Car-loving L.A. may actually be a public-transit paradise
Attention, Mr. Ripley: There are places tougher to get around without a car than Los Angeles, believe it or not!
The car-loving L.A region -– whose public transit system is often treated like Rodney Dangerfield -- ranked second to Honolulu as offering transit-dependent residents the best access to buses and trains, according to a report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
Most L.A. area residents who lack a vehicle live in a neighborhood within three-quarters of a mile of a bus or train stop -- far better than many other regions, Adie Tomer, author of the report for Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program, said in an interview.
"Yeah, it's the home of American car culture," he said. "But it's also, frankly, home of a pretty strong transit culture." (The report does not deal with how long or uncomfortable it can be to use public transit.)
Nationally, 7.5 million, or 10%, of households in the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas don’t have access to a vehicle, many of them living in the New York area (28%), followed by the Chicago area (5.3%) and the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana region (4.8%).
Of those, 700,000 face a daily challenge of getting around because they live in neighborhoods more than three-quarters of a mile from a transit stop.
Greenville, S.C., topped the list of communities without easy access to transit. Among big cities, carless residents in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston face tough challenges of getting to work or the store, according to the report.
"If you're going to keep afloat during the recession, you have to be able to get to work," Tomer said in a statement. "We knew there were pockets of households who are economically hampered by the fact that they own no car and have no access to transit, but we didn't fully understand the true scope of the problem until now."
The report comes as Congress takes up legislation setting priorities for transportation funding amid a budget-cutting frenzy on Capitol Hill.
It also comes as the American Public Transportation Assn. released a survey this week warning that public transit systems are faced with implementing service cuts and fare increases because of budget troubles, such as reduced local and state funding and fuel price increases.
"We need to make sure there are more transportation options for all households but especially for those low-income groups who are more economically constrained, cannot afford cars, and have no way to access transit," said Tomer. "If this country is to put Americans back to work and become more productive and more competitive in the global economy, the transit system has to do a better job of carrying us to our places of employment."
--Richard Simon in Washington
Photo: Car-loving L.A. ranks high among regions with access to public transit. Credit: Mel Melcon /Los Angeles Times