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Why I'm breaking up with the Blue Line after 19 years. (It's not me, it's definitely you)

Dear Blue Line:

It may be time for us to break up.

Yes, I know this could be hard. We’ve been seeing each other for some 19 years, almost every day. You’ve reliably delivered me from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles each morning and taken me home each evening. I’ve come to count on you. 

But lately, well, you’ve changed. Almost every day now you make me and my fellow riders wait. The train comes to a stop and we wait — two minutes here, four minutes there. The delays add up, and soon we’re late for work by 10 or 15 minutes. For a train line that carries 78,000 riders every day, this is no small deal.

This is not how it used to be. I feel like I don’t know you anymore.

Much of the problem seems to stem from the integration of the Expo Line, which shares some track with you. It has proven so popular since it was extended to Santa Monica last May that  Metro increased the number of trains. Unfortunately, these extra trains have “posed problems” with scheduling, according to news reports. Metro seems unable to coordinate the two lines so they can merge without creating delays.

This is no secret to us riders. My ride from Wardlow Station to 7th Street/Metro Center is supposed to take 42 minutes, but that rarely happens anymore. 

For a while, I wondered if it was me, not you. Maybe I was just impatient and imagining a problem where there was none. So in late November, I began recording the start and end times of each of my trips. I timed 20 straight trips; only 35% of them ran on time. In late January, I did the same thing, only this time, all 10 consecutive rides that I timed ran late. 

A few years ago, a study found that 1 in 50 Blue Line trains showed up late. That was considered poor at the time. I would love to have that now.

You, my faithful Blue Line, no longer seem to be putting priority on our relationship.

Sure, we’ve had our troubles in the past. Over the years, I’ve seen arguments among your passengers, some tense confrontations and one brief fight on the train. One time, when I was hurrying to get aboard one evening, a mentally ill man punched me in the face. Those were rough patches, to be sure, but over 19 years any relationship is going to have some of those.

There was the time when the train I was riding hit a pedestrian. After an abrupt stop, my fellow passengers and I looked out the window to see the man on the pavement, taking his last breaths. By the time paramedics arrived, they could do little more than put a sheet over him. (I felt bad for the train operator, as news reports said the pedestrian had dashed out in front of the lead car.)

We’ve had some good times, too. There was the day someone mistook me for the producer of “Seinfeld.” There was always a parade of characters on board, such as the blind man who begs for money, and if you question whether he’s really blind, he’ll pull out his two glass eyes to prove it.

There are unlicensed vendors who wander the cars selling everything from snacks to headphones to women’s shoes.

These are harmless distractions and in some ways they make the commute go faster.

But last fall things started to go amiss. I recently listened to a fellow rider on the phone as he begged his boss not fire him. The Blue Line, again, was making him late for work.

I like the convenience and low cost of public transportation, and have used it most of my adult life. I would prefer to keep using it. But not if I can’t rely on it.

I have emailed Metro repeatedly. Sometimes I get a polite response saying they are working on the problem.

One of the emails said: “Taking our riders to and from their desired locations is one of our most important functions and we assure you every effort is being made to correct problems in this critical area.”

Metro recently floated the idea of running express trains on the Blue Line to improve commute times. This sounds great in theory, but it’s only a proposal and, even at best, wouldn’t happen anytime soon. I’m ready to move on.

I’m sorry, Blue Line, but I have to confess that I’ve been seeing another form of transportation. It’s my car. I’ve started driving to work.

Scott Wilson is a research librarian at the Los Angeles Times.

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