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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tamales and Bus Fares

I used to drive the 66 line. It goes from Western Avenue through Downtown Los Angeles out through East L.A. and ends up at the Montebello Metrolink center. Along the way I pass by McArthur Park. That’s the Park made famous in the Movie “Volcano” where a volcano erupts in Los Angeles. The lake where the water starts boiling is the one that dominates the park.

There’s a young Mexican guy that catches that bus in the evening. The bus would be packed by the time he would get on so he would stand by the front and we got to talking. He is in his early twenties and he’s married with two small children. He works all day at a job that pays just a little above minimum wage. He rides the bus home and this kid is so proud of his wife. He told me how she spends her day taking care of the house and the small children, yet she still finds time to make Tamales. Not for him to eat, she makes a bucket full of them. He says they’re the best Tamales anyone has ever made. In the evening, when he gets home, he picks up this bucket of Tamales and catches the bus back to McArthur Park. There he sells them for $1 each. In an hour they are all sold.

This young family is poor but they are going to make it. I’m sure of that. They are sticking together and working together and they are proud of each others accomplishments. However humble those achievements may seem to some of us, this young couple see each other as heroes, there is no way they can fail with that kind of commitment. I learned all this from talking to him and meeting his wife just once as she met him at the bus stop.

The other thing I’m sure of is that in years to come, when they have success and being poor is just a memory, they will think of these days as being the happiest days of their lives.
I have said more than once, and I’ll probably keep saying it, that mass transportation is essential to modern civilization. I just wish it was more effective.

There is a big fuss going on at the moment about the bus fare increase here in Los Angeles. It makes for some interesting reflections. Like the young family in this story. The monthly pass is going up by $13 so for the two of them that’s another $26 to find. Put it another way, the income from 26 Tamales is eaten up by the bus company. If they were a shop or a regular business they would pass the increase on to their customers, but the people they sell to are poor themselves. They are already charging all that their market can bear and they are too decent to raise their prices. For people like them, and there are a lot of young families in their position, the fare increase is a heavy burden.

For those with steady jobs and a fairly decent standard of living it’s not the fare increase that keeps them off the buses. It’s the lack of convenience.

The main reason why people do not catch a bus in L.A. is that it’s not that easy to get around by bus. Not in a timely and efficient manner. Without going too much into the details consider this. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority has almost 7,000 employees, all of them have a free bus pass but only 2% of them use the bus. Obviously the bus fare is not an issue with them. What is an issue is being able to get to work on time without spending hours travelling and switching from one bus to another.

There needs to be a complete overhaul of the way mass transit is considered in Los Angeles County and it needs to be a flexible one. Part of the problems we have here are because a system was set up and then engraved in stone. The Transit system in L.A. doesn’t need tinkering with it needs changing. It also needs problem solvers with the humility to realize that times will change and the solutions of today will become outdated and eventually must move aside for new innovations.

It’s time for a fresh outlook

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