movements believe no fares on Metro will solve many problems for low income riders. With the current increases of crimes, and deaths, on Metro buses and trains, nor fares for riders does not seem to be working.

No fares mean open turnstiles, and what was a gateway to keep the transit riding experience manageable and civil has turned into a situation of chaos and disruption. Riders are abandoning Metro because of the increases in crimes and death on the network.

Subjecting low income transit riders to drug use, crimes-committed against them, and deaths on trains because anyone can walk on without pay fare, is not helping the poor. This makes for a very stressful situation and can cause terrible traumas. To subject the poor to the deteriorating situation on Metro’s buses and trains is not social justice, but it is forcing them to suffer through worsening riding conditions.

The lack of fare enforcement can be considered an enabling action by the Metro Board, leading to these increases of crimes, harassment-including sexual harassment, drug use and drug overdose deaths. 

If fares are required, and if there are authorities who will make sure fares are paid, either by police or the new Metro Ambassadors or a combination of both, then someone who is seeking a drug den on a Metro train or bus, if denied entry, may receive the very needed jolt that they are on a very bad path, and that path could be their death. When there is no authority, anarchy, chaos and crime fills the vacuum.

Some object to any police presence on Metro buses and trains, citing some who fear the police. Police abuse must always be called out, with more training for the abusing police, or dismissal of abusive policemen and policewomen. 

It is absolute that people of color have different experiences with the police than the white population. This is an ongoing challenge which must be corrected.

But I, a white male, feel uncomfortable many times around the police and have been harassed by police for behaving legally and reasonably, but for some reason my behavior not within their likings. However, I support more police on Metro trains, at the train stations, on buses and patrolling bus stops.

The continuing deteriorating riding experiences on Metro will not entice people to leave their vehicles and ride Metro, so people will continue to drive and add more and more pollutants into the air, leading to more and more climate disasters, and these disasters will hurt the poor the most. 

The Metro Board of Directors is responsible not only for the securing and watching over the billions of dollars to pay for the expansion of its rail networks, and the continuing operation of its buses and trains, but they also have responsibilities towards the riders of Metro. 

The recent trends of lower Metro ridership, made in part from the increases on Metros trains and buses of crime, harassment, drug use, and death by drug overdose is a dereliction of their duties. It is difficult for me to comprehend writing about deaths on Metro trains and buses. Seeing someone dead on a train or bus should never be part of the transit riding experience.

The Metro Board of Directors is failing transit riders, and this will fail in attracting new riders to fight climate change, so the Metro Board is also failing the environment.

(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native, a composer whose works have been performed nationally, and some can be found here.  He is the past President of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and Marina del Rey Symphony. His dedication to transit issues is to help improve the transit riding experience for all, and to convince drivers to ride buses and trains to fight air pollution and global warming. He is an instructor at Emeritus/Santa Monica College and a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.)