Bus ride traded for BMW -- with regrets

Times Staff Writer

By virtually any measure, Cliff Moore has a great commute. The kind of commute, I suspect, many of you would dearly love to have.

Moore lives in Altadena and works in Sun Valley, where he runs a real estate records library. On most days, he can leave home about 7:30 in the morning and make it to work in 25 minutes. That's a little quicker than the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But Moore, 53, is not the happiest of campers these days. Why? He'd rather take the bus.

About five years ago, Moore got rid of his last car -- it kept breaking down -- and gave himself over to the bus, traveling about two hours each way to work. But when the MTA changed one of its routes and made the trip a little longer and more unpredictable, Moore used the $6,000 he had saved by riding the bus to purchase a 1995 BMW, thereby chopping his commute by 95 minutes.

"I'm not fond of driving," Moore says, "but if I'm going to drive, this is the car I'm going to drive."

Now that's exactly the kind of ad I would like to see on the side of a bus.

I like Moore's tale for two reasons: Anyone who can stand riding the bus four hours each day is inherently interesting. And, it also says something about how difficult it is in this sprawling region to move people from suburb to suburb on mass transit.

In fact, difficult enough that Moore offered to show Road Sage readers. So, on a recent morning, I joined Moore at the corner of Fair Oaks and Las Flores in Altadena. It was 6 a.m. and Moore already had doubts that he'd make it to work by his 8 a.m. start time.

"My whole day is contingent on that first bus," he said. "That first bus is late and I'm late."

But the first bus, the 260, was nowhere in sight. "The bus driver is up there taking a smoke break," muttered John Clark, a rider about to embark on a two-hour commute to the Westside via a bus, two trains and another bus.

At 6:20 a.m., the 260 rolled up, a few minutes after Moore needed it to be there. The smell of cigarettes lingered, but it's always best not to assign too much blame for the cornucopia of odors offered up by local buses.

Anyway, we were on our way.

The ride was actually, and sadly, uneventful from there (it helped that I gave up liquids starting the night before). We transferred to an express bus in downtown Pasadena, switched to another express bus in Glendale and then in Sun Valley hopped on a local bus that deposited us in front of Moore's office at 8:01.

The buses were clean, and none of the four was more than three-quarters filled. My big complaint, as always, was the televisions blaring a near-constant stream of ads to make money for the cash-strapped MTA. Transit TV, the company that supplies the TVs and the ads, boasts on its website about its ability to reach a captive audience. And the MTA has made $331,565.96 from its share of the ad revenue since 2005, spokesman Rick Jager said.

Moore, not surprisingly, was an intriguing fellow. One reason he likes the bus is because he grew up riding it in Virginia. He's also pursuing a writing career in his spare time, and the bus allowed him ample time and inspiration to scribble down his thoughts.

So it wasn't entirely surprising when, as the bus rolled through industrial Glendale, Moore handed me a sample of a screenplay he had been working on. It involves an astronaut who comes back to Earth not quite the guy he was when he left. Spaceship . . . bus . . . hmm.

As for his commute, the problem for Moore began when the MTA last year shortened one of his routes, so that he had to take four buses instead of three. That often made him late to work, and he wasn't willing to spend more than two hours on the bus. You've got to admire a man who will draw a line in the sand.

So who is to blame for Moore being in a car on the road during rush hour?

Moore likes where he lives on a quiet residential street near the top of Altadena and he also likes his job. He doesn't want to change either. He says he knows a mass transit system can't be built to serve him. And it's always going to be hard to compete with the straight shot he's got to work on the 210 Freeway.

As for the MTA, officials said they split the old 92 line to get rid of reliability problems. They know this caused an extra transfer for some passengers. There is also a glaring hole in the bus system -- with no service connecting the San Gabriel Valley to cities along the 210 Freeway corridor.

Such a route would allow Moore to travel more directly to Sun Valley.

But it's not to be. Instead, Moore feels like a number -- just another guy tooling down the 210 each day, trying to get to work in one piece.

"Other drivers stress me out because they do stupid stuff -- it took some getting used to and sometimes I just hold on for dear life," Moore said. "On the bus, you don't have to worry about it."


This week in congestion pricing news, tolls could reach $7 on the Golden Gate Bridge, if officials approve a $1 hike plus a $1 rush-hour surcharge. Also, Rep. Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) introduced a bill -- the Free Way Act (get it!) -- that would stop the congestion-pricing plan for the 10 and 210 freeways. It's worth noting that a lot of bills in Congress don't make it to the checkered flag.

Thursday is bike to work day in L.A. If that's the goal, here's my idea: Throw an extra car on a few MTA trains, rip out some seats and let cyclists know they can use those trains to bridge gaps in their commutes. Bikes are prohibited on MTA trains during rush hour, and there's often little space the rest of the time.

Last week, I drove Huntington Drive from Monrovia to L.A. and got 31 synchronized green lights out of 49 signals, an impressive performance (online readers can click here to see a Google map of my journey). That's better than the 11 red lights out of 16 signals I got on Del Mar Boulevard in Pasadena a day earlier.



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