How the LA Metro is part of the “Green” Mass Transportation Movement

Jan 26, 2010 by Sean Belk

It’s no mystery that Los Angeles has some of the worst air quality in the nation. Doubly worse is the heavy traffic that clogs up the freeways on a daily basis. And if you decide to go anywhere, well good luck finding or paying for parking.

Like many people living in highly congested cities, I’ve become so fed up with traffic, that I decided to set out on a one day mission to see what public transportation is really like. What better way to do my part in creating a cleaner environment than to travel by bus and train, thereby cutting down on the air pollution and Green House Gas emissions that my car produces.

Mass transit ridership seems to be inching up, ever so slightly, with more and more people looking for eco-friendlier solutions for transportation, while still staying economical at the same time.

Blue Line

During the entirety of my trip, I spent only $3.25 to travel 11 miles to Downtown Los Angeles, and then back to my house in Long Beach, taking the bus and the Blue Line rail system.

My goal, however, was not to view the snowy mountaintops and vast landscape–which was an added bonus–but to discover the green advantages to riding on the LA Metro bus and rail systems.

And I have to say, it sure beats carpooling, especially when you’re riding along with dozens of other people, as opposed to just a couple friends. That means hundreds of gas-guzzling cars were off the roads that day, including mine.

My first question was just how “Green” is the local Mass Transit System?

In general, riding the Metro rail and Metrolink systems greatly reduces Green House Gas emissions and air pollution, in addition to cutting down the amount of cars on the road. But thorny problems still remain to be solved, because powering light rails and railroads requires high voltages of energy, from either fully electric systems or diesel locomotives. Under both scenarios, we still end up burning large amounts of fossil fuels, depending on the weight and type of rail system used.

Riding the rails

LA Metro Rail

Light Rail Transit trains are currently used for the Blue, Green, and Gold Lines. They all are fuel powered, via electrically wired system overheads, much like the Pacific Electric Red Car system that ended in 1961.

Heavy rail electrically-powered trains are currently used on the LA Metro Red and Purple Line underground subway system.

Self-Propelled Railcars are similar to Light Rail Transit, but are powered by on-board, clean-burning engines instead of overhead electrical wires. Fuel sources often include clean diesel, natural gas, hybrid technology, or other non-electric sources.

Metrolink

Commuter Rail is part of the service currently provided by Metrolink in Southern California, with locomotives pulling passenger rail coaches on longer-distance routes. The heavy trains that run through Antelope Valley, Riverside, Orange County, San Bernardino, and Ventura are fueled by low sulfur diesel engines.

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Buses

Los Angeles County currently has one of the largest fleet of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)-powered buses in the nation, with a total of 2,506 busses according to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Also, the agency just recently secured another order of 41 new CNG buses in 2009; and they are expected to be up and running by the end of this year.

Out the Window

“Buses fueled by CNG are up to 97 percent cleaner than diesel buses, because they emit little cancer-causing particulate matter.” With their most recent plans, the agency hopes to reduce annual air pollution by an estimated 14 tons by 2030.

More Green aspects of Mass Transit

Our mass transit system has definitely come a long way in improving the energy efficiency of its bus and rail units. As well, the stations and bus stops that blanket the county have dramatically improved their energy efficiency also. For instance, by installing solar panels on connecting facilities, the system here has "the most solar power generated facilities for mass transit. Solar energy produced 850 kilowatts in 2007 and an additional 1,000 kilowatts in 2008, increasing to 32,000 kilowatts of capacity currently,” according to the MTA . Solar panels on rail stations are expected by 2011.

Crossing the LA River

The stations are also becoming LEED Certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) using a green building standards rating system (certified silver, gold and platinum) developed by the US Green Building Council. The MTA has also implemented the use of recycled materials and low Green House Gas components in the construction of new projects.

The future for Mass Transit Rail Transportation

Although it isn’t mainstream yet, the future of railway is a hybrid model that would lessen energy consumption across the board. For instance, Hitachi has developed a hybrid propulsion rail system, that combines engine, generator, traction, motors and storage battery usages that save both energy and emissions, according to the California Rail News. And last year, a new hydrogen fuel cell railway system was unveiled in Topeka, Kansas.

Funding to expand Rail Systems

For being one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the nation, public transportation in Los Angeles, isn’t even on the radar when compared to New York or San Francisco, where there really is no reason to own a car. This begs the question, why aren’t more Southern Californians taking advantage of mass transit?

The Gold Line

From my experience described in this article, I’m deducing that one of the main reasons why people here shy from riding the bus or train in general, is the extra time factor involved, and the need to schedule your trip in advance.

There are so many connections and times to adhere to, it can get a little confusing. Also with the Metro information being at times overwhelming and obtuse, people can easily become confused about how to properly travel on the Metro. And with so many stops along the way, if you miss your ride, well, that could mean an extra hour of waiting time, and an additional cost–both in money and productivity. With the rush of today’s fast paced society, most people aren’t willing to wait around.

That’s probably why the MTA works every year to expand the rail systems to include more destinations. According to their 2008 draft plan, the agency is slated to spend $152 billion over the next two decades toward upgrading our mass transit system from state and federal government funding. 

My suggestion would be to make mass transit more practical for the everyday passenger, instead of gearing the system toward tourists and lessen quick straight rides in favor of more stops and destinations.

Well, one step at a time.

Interesting facts about LA Metro mass transit

The single most effective action a household can take to reduce their carbon emissions footprint (up to 30 percent) is replacing one car in a two-car family with transit and bicycling.  The 73-mile Metro Rail system moves nearly 260,000 passengers each weekday.   The Metro Rapid program has expanded to operate along 20 corridors and carry 185,000 passengers daily.  Metrolink has expanded its service to six counties and 512 route miles, and carries an average of 43,500 passenger trips daily.   Source: MTA

Sean Belk maintains his own news blog “Eye On Ecology” at www.eyeonecology.net.

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9 Responses to “How the LA Metro is part of the “Green” Mass Transportation Movement”

  1. Wayne says:

    I haven’t used a car when visiting LA for quite some time. I’m impressed the Metro Transit and light rail. Some routes are extremely long and in some cases the wait times are excessive but in general it’s a terrific network.
    Wayne´s last blog ..‘The Joint’ My ComLuv Profile

    [Reply]

    seanbelk Reply:

    @Wayne, yes Wayne, I think the wait time is what deters most people from opting the mass transit route, but if you plan out your schedule right then you can get where you want to go…thanks

    [Reply]

  2. jrb says:

    I haven’t owned a car in years. At first because of simple economics. I simply wasn’t making enough money to afford car payments, insurance payments, up keep, and the inevitable parking extortion. Later I tried motorcycles, and after two years having close encounters with vehicles I decided that I was getting to the age where it took too long to heal from a bad injury, and that I was pushing my luck. I went back to public transportation and have been very happy with all the improvements Metro has made over the years

    [Reply]

    seanbelk Reply:

    @jrb, Hi jrb, sorry to hear about your unfortunate injury, and yeah I have to agree, I enjoyed my trip on the Metro and look forward to many more changes to come.

    [Reply]

    seanbelk Reply:

    @seanbelk, what I meant to write was sorry to hear about your unfortunate injury…oops typed a little too fast there. Thanks for the comments and we’ll keep an eye out for any new improvements as they come.

    [Reply]

  3. Scott Mercer says:

    Since Metro has implemented the Metro Rapid bus program, ridership has gone up and trip times have gone down (if marginally). The point is, these routes have FEWER stops, not more. Generally, the local bus routes with more stops putter along at something under 10 miles per hour, leading to incredibly long trips.

    I really believe that getting more people to ride will involve making the whole system faster on average, and that generally means rail, either subway or light rail, as your backbone route, with a local bus taking you the final half-mile or mile to your final destination. That’s generally what they are trying to do.

    We have the fifth largest amount of mass-transit rail (after NYC, Chicago, DC and the Bay Area), and we have almost 2 million people riding the buses and trains every day.

    [Reply]

    seanbelk Reply:

    @Scott Mercer, Hi Scott, thanks for the response. I wholeheartedly agree with you on many fronts, but what I was referring to was the types of stops and destination points, maybe I should have been more clear. For instance there should be a ride to some of the main areas of employment like the Ports or outdoor markets or something to give us more options than rather just downtown. But less stops would definitely cut down on wait time. Thanks.

    [Reply]

  4. Jack Steinberg Sr. says:

    LA has a long way to go. Portland OR has one of the best transit systems. Take a lesson LA, it’s not to late to learn.

    [Reply]

  5. seanbelk says:

    Hi Jack, from my research LA is expected to become very aggressive in the next few years in updating its transit system, but almost every state in the country is clamoring for funds right now. Secondly, the hardest thing to change is a population’s mentality. I understand Portland is very progressive in its approach to alternative transportation.
    Thanks,

    [Reply]

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