Santa Monica is known for thinking in ways other cities don’t. So where’s that thinking as it relates to mass transit? Have you seen any city or area transit authority study comparing different methods of transport and the short- and long-term costs? No? That’s because they didn’t create one. Is light rail the best plan for Santa Monica? Will it make a profit?
One of our most recent investments in mass transit was the L.A. downtown Metro. Why did the Metro go underground? We have some of the best weather in the world, with only nine rainy days a year and no snow. Why build underground in earthquake country? The reason is simple: $5.6 billion went into a great number of people’s pockets so that question did not get asked. Are we suffering the same fate today in Santa Monica?
Local transportation officials keep making the same mistakes when it comes to public transit. Face it, we live in an earthquake zone. The last place anyone wants to be is underground during a quake. Yet we wasted $5.6 billion to build the subway to nowhere. Did anyone notice a drop in traffic when the subway started running?
So how is a ground-level train any better then an underground train? Above ground trains either crowd out our already crowded streets by reducing the number of lanes available to vehicles, or they require a 20-yard path of home demolition right through your neighborhood. They cause delays as they cross busy intersections, making traffic worse. Trains also hit people and vehicles, costing the taxpayers a great deal of money in repairs and lawsuits. To prevent those lawsuits, a massive network of loud-ringing bells must be erected to prevent idiots from parking on the train tracks. Those bells have to be loud enough to be heard by someone in a BMW on the cell phone. That means if you live within a mile of the track, you will hear those bells.
The next problem with ground-level trains is the cost. Trains are expensive to maintain and that means more money for the company selling us that train. That may be good for the train business, but it’s bad for the people who pay the bill. Since the 1950s, there’s been a long-term campaign to make money off the people of the Los Angeles area. It started with the demolition of the “red cars,” an efficient working rail system that was in place before the city grew. That system still has the right of way, but it’s been quickly used for other purposes.
Open corruption is what Los Angeles mass transit is about. I had the pleasure of asking former L.A. Mayor Jim Hahn in a town hall meeting, “Who took the bribe to terminate the Green Line two miles from the airport? He replied that he’d look into this. Now, six years later, the train is still no closer to the airport. The city of Los Angeles is one of the only cities to host the Olympics and make a profit. So why hasn’t someone asked the obvious question: How do you make mass transit profitable in Los Angeles?
The reason no one asks how to make a train profitable is because they don’t want it to be profitable. If you care about profit, then you have to care about costs. The people that sell and maintain the trains don’t care if it costs too much. The elected officials obviously don’t care or they would be asking that question.
According to the Federal Transit Administration, the Seattle monorail is the only profitable train system in the United States. If you want a system to work, connect people from where they are to where they want to go. Connect large malls first. Imagine spending a day shopping going from the Third Street Promenade to Century City, to the Beverly Center and never having to drive. Connect airports down the middle of freeways. We have massive rideshare parking lots right off the freeways. Imagine how many people would use the monorail if it went down the center of all of the freeways? What if you could take a monorail to the airport from Santa Monica, Century City or the San Fernando Valley? Why is it that the largest monorail in the United States is owned by a private, for-profit company called Disney? That’s an example of how a profitable route can grow without taxpayer money.
So why is a monorail not even being talked about? Anyone who has gone to Disneyland knows that a monorail is fun, quiet and a safe way to travel. Monorails are above the road and run on rubber tires over dedicated concrete which make them whisper quiet. They are reliable and run on time. They don’t hit cars or children and offer a great view of the city. The fact is for the first time in almost 50 years, the Seattle monorail is having to refurbish its monorail trains. The track is still in good shape and has not been replaced. Santa Monica, demand the best mass transit.
David Alsabery is a high-performance driving instructor, a Republican and an all around nice guy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.