Graphic by Elise Bechtel
By Andrew Graves
This opinion article is based on the opinion and perspective of the writer. They do not reflect the views of The CI View.
Public transportation is not something at the forefront of everyone’s mind, especially here in Ventura County (VC). Most of us drive everywhere we need to go, with parking never really being an issue. If you need to get somewhere, you do not think twice about how you are going to get there before getting in your car and pulling out of the driveway. Using public transportation should be as effortless, but it is difficult for us to imagine a future where taking the bus or train here is frictionless. Let us talk about why public transportation is so frustrating to use in VC and what we can do to improve it.
Public transportation is critical to the health of a city and its residents. Even from a Southern California perspective, one of the main goals of public transportation is to take people who would have driven by themselves and bring them into a common vehicle, thus reducing emissions and road and highway congestion. To reduce climate change, it is essential that we pivot away from our hyper-individualistic personal automobiles that are a part of the single largest chunk of our emissions in California. Public transportation also serves everyone equally and is extremely affordable. In our current hyper-individualistic transportation system, you are required to pour thousands of dollars into the automobile industry in the form of gas, tires, car payments, repairs, cleanings etc. However, not everyone can afford to play this game, and they are forced to take public transportation. Because of this, all cities above a certain population are required to provide a very basic level of public transportation service. Since it is seen as a service for the impoverished instead of something that everyone would want to use, the public transportation in most American cities is extremely lackluster and fails to provide good service to the people who need it the most. I like to call this “Band-Aid public transportation.” Personal automobiles will always serve a purpose, but they should not be forced onto the general population as a requirement for existing in VC. There are many other downsides to personal automobiles – too much to properly cover here – so I would recommend watching this video, “How The Auto Industry Carjacked The American Dream,” or reading this article, “A Grand Theft: Auto Industry Stole Our Streets And Our Future,” if you are interested in learning more.
Why is public transportation so bad here?
In VC and at CI the main obstacle in the way of usable public transportation is funding. We are the largest county in the state to not have a sales tax initiative to fund public transportation. There have been multiple efforts to introduce one, but all of them have failed to be approved by the voters. This means that the transit agencies in VC gather most of their funding from the federal and state government. This funding tends to be highly variable and condition based, which makes it difficult to offer reliable and frequent service as they do not know how much operating funding will be available for them in the near future. The funding situation for our own Parking & Transportation Services here at CI is even worse. They are completely reliant on money made from selling parking passes to fund their operations. The fewer people park on campus, the less money they have to spend. Even if they wanted to offer a better public transportation service for students they would be left with less funding to pay for that successful system, not to mention maintain their already existing and aging infrastructure.
One of the results of this poor funding is that there is a lot of friction built into the experience of taking public transportation. This means that for most people, if they decided to take the bus or train, they would be greeted with operating frequencies that do not easily match their own personal schedule, along with additional long transfer times for more complex trips. I am sure anyone who uses our system here has experienced this before.
Improving our Current System
There are a few different things we can do to improve our system. The changes I believe we should make are split between the regional and local levels.
At the state and regional level (Los Angeles metropolitan area), there is significantly more funding for transportation projects. California is the most ambitious state in the country, policy-wise, when it comes to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
As a result, we are pouring billions of dollars into transit expansion programs to decrease our reliance on personal automobiles. Some of this funding is allocated to improve the Metrolink services on the Ventura County Line. If you live here, you probably have heard the horn or seen these trains crossing through our county carrying people to and from Los Angeles. They travel from Ventura through Oxnard, Camarillo, Moorpark and Simi Valley. Currently, the Metrolink service here is geared towards people who travel into Los Angeles for work, meaning that using the trains in our county is close to impossible unless you wake up early and commute to a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in Los Angeles. However, Metrolink is looking to expand its services to cater more to people who want to make local trips by introducing 30-minute interval services to our county. The only downside to this, is it seems likely that this additional service will terminative at the Moorpark station. This means that there would only be 30-minute interval service between Moorpark and Los Angeles. Green Generation Club held a panel with members of the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) and Metrolink board, urging them to extend this service past Camarillo to grant people who live in the county a quick and comfortable alternative to driving to school and work. They seemed receptive, but I believe this is something our campus community needs to advocate harder for to ensure we do not miss this incredible opportunity. If you are interested in pushing for these changes, Green Generation Club has put together a page to help you reach out to Metrolink, VCTC and our school in a constructive way to ask for change.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I also believe our campus desperately needs to advocate for reform within Parking & Transportation Services. At a great cost to them, they help to provide frequent bus service between CI, Oxnard and the Camarillo Metrolink station. I believe we need to push for their funding to also come from student fees. This is nothing new, as many other groups on campus already draw from student fees. Health Services, Recreation & Sports, ASI, etc. all raise funding this way. If we want to encourage fewer people to drive to campus and provide a better service to people already using public transportation to get to CI, it is the correct move to include this fee, even if cost of attendance does raise a bit.
Ventura County is extremely car dependent. With ample parking, wide open streets and frankly no other options, we are forced to all adopt a wasteful and destructive form of transportation based on personal automobiles. With cars contributing to the largest single chunk of emissions in the state and killing tens of thousands of people a year – directly through accidents in and indirectly through toxic emissions in this country – we need to start taking mass transportation more seriously. To make public transportation more desirable, we need to transition our systems from a “Band-Aid” solution that only addresses the disparities brought on by car-oriented development to something that everyone would want to use and incorporate into their daily lives. I also believe we currently have concrete things that we can push for locally to really make a difference. Join Green Generation Club and me in fighting for a better future for all Ventura County residents and CI students and employees.