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L.A. transit fan gets thanks from mayor, custom bus stop sign

October 27, 2011 | 12:59 pm

Al Vogel
Al Vogel lives in Durham, Calif., about 20 miles south of Chico. But the organic farmer and former teacher loves Los Angeles so much that he often visits to explore the city by bus and train, relying solely on public transit to get around.

Last summer, one of Vogel's visits -- with extended family in tow -- was chronicled in the Los Angeles Times in a piece in which he described how much he loved getting around the city carlessly. Art Leahy,  chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, read the story and determined to meet Vogel in person.

On Thursday morning, Leahy gave Vogel a tour of the 25th floor of the Metro Headquarters Building, and the two walked from window to window, looking down on rail yards and the Los Angeles River and Gold Line and Metrolink trains coming and going on the tracks. Then they headed downstairs to the MTA board meeting, where Leahy presented Vogel and asked him for his public-transit recommendations.

Vogel came prepared -- with a list of notes. He suggested that the city offer a tourist-friendly three-day transit pass in addition to its day pass and weekly pass. He also suggested the MTA website include a special section for visitors, perhaps with video clips showing transit tourists how to use the transit system to get to such places as Los Angeles International Airport, downtown, East L.A. and the Huntington.

Vogel said showing the grandchildren Los Angeles on buses and trains this summer was a great educational experience for them -- a far cry from just going to Disneyland.

"We wanted the kids to experience the richness and the diversity and the complexity and the whole urban fabric of a really big city, a really great city," he said. "You know, transit is an agent of social cohesion."

After his comments, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of the MTA board, and Leahy said they had something for Vogel. They presented him with a bus stop sign on a wooden pedestal -- for Metro Local 40, but with a special message that read: "The Vogel Family, Welcome Aboard Metro." (The 40, by the way, which starts at Union Station and ends in Inglewood, was the route Leahy once drove as a bus operator.)

Vogel arrived in Los Angeles for his visit around midnight Tuesday, on an Amtrak train from Sacramento. On Wednesday, he said, he took somewhere between a dozen buses and trains as he wandered the city, sometimes looking out the windows, sometimes getting off to see things.

His travels took him, among other places, to the IMAX theater at Exposition Park, the Autry Museum, Caravan bookstore and Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles and an ongoing day of the dead celebration on Olvera Street.

Because he was taking the train back home on Thursday afternoon,  the MTA kindly arranged to ship his new bus stop sign back home to his Northern California farm.


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Photo: Al Vogel receives a bus stop sign from the MTA. Credit: Luis Inzunza / MTA.