Trains and Automobiles In Southern California

by Kay Lynn

San Diego  Red Trolley ( train )

A constant complaint in Southern California is that there isn’t a good public transportation system.  It’s not that we don’t have public transportation.  There are buses, trains and trolleys.  It’s clean, timely and affordable, but there  just isn’t enough.

Not enough routes and not frequent enough.


Density. There’s a good reason for the lack of coverage in Southern California.  According to Wikipedia, Los Angeles has a population density of 8,092 people per square mile as compared to New York City’s 26,402 people in the same area.  The city of San Diego is less than half the density of Los Angeles with 3,515 people per square mile.

Those are just the facts the transportation companies have to deal with.  It’s hard to pay for an expensive public transportation system when the number of people that would benefit and use it is so low.

Access.  I live in  a part of the county that does not have a train or trolley serving the area.  To take a bus downtown, only 25 miles away, would take 90 minutes.  Of course to get to the bus I would need to drive or walk two miles to the transit center.  I can drive there and back in the same time! Depending on where I was going, I would need to transfer to another train or trolley.

When we lived on the coast we would take the train downtown and enjoyed the scenic ride very much.  It was there in about the same time or better than driving. We did have to drive 5 miles to get to the station.

Behavior.  I don’t know if people can be convinced to give up their cars and take public transportation.  Even when gas was over $4 a gallon last year I didn’t see many carpools.  It would take a significant amount of pain for people to made the switch to buses and trains.


Most Southern Californians would be sacrificing too much time to use public transportation regularly.  We envy our fellow Californians in San Francisco who have BART and dream of the day we too can catch a convenient train to work.  Until then, see you on the freeway!

Do you have access to good public transportation?

photo by: prayitno

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krantcents January 30, 2012 at 7:28 am

I agree with you. I have used the subway (Los Angeles) a couple of times, but it is not convenient. In NYC, it is the only way to get around quickly. In Los Angles, it can take 50-100% loner vs. driving in many instances. Maybe someday! Until then, I avoid driving in traffic.

Kay Lynn January 31, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Krantcents, I would really like it if we could get better options. It’ll have to come up when the state has more money than it knows what to do with like about 8 years ago!

Thomas - Ways to Invest Money January 30, 2012 at 7:51 am

I really love public transportation but in FL I am not sure whether the problem that there isn’t enough or that people just don’t want to use it. I find it cheap and clean but seems that no one is ever really on the train or buses. I hate driving in traffic since being rear ended on the interstate.

Kay Lynn January 31, 2012 at 12:11 pm

My son in Miami and his girlfriend use the train to get to school and work, but they made sure their apartment was close to public transportation.

I’ve been rear-ended on the freeway as well; it’s a common hazard with traffic.

Jai Catalano January 30, 2012 at 8:26 am

I have lived in NYC my whole life and their subway system is one of the best. Not the cleanest but pretty good.

Kay Lynn January 31, 2012 at 12:11 pm

That is something I really like about NYC, but I find the trains in San Francisco easier to use and cleaner.

shanendoah@the dog ate my wallet January 30, 2012 at 9:08 am

I live in Seattle, and we’re trying to get better, but some times making things better overall makes other parts worse. When we bought our house, we were one block off a bus line that ran straight to my work. Now, we only live about 3 miles from where I work (all hills though), and I can make the drive in less than 10 minutes. Still, I was willing to take the 20 minute bus ride to and from.
Then they added our light rail- which is fabulous for going downtown, but they changed all the routes around the stations. Now if I want to take the bus to work, it will take me 90 minutes on 2 busses or 60 minutes on 3 busses. It’s not worth it for a 3 mile, 8 minute drive.
At the same time, I LOVE the light rail for any time I have to go downtown. I hate driving and parking down there.

Kay Lynn January 31, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Shanendoah, we saw the light rail last Fall when we flew into Seattle. I will keep that in mind next time and just use it to get from the airport to downtown.

Newlyweds on a Budget January 30, 2012 at 9:54 am

I often wish we had a better public transportation system. It really sucks. I had no clue about the density though. I just figured it was because LA is so much more spread out than say Boston or New York.

Kay Lynn January 31, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Sometimes I don’t know where a post will take me when I start writing and love the research for these types of facts.

Marissa @ Thirty Six Months January 30, 2012 at 10:29 am

I like in a suburb of Toronto where its faster for me to walk places then to wait for the bus(we don’t have trains or trollies) so most people end up driving.

Kay Lynn January 31, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Marissa, I’m surprised Toronto doesn’t have a train system out to the burbs. It’s a huge city!

Pamela James January 30, 2012 at 11:23 am

They just started door pickup in the city in ohio that I live in-you have to call the bus company ahead of time.

Kay Lynn January 31, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Pamela, I had never heard of door pickup for a bus system. That’s pretty cool!

Tyler S. January 30, 2012 at 3:52 pm

I worked in Washington DC for a few weeks, and used the Metro system there because I was staying a decent ways outside the city. It really is a great system they have , and always pretty full!

Kay Lynn January 31, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Tyler, I’ve used the metro in DC and found it easy to use as well. It is a great option for tourists as well as residents.

Hack @ Smart Money Hacks January 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm

I don’t live close to public transit for local travel, but I do live close to an Amtrak. I can hop on the train and go to Chicago for about $45 – and it’s about 400 miles away. I consider it a good investment and will use it once or twice a year.

Kay Lynn January 31, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Hack, Amtrak is how we go from San Diego to LA. I rode it a couple of weekends ago and found it a good experience with free wi-fii and comfortable seats.

SB @ One Cent At A Time January 30, 2012 at 9:01 pm

I can’t compare that with my Miami suburb with mostly empty roads. Big cities like London, Beijing started imposing tax on cars entering those cities from outside during office hours. In major Indian cities, big trucks and buses can’t enter before 8PM and can’t leave after 9AM. SFO can take some lessons here.

Kay Lynn January 31, 2012 at 12:18 pm

I don’t know about Indian cities but London does have a good train system.

Mun January 31, 2012 at 10:57 am

I’m from Irvine and went to high school there, but moved to Chicago because of school and work. One of the things that I love about Chicago is that it has public transportation.

Besides the hard-number facts of low population density and lack of convenient transportation schedule in Southern California, there is indeed a peculiar behavior/culture about having a car.
Some people treat you as if you were crazy if you tell them that you are gonna walk half a mile to a Starbucks.

I also behave differently when I am in Chicago vs. when I am in Irvine, and I don’t have a multiple personality disorder!

Kay Lynn January 31, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Mun, the culture is a big factor here as well. I don’t know if you saw the movie, LA Story, but the Steve Martin character gets in his car to drive next door to see the neighbor. That’s not far off from the truth!

Miranda Espeut January 31, 2012 at 6:34 pm

this is very interesting

Lisa @ The Penny Hoarder January 31, 2012 at 8:19 pm

It’s interesting that we behave differently in different parts of the country! When I lived in San Antonio, I was afraid of the freeway system and rode the bus everywhere. In LA for business, I traveled via cab and was concerned about walking downtown. It seems that in many cities, people are reluctant to carpool – unless they know the people they’ll be riding with. Insightful thoughts – thanks!

Jeffrey February 1, 2012 at 9:15 am

I’ve also heard these complains (specifically about LA), and I think it would be something that would (unfortunately) prevent me from wanting to live there.

I’m really big into bicycle commuting, too, but that doesn’t sound ideal since so many people drive everywhere. Seems hard to believe for such a progressive state like California, but I hope they’ll make improvements in infrastructure soon!

Lisa @ Cents To Save February 2, 2012 at 4:49 am

I live in Orlando, and the mass transit system here is a joke. It cannot keep up with the growth of the city. A simple bus ride can take 2 hours with having to go to the main terminal. The powers that be are trying to bring in rail transit, but that will only benefit the tourists traveling from airport to the theme parks.

Jim February 3, 2012 at 9:39 am

I recently moved from the City where I was a five minute walk away from public transportation of any kind, to the suburbs, where a walk to the end of the driveway to check the mail seems like a big trip. Both have their advantages, but it sure is quiet out here in the burbs. 🙂

Emily @ evolvingPF February 4, 2012 at 11:59 am

You should look into the history of public transport in L.A. I remember watching a video on it when I was in college (in a suburb of L.A.) and it was very interesting. If I remember correctly, L.A. had a very competent light rail system in the early 20th century, but it was undercut by the car/bus industry because they wanted to make L.A. into a car town for the larger market. Looks like they were successful, to the enormous detriment of the city.

I lived car-free in the DC area for a year using the Metro to get everywhere and it was amazing. I am partial to the DC Metro as I grew up in the area, but I find it much easier to navigate than other public transport systems I have used in NYC, Atlanta, etc. The traffic in L.A. is my least favorite attribute of the area and I hope some strides are made to create better public transport infrastructure in the near future, as I plan to move back in a few years!

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