Picture this. Rene wakes up every morning, leaves his apartment, walks a couple blocks to a subway station, goes four stops, walks about five more blocks and is at work in roughly 30 minutes. Door to Door. If that was the only information I gave you, where would you say he lived? Perhaps Midtown Manhattan. Another option is Virgil Village, a neighborhood along the Red Line, sandwiched between Silverlake and East Hollywood. Rene moved here about 3 years ago, but was raised nearby in Thousand Oaks, a city about 15 miles past the northwest border of Los Angeles. Throwing even more LA mass transit stereotypes out, Rene doesn't take the train because he has no other option, Rene has a car. I ask him how often he uses it and he semi-jokingly says, "twice a week. Moving it from one side of the street to the other...for street cleaning. I think I'm going to sell it soon."
It surprised me that Rene wouldn't use the car he has. "It's too expensive. Every time I drive it's like $10 for the day (at a parking lot near Ace Hotel)." He has the option for a monthly parking space, but at about $100 a month, it isn't a solution for him. A more appealing option is the subsidized TAP card the hotel uses through a program with Metro called B-TAP. This gives him an unlimited monthly TAP card for about $66 a month. A standard monthly TAP card is $100 a month. He learned about the option in an orientation that new hires at Ace Hotel take. It's a great option, which allows you to use it 24/7, not just while commuting to work. If Rene payed for single use rides he would be paying $3.50 round trip each day. Thats $70 a month. Therefore, on top of savings gained by not parking, not only does Rene save $4 a month commuting to work, any other time he uses Metro, he's saving money. That's a great reason to work at Ace Hotel. Only a handful of companies currently are enrolled in the B-TAP program, but for many companies it makes a lot of sense. It's not just an advantage for Rene, Ace Hotel took over an old office building from 1927 built long before the private automobile engineered how we designed our city. The cost of providing parking for all of their employees would be far too high, a predicament many companies see. More and more companies, and even cities (See what Columbus, Ohio is doing), are finding new ways to get their employees to work.
Growing up in Thousand Oaks, Rene didn't use mass transit. He hadn't even tried Metro until 2012, while going to UCLA, when he found his way first to the Expo line and then on to the Red Line to go out one evening. Prior to that night, he didn't really think of it as a viable option. As we are getting on our train he says, "I didn't really think about it at all...it existed, but my whole life was on the Westside. I didn't try."
Five years after his first ride on Metro, Rene lives in a place where his car sits parked on the street. He gets around via Metro, and when time is of the essence he supplements his transport by ride sharing services like Lyft (a service which he spends about $25 a week on). He takes an average of four Lyfts a week. Having an unlimited TAP Card has made it more desirable for him to pick mass transit. I wondered how he got here. He wasn't raised to take mass transit. He isn't forced to take mass transit. Often in Los Angeles many assume that there are only two types of people who rely on Metro: the one's who can't afford private vehicles, or the transplants from more urban cities like New York or San Francisco that are used to the lifestyle of underground trains and shared spaces. Rene is neither. He's just an Angeleno who has chosen to participate in LA's great 21st century experiment: Can this city have more than one option for how we move around? Rene wants something different than the normal LA commute. He wants more time to do what he wants to do. He wants to be able to get around without a car. "It's made me write and read more, even though I have only about 10 minutes on the train." It gives him a reason to get a book started or brainstorm a project.
"I love walking into these stations and imagining what they are going to look like in the future." It's an interesting thought. Will there one day be enough traffic or political will power to justify the in-station concession stands we are used to in other cities? Will there be more digital visuals or art? More entrances and exits like the one that recently opened at 7th and Metro he uses to make his way to work. The new portal saves him two minutes on his walk. These are all valid questions. Our rail system is relatively young. The Blue Line, Metro's oldest line that streches from Long Beach to DTLA, only opened in 1990, a year before Rene was born. He remarks that he feels enjoyment that he's part of the big experiment of bringing rail back to Los Angeles.
The interesting thing about talking to Rene is that he wasn't seeking to change the way he lived his life to survive in LA. He just made choices that made economical sense and gave him the ability to use his time the way he wanted. He wanted less time in traffic and more time with friends. He tries to encourage his friends to use mass transit to varying success, he did manage to persuade his roommate to get a TAP card. When we think about what growing up in Los Angeles means we usually have a few ideas that come to mind, but it's important to remember that this city is changing fast and those idea's might become more of an option rather then a rule.
There are thousands of children growing up in LA today who have had an operational rail line within a mile of them their whole life. They might have already used their first TAP Card. What would happen if we introduced mass transit education into schools the way we teach DMV handbooks (as Seattle Mayoral Candidate Nikita Oliver recently stated)? How would this effect the next generation and their perception of transit? Would it be normal to them? Will they grow up and have to move to SF or NY if they seek a more urban life? Or might our future Angelenos just have to move to another part of town. As I walk up to the door at Ace to conclude our talk, Rene notes how he wishes the subway to Westwood had been built when he was in college, 25 minutes from DTLA to Westwood/Wilshire. Can you imagine?