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BUS EXPERIMENT HAPPILY NOW IN REAR-VIEW MIRROR.

Byline: MARIEL GARZA

MY monthlong experiment with public transportation ended Friday. Except for a couple of ``emergencies,'' I left my car at home and traveled this city by bus for 30 extremely long days. This really big city.

I went to work each day on the bus. If I needed groceries, I'd take the bus or harass a friend for a ride. When my sister came to town, I made her ride the subway to Hollywood, rather than shuttling her around sightseeing. When I had to go downtown for a fancy press awards dinner, I rode the bus in a spaghetti-strap dress.

For the month of June, I experienced life in Los Angeles as many other people do -- without a car and hating it.

I'd like to say this experience made me a better person. I'd like to report that I've made life-changing connections with other riders. I'd like to say that I've had profound revelations about the human condition or about the state of social justice. I'd like to say I've become a public-transportation convert.

But I cannot say any of those things, not truthfully. The only thing like an epiphany to hit me was something I already knew: Riding the bus in Los Angeles sucks.

It sucks because there's little incentive to leave the car at home, even with gas prices so high and this so-called phantom traffic. I didn't save time. In fact, my daily commute averaged a combined 3.5 hours a day. That's a long time to add to a workday, especially when it's spent crammed in with a bunch of tired and cranky strangers.

Nor did I save money on transportation costs. I thought I might, since I drive 50 miles a day round trip. But I have a hybrid car, and the MTA's crazy bus pass system isn't cheap. The top end of the bus pass ($58 a month) is supposed to let you ride on any Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus or rail line, L.A. Department of Transportation commuter buses and Dash buses, Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus and all sorts of other municipal bus lines. However, to ride the L.A. DOT's commuter express past a few miles -- say, to or from the San Fernando Valley -- you must purchase an extra stamp for $17 a pop. A bus pass for $75 a month hardly seems like a big incentive.

This is not to say that I didn't learn anything useful from this personal challenge.

For instance, I learned the only white-collar workers who take the bus are people who have recent DUI convictions, people with medical conditions, such as grand mal seizures, or people who are crazy. I often caught people looking at me as if they were wondering which I one I was.

I also learned that giving up your car changes your life, and not in a good way. On the weekends, I love to drive out to the beach, visit friends in other parts of the city or county, take the dog for hikes at Griffith Park, or hit Home Depot and Target repeatedly. After figuring out that any of these trips would involve either changing buses at least once, a long wait in the hot sun (buses in L.A. run less frequently on the weekends), getting stuck after dark in a strange neighborhood in a tank top and shorts, or carrying a bag of garden mulch a half-mile, I stayed home a lot.

But the most important thing I learned from my bus experiment is that it is both humbling and humiliating to be dependent on the bus. When you drive, you are in control of your destination and thus, in a way, your destiny. When you ride the bus, you give up control to the bus driver, to the other passengers and to chance itself.

Sometimes the buses don't come when they are supposed to. Sometimes they don't come at all. Sometimes they come but don't stop for you. Sometimes the drivers are mean to riders, and the riders have to take it. Sometimes you make good time and meet your connections; sometimes you don't. This randomness is perhaps the hardest part of public transportation for those of us used to driving.

At the beginning of this experiment I wondered if I might choose to ride the bus for good. I won't. I will try to ride it to work once or twice a week, but tomorrow, I will be back on the 101 Freeway with the rest of you. And I will be happy to be back.
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 2, 2006
Words:763
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