A Nuyorican in LA: The Gaping Divide Between the Have-Cars and the Have-Nots

PHOTO: A photo of LAs metro system.

Maegan Ortiz/Univision

Living in the City of Angels without a car, in what is still considered the "hood" - non-gentrified territory - means the novelty of expanded rail lines, cleanliness, a relatively low fare, and an honor system of payment wears away quickly.

Everyone warned me but like most born-and-bred New York City residents I took my mass transit system for granted. I complained about rising fare costs while watching rat families play on the tracks at the 74th Roosevelt Avenue Station. I signed petitions making sure free student passes weren't cut so my teen could take the subway into Manhattan for high school. I grumbled as I squeezed into a crowded train car wondering where the hell all these people were going at 11 p.m. and thrust my hips forward so no one "accidently" rubbed their hand or anything else against my ass.

You take it all for granted and you end up missing it.

"If you're going to move to Los Angeles you better learn how to drive," I was told, but with all the things I needed to do before moving from New York City, getting my driver's license wasn't high on my list of priorities. I naively thought that my kids and I could rely on a TAP Card the way we relied on the Metrocard to get around by bus and train. I even thought I'd save money since the one-way fare on the Los Angeles Metro train or Metro Bus is $1.50, less than the $2.25 I was paying per trip in New York. I also wasn't averse to walking. I did it all the time in Queens, walking from Corona to Rego Park, from Rego Park to Forest Hills.

We'd be fine.

A month and a half later we are fine, but also gravely aware of just how good we had it in NYC. Punctuality isn't a strong point of the LA Metro transit system. Wait times range from 10 minutes to 30 minutes because sometimes the bus will just not show up when it is scheduled to. Because LA is so spread out, a trip from the East Side to the West Side means giving yourself two hours for a one way trip. Even a trip within my own neighborhood to the supermarket is about a half hour by bus. You notice your fellow riders on the bus -- which does get very crowded compared to the usual near-emptiness of the trains -- are working class people, poor people, disabled people, families, and mostly people of color.

This is when you also realize that public transportation in LA is not the bargain you originally thought. That one-way fare of $1.50 will likely be spent more than once. There is no simple transfer system between buses or between buses and the train. A trip anywhere outside my neighborhood of City Terrace/Boyle Heights means I'm spending at least $3.00 one way. Travelling with my kids equals a $20 round trip.

I'm relatively lucky though. While I don't drive or own a car, my partner does, so there are days I make him drive me around to run errands that in NYC were simple and required at most a shopping cart. But the fact of the matter is that there are many people here who don't own a car and the fact that there is no continuity of service providers adds an additional challenge.

Everything here is not Los Angeles Metro. For example, for my teen to get to high school she takes a DASH bus, run by a completely different entity, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, with its own separate fare. There is also no student free ride here. My teen can get a half-fare TAP card but, just like loading up your TAP card, it isn't very accessible. Buses here take dollar bills, unlike in NYC, so the key to riding here is to always have lots of singles and change.

The first time I took the LA Metro train, I couldn't understand the lack of turnstiles. Here train stations are run on an honor system. I stood with my daughters for 20 minutes watching people tap their cards and walking through. Of course getting stopped by an LA Sheriff's Deputy and not having paid means a steep fine. I think I'd rather have my turnstiles. I also think Los Angeles needs to do a better job at making sure those who need the bus system the most can access it.

People like me.

Follow Maegan "Mamita Mala" Ortiz as she chronicles her adventures as a Nuyorican in LA, including her quest for the best schools for her daughters, and the story of how the self-proclaimed original "Twitterputa" fell in love and ended up here in the first place.

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