The Masses (and their transit system) - 12/6/04
The Spacemobile needed a new ignition coil, which completes its quest to have every single component of the starting and electrical system replaced. The van's engine is now 51% new car.

Tim at VW called to tell me the van is already done and "only" cost $400. Unfortunately, I can't pick it up until tomorrow because currently I'm stuck up north in a 2-day campout in Westwood. The plan is to crash at Gabe's until my Monday night security shift is over, then take a bus to the airport early Tuesday morning where I will meet Noah, drop him off for a flight, then drive his car home. Then I'll bike over to the dealership and get the van. Yes, the plan involves taking a bus. And nothing is less exciting in LA then attempting mass-transit.

But I think I've finally figured out LA's bus system. This is thanks to an elaborate schematic I found online and studied for a good hour last night at security until I was able to understand it. It's a pretty intense map; covering literally every bus route in Los Angeles, the plan is a 900KB pdf file that you can have to zoom in on 10 times to get the fullest level of detail, still at full resolution. If printed off at full size, I think the thing would be about 6 feet wide.

Now, this is a fine system for me, since I carry my laptop everywhere and thus have constant access to this veritable transit atlas. Also, since I'm a nerd, I actually enjoy playing with huge, complicated diagrams. But my doubts remain about the accessibility of LA's mass transit to the common man. Indeed, they only grow stronger.

First of all, I'm no map-genius, but I like to think I'm a reasonably intelligent guy - hopefully at least as sharp as the average bus rider. And it took me a full hour to really get a grasp on this map. And that was after countless fruitless attempts to extract information from the MTC's website and "help" line. The truth is, the system's just really confusing - there are different colors and coded route numbers with no key, and a million different tiny lines running this way and that. You need some kind of vast cartography background to even read the damn thing. And no offense to those who take the bus regularly, but it isn't schematic engineers who typically take mass transit.

Second of all, even if you can interpret the map, it's not exactly something you can take around with you. Your only options for transporting it are a) laptop computer, b) schematic printer and blue print case, or c) freakish photographic memory. None of which most bus-riders possess. Yet the map remains about the only way to figure anything out - I couldn't find any smaller maps, very few bus stops have maps anymore, and on the actual buses themselves, they always seem to be out of schedules. And this assumes you're riding the bus in the first place.

Third, why are we communicating bus information through arcane maps on hard-to-find websites? The mass transit system needs to realize who their principal audience is: namely, the masses. I'll save my tirade about the masses for another day, but indisputably Los Angeles has some of the massiest masses anywhere. What percentage of them own a computer with high-speed internet enough to scour the web for 900KB interactive transit databases, but don't own a car? Shouldn't we conveying information to the masses in a more appropriate medium, like a reality show or a catchy McDonald's jingle? But no, we'd rather keep it a secret how the bus system works. Word of mouth is good enough to keep this wonderful system flourishing.

No wonder the 405 is a parking lot for 18 hours a day.

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