Car v. Train: Two KCRW reporters race from Pasadena to Santa Monica

If you live near the Gold Line and you work in Santa Monica, is it realistic to expect to be able to take Metro all the way to work?

At 7 am Monday, the first weekly commute day since the new Expo Line extension opened Friday, KCRW’s Saul Gonzalez got on board from a station near his home. Meanwhile, like many Angelenos, KCRW’s Avishay Artsy took his Prius. And the race was on…

At 7 am Avishay and Saul met at the Lincoln Heights Gold Line stop near Saul’s house. By 7:15 Saul was at Union Station and Avishay was on the 110 South about to pass LA Live. By 7:45 Avishay was on the 10 freeway going around 40 mph. By 8 am, Saul was only at the Expo Western Station, while Avishay was only about 10 minutes away from the KCRW studios at 20th and Pico.

In short, it was quicker to drive. However, maybe that’s not the point. Perhaps embracing mass transit means a more pleasant and productive morning commute.

The Expo LIne pulls into the Pico Stop
Plenty of room on the Expo Line as it pulled into the Pico Stop. Photo: Saul Gonzalez

What was the experience like? 

Avishay: It felt like it always feels – a bit isolating and lonely but ultimately I have the freedom to make calls (via headset/bluetooth, not handheld), listen to podcasts and audiobooks, etc. There was a lot of traffic around Crenshaw/West Adams area but otherwise I was going around 30-40 mph.

Saul: All in all it went very smoothly. The morning trains were crowded but not sardine can crowded. Other than the one late train in downtown L.A., the connections between  the Gold Line, Red Line and Expo Line were pretty smooth. My one worry was when Metro personnel came aboard to swipe transit cards to make sure we paid. I thought I had forgotten to swipe mine at one transfer, but it was a false alarm and big ticket avoided.

How much did it cost each of you?

Avishay: I estimate it took half a gallon of gas, so around $1.50 to get to work.

Saul: My Metro ticket to travel one-way to KCRW cost me $1.75 which includes all the connections over the 18 mile trip. My less than one mile Uber trip, though, between the Santa Monica Expo Line station and KCRW, cost me $4.37.

How long did it take you to get to KCRW? 

Avishay: I left the Gold Line stop [along with Saul] at 7:09 and parked in the staff lot at 8:10, so about one hour.

Saul: From stepping aboard the train at the Lincoln Heights station to walking through the door at KCRW, it took me about an hour and fifty minutes. There was a train running about seven minutes late train at the 7th Street station in downtown Los Angeles. That’s where you board the Expo Line to go to Santa Monica. I assume that was related to a reported accident on the tracks near Crenshaw and Exposition Boulevard. I also spent a few extra minutes at the 17th Street station in Santa Monica, where I got off to interview people for KCRW, and figure out what sort of transportation I would use to cover the last half-mile to KCRW. My choices were walking, the bus, bike share or Uber. I chose Uber. My driver, David, was very cordial.

Did you feel a sense of community on the train? Did you feel road rage in your car?

Avishay: I didn’t feel any road rage this morning, though that often happens on the drive home, when it takes about 90 minutes to get home. I use the navigation app Waze, which often sends me through random neighborhoods during rush hour and has me take left turns across busy streets, which is the most frustrating part of my trip. The shortcuts rarely save time, because all the other drivers are using them as well.

Saul: Sitting stuck in traffic daily on freeways like the 10 and 110,  it’s always liberating to be able to take mass transit when I can. Riding the train or subway lets me read, catch up on work, or just listen to music or podcast without that low grade tension that comes with inching forward on the freeway. Plus, I say way fewer curse words under my breath when I’m on a train that’s moving versus a car that’s stuck in gridlock.

But the drawback of the train is not being able to easily make all the other trips I have to do for work and the times I need to do them. For those days when I need to be in Hollywood, Studio City and Pasadena all on the same day, the car is still the best option to get around. That’s not mass transit’s fault, it’s LA’ s sprawl.