High Speed Rail

17 Miles in Just 78 Minutes! Light Rail vs. Reality in LA


Everyone loves light rail—especially if they don't actually have to rely on it for actual transportation or pay the full cost of what it takes to schlep a rider from Point A to Point B.

To get a better handle on what folks love about commuter rail, Reason.tv sent comedian Watt Smith for a train ride from Los Angeles International Airport to Burbank. During the 17-mile, 78-minute (!) journey, Watt chatted with fellow riders to find out if commuter rail is indeed better than driving or taking the bus.

And to help separate transportation myths from road realities, we've provided facts via pop-up windows that explain just how appearances can be deceiving when it comes to questions about the true costs and efficiency of rail transit versus other modes of transportation.

All of our information is taken from official sources provided by Los Angeles's Metro here and here.

About 5 minutes. Produced by Sharif Matar and Zach Weissmueller. Research by Tim Cavanaugh.

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  1. 17 mi in 17″ is splooge-worthy during rush hour in LA

    1. make that 78 mi in 17″.

      damn frackin squirrels

      1. 78 miles in seventeen seconds? That’s approximately 16,500 miles per hour. At that speed, you’re around the circumference of the earth at the equator in just an hour and a half.

  2. Sounds like driving in DC. It takes me about 20 minutes to drive 2-3 miles.

    1. With that said it takes me an 1-1.5 hours to go 7-8 miles using metro bus/train. 15-20 minutes of which is waiting.

    2. Yeah, Juice. DC is a nightmare, and a testament to the inherently failure mechanism of central planning. Not to mention, it wouldn’t be so bad around here if the government was closes to the size it’s supposed to be. This fuckhole should look like Fargo, ND.

      1. It’s as simple as this: there are way way too many stop lights. Every tiny little intersection and then some has a traffic light. It’s completely unnecessary. Some could use stop signs. Others should have nothing but a yield or something. For the love of Christ, at least make them blink red or yellow after 10 pm. It’s ridiculous to drive through completely empty streets and have to stop at a 2 minute light every intersection. It’s not the traffic in DC that slows things down, it’s the lights.

        1. For the love of Christ, at least make them blink red or yellow after 10 pm.

          This is such a simple solution, I really don’t know why more places don’t do it. Jersey City employs this method on most of the roads and it really makes things so much better.

          Traffic lights are the perfect metaphor for regulation: 70% of the time you wish they weren’t there and 25% of the time you wish they were better designed.

        2. I came to love roundabouts while living overseas. Traffic flows much better (especially off peak) if people know how to use them.

          1. The problem is people have to know how to drive. Timid drivers turn roundabouts into a disaster. For instance, if you put them in here in Seattle, it would be an absolute train wreck because Pacific Northwesterners are the worst drivers in the US and cannot merge, which is essential to roundabouts.

            1. Oh, I know. There’s a single big roundabout here in SoCal down in Long Beach, and it terrifies me every single time because Americans lose their gorram minds when confronted with one.

              1. Yeah, when I was in Spain and hitting the roundabouts (in New England they call them “rotaries”), I frequently thought of this.

            2. I actually don’t really like them. I have no problem merging, but from my experiences in New Jersey they tend to be poorly signed, and if you’re not used to that area it’s tough to figure out which exit you need to take.

              1. Jersey’s roads are confusing as hell, and I know them. If you don’t know them, they’re horrible. But that’s a particular function of it being Jersey.

                1. The only thing I’ll say about Jersey’s roads is that their highways are a lot better than Pennsylvania’s. I-80 in eastern PA is only two lanes each way, guaranteeing constant traffic at the border between PA and NJ going west (given that on the NJ side it’s 3 lanes near the border).

                  That said, the massive confluence of highways near NYC makes for easily getting lost.

                  1. Luckily for me I know that tangled knot of roads like the back of my hand, since I have an unrelenting hatred for sitting in traffic and when leaving or returning to Manhattan I knew every single way so that if I got into traffic, I would just jump to a different highway. Jammed up on 95? Get on the Hutchinson, and then flip over to Bruckner, since that takes me to the 3rd Ave. bridge, which is one of the free ways into Manhattan anyway. Stuff like that.

                  2. Jersey Round-abouts are like dring in NASCAR; just punch it and be willin to trade some paint.

                    What I really love were the ‘Jersey Jug-Handles’. Living proof that two wrongs don’t make a right–but three rights make a left.

            3. God don’t get me started. There’s a new roundabout on my way to work. It’s got two lanes, but no markings telling people which lane to use for which exit. Nobody can figure the damn thing out. I’ve been cut off in pretty much every way imaginable.

            4. Ive considered writing courseware entitled “Merging 101”. Im hoping it becomes manditory in KY, because apparently no one here can do it either.

            5. I think they are good in theory; however, they only really work if everyone follows the rules and they are marked correctly, both of which are rather rare.

              I have a few where I live (northern New England), but they are not marked/signed correctly and it is pretty much chaos trying to get through one. Sometimes I wonder if they are just a pissing contest for civil engineers haha.

          2. … if people know how to use them.

            It seems every year, drivers around here are actually getting worse at navigating the Los Alamitos Circle.

          3. DC has plenty of roundabouts. They don’t do anything but tie up traffic even worse. Why? Because they have traffic lights all over them.

            1. Yeah, don’t you love it when you hit three different red lights in a single traffic circle?

          4. My experience driving around Wash DC for decades is, people don’t know how to use them

        3. It’s sort of fitting though. Impeding you not for any good reason, except that they just really don’t give a shit about the side effects of their control.

          1. What do you want to bet that the parasite class has the devices to change the lights to green?

  3. Nice use of Nick Gillespie’s brother at 2:50! It’s a shame you’ll never get Tony Valar to try to stammer his way through an intelligent rebuttal. That would be comedy.

  4. It takes me an hour to go 10 miles in Boston.

    1. Luxury.

      Here in Prague it takes an hour to go two miles. Actually the public transport is pretty good, but it is fucking packed during rush hour.

      1. That’s just because the city wasn’t designed for cars. I remember moving my office from a street just off Staromak to Narodni. Walking, this takes about five minutes. But driving it took about twenty. And there wasn’t even that much traffic.

    2. Having lived in both Boston and LA, I’d say Boston traffic is far worse — for no other reason than that drivers there are far ruder.

    3. I reverse commute. About 30 minutes to go 17 miles.

    4. Getting through my metropolis of Ulm MT is a real bitch. It takes a whole 48 seconds to travel 1 mile. Of course it takes much less than that to get from one end of the city to the other. The down side is, if you miss your exit it’s 7 miles (5.6 minutes) to the next one going north. If you miss it going south its 15 miles (12 minutes).

      Now of course my fuel efficient K2500 Chevy Silverado (complete with gun rack) will allow me to travel in excess of those computed speeds. And since the rush hour traffic consists of approximately 3 vehicles per mile of highway and the ticket for a speeding violation is $20 for up to 20 MPH over the limit, those times can be drastically reduced.

      You poor bastards!

  5. I drive Bridgeport to Stamford on 95.
    Hell is an interstate.

    1. Why not get on the Merritt? Yeah, you have to do a little side driving, but 1) it’s not 95, and 2) no trucks. I used to do that all the time when I lived in Stamford. Worked great.

      1. Holy crap! There are Reasonoids that live near me??

  6. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me dude. Wow.


  7. When I lived in LA my commute was about 55 minutes to go 12 miles. If there had been light rail that served my commuting needs I would have taken it in a heart beat – at least I could have got some reading done.

  8. 17-miles in 78 minutes is 13 mph. That is a world record marathon pace.

    There are people who could run from Burbank to LAX as quickly as this light rail!

    1. If they never had to stop or yield.

    2. That is a leisurely pace on a bicycle.

  9. If there had been light rail that served my commuting needs

    (1) How long a drive to the light rail station would be acceptable? How much to pay for parking at the station? Or, how long a bus ride, and how long a walk to the bus stop, and how frequent the bus runs, would be acceptable?

    (2) How long a walk to your office from the train station, or, what kin of bussing to your office from the train station, would be acceptable.

    Part of the trick with light rail (and I’ve used it), is it is the middle leg (snerk) of a three-leg journey. The other two legs can be massive pains in the ass in their own right.

    1. Well, in a congested big city, you’ve got to think of parking costs. They can be hefty. Public transport costs me about $150/mo. whereas parking near work would cost me about $250/mo. That doesn’t include gas or car maintenance. If I drove and parked, though, it would cut about 20 minutes from my commute.

      1. True enough. I was thinking strictly about the time commitment of a true door-to-door commute.

        1. Denver’s LR is 2 legs…drive to station, take train downtown. End of trip. There is no misconception that everyone is expected to drive to the station. The parking lots are big and the lines (all two of them) don’t stop very often. It takes about 28 mins. for the DTC-Downtown section (the majority line) and 35 or so from the Littleton to Downtown section.

          1. Everything you need is at the train station downtown?

  10. To get from my house in Pasadena to my work near LAX, it would take me:

    1 bus
    4 trains
    A 10 minute walk

    Totaling about 110 minutes. And transfers aren’t free, so I’d be paying $1.25 for each leg, or $12.50 a day. There’s also a 2-bus route I could take that would take about 90 minutes each way. Driving, it takes me 40 minutes in the morning, and about 60 on average to get home. Needless to say, I’m going to keep driving.

    1. LA is designed for cars. Why we insist on cramming light rail around the county is beyond me. The people that are clamoring for light rail don’t use the existing lines anyway. I think they like the “idea” of light rail. They think it will make LA more “European”, a world class city.

      Hell, I was a networking event last week, talking with a guy who is trying to develop a boutique hotel/retail/condo development in Inglewood. He seemed to think that the proposed Crenshaw Line (est. completion 2018) was going to make this project viable. Good luck with that!

    2. You can buy a metro day pass for unlimited riding for 5 bucks.

  11. This analysis is kinda dumb. Going from lax to Burbank in a car will take about the same time at rush hour, and is much more stressful. Why would someone do that anyway? There is an airport in burbank.

    The light rail and subway system is relatively new therefore pretty limited. So of course it is going to be hard to get where it hasnt been built to go. So if i make a video showing how easy it is now to go from pasadena to downtown los angeles does that mean we should invest more?

    Sadly, Los angeles is hard to get around in period.

    1. I’m confused about what this video was trying to accomplish as well – I used light rail & the commuter rail for 2 years when I lived in LA (never drove) and it worked out great for me – got work done in the morning, listened to music on the way home.

      Is the solution to dump all of these people back out into cars? Or should gaps in the system be analyzed? Also, it seemed really important in this video to beat back individual sentiment with facts. You’re not going to change people’s behavior by telling them that how they feel is wrong.

      In any case, I agree with you.

      1. I think the point of the video was that you could get the same benefit, for much cheaper, by investing the same money into better bus service.

  12. Meanwhile, in other “twenty first century transportation” news,

    G.M.’s chief executive, Daniel F. Akerson, later said that the company would repurchase Volts if customers were worried about its safety.

    One Volt owner, Stephen J. Friedman, a doctor in California, said he was initially told by G.M. that he did not qualify for a buyback. But the company is now negotiating with him on a price.

    Negotiating on the price?

    Negotiate, my ass; give him back his fucking money, in full. If he financed it, pick up any costs associated with early termination of the loan.

    1. Amazing.

      They steal billions to prop up GM, now they (govt) is opening a defect investigation.

      We are digging holes to pay someone to fill them in.

  13. So of course it is going to be hard to get where it hasnt been built to go.

    That’s the thing about anything that runs on rails: Unless your city is incredibly dense, it can’t be built to go to most of your city.

    1. Yeah but light rail is not supposed to get you anywhere you want to go. It is supposed to follow major routes and make those routes easier than by car, therefore reducucing the amount of cars on the road. If it fails at that, fine, thats a fair criticism. Or if you compare the cost of a same route.

      Otherwise its like complaining about how long it takes to drive to Hawaii.

      1. And LA light rail fails at that as well. The 110S to the 105W (both major routes) versus Gold Line to the Red Line to the Blue Line to the Green Line.

      2. light rail is not supposed to get you anywhere you want to go

        To some people, that would sound like a pretty significant drawback.

        In most American cities, the problem isn’t that light rail won’t get you exactly where you want to go. The problem is that it won’t get you anywhere close to where you want to go, unless you are extraordinarily lucky.

        1. You’re looking at it backwards. Light rail promotes density around the stations. The problem of light rail not going anywhere you’re interested in only exists when the system is new, but housing, dining and entertainment will inevitably build up around the stations.

      3. Light rail is supposed to create union jobs

        fuck getting anywhere on time

  14. Huh. Sucks to be you guys. It takes me about 15-18 min. to go 7 miles from my home to work everyday in Dallas.

    1. Oh Jim, you’re such a sucker. It takes me 2 minutes to go the mile from my apartment to work each day. Such hardships I endure.

      1. I was in such a blessed position once. Sadly getting a wife who wants dogs and a house brought down that paradise.

      2. It used to take me about 10 minutes to bike a mile and a half to work. Those were the days.

      3. It takes me about 30 seconds to walk from my bed to my office.

        1. I used to work from home and had a similar commute, but a simple pit stop in the bathroom would routinely add 15-30 minutes to my travel time.

          Depending on dinner the night before, of course.

    2. Whoop-de-fuckin-doo. Looks like everything is coming up Gojira.

    3. The best was when I worked at a college and lived across the street right after I graduated. Walked to work every day – drove only to go on vacation and to go street racing. Wonderful.

  15. Haha, suckers.

    I just walk down the stairs, and I’m in my shop.

    1. It must be hell stepping over the slave children on the way down.

      Oh – DUH! The slave children you probably keep in a shed in back behind the shop – of course! Silly me – carry on!

  16. There is a huge cost that this article overlooks, at least in the comparison between driving and rail travel — the health care costs of car accidents. Even nonfatal accidents can cause severe or nagging injuries (whiplash) that can really put a toll on the health care system. Also there is the cost of traffic citations and parking tickets — in essence a de facto tax since most of us get them at some point, especially with the new red light and speed cameras — and, as others have mentioned, parking.

    That said, buses do address all of the above problems and a comparison of trains and buses is completely appropriate.

    1. Buses are inefficient work programs for American Greeks, at least in the north Seattle area.

  17. Meh. I lay in bed and work half the time. Otherwise (unless I’m travelling) I have to walk all the way downstairs.

    1. Tebow > Colt McCoy

  18. Forunately, the hunters and gatherers can just gambol to work, thus obviating the need for mechnical – or even animal – assistance in transporting themselves. Oh, wait, H&G don’t HAVE to work, because *some magic and stuff* and therefore commuting is unneccessary.

    GodDAMN I’m starting to like this hunting and gathering! As long as I can still have my flat screen to watch MotoGP and football, and my moorsickles to have fun on, and my Jeep to go boonie bashing, and my boat, and my Select Comfort bed that rules. And all my dogs. And air conditioning. And a fridge/freezer.

    Then we’re good! Two thumbs up!


    1. PS Somalia

    2. Forunately, the hunters and gatherers can just gambol to work

      I LOLd.

  19. I understand that one of the current administration’s big transportation policy changes was to get rid of cost benefit analysis.

  20. Boy, was that stupid.

    There’s Burbank buses right at LAX. It would’ve taken far less time, without any changing. Next time, try metro.net.

    And even Cavanaugh’s funner than that dimwit.

    Especially when he’s wearing his mobster outfit.

    Finally, only someone from outside LA would think 78 minutes is a long time to go 17 miles. I’ve gone as a little as a few miles in two hours while driving.

    1. That’s not something to brag about, tool.

    2. Finally, only someone from outside LA would think 78 minutes is a long time to go 17 miles.

      Really? Because where I grew up (3000 miles from LA), anything longer than 17 minutes is a long time to go 17 miles.

      1. 17 miles in 17 minutes? You must live off the freeway, or driving faster than the speed limit.

    3. I have a 21 mile commute. Door-to-door time?

      Never more than 25 minutes.

  21. I take 25 minutes to go 1.5 miles.

    But then, I walk.

    1. What about on a heavy-traffic day?

  22. Because wasting taxes building useless transportation networks is really awesome — if it was truly desirable, all those private enterprises that might spring up to accommodate the demand would really suck, because TEA-BAGGING WALL STREET, or something!

    Logic, how the fuck does it work?

  23. Is it faster than Kenyans?

  24. Tall, with silky chocolate skin and very smart, this girl has it all. And now she shows it to us…

    This was Valerie’s first time posing nude, and we can thank her boyfriend for encouraging her. In school they call her the gazelle, and with those long legs it’s not hard to see why. Beautiful features and big, wild hair make her look like an untamed animal!

    Originally from Mauritius, she now lives in Germany, where her dark beauty has to inspire second glances on the street. She speaks English, French and German fluently. Strict about her diet and work-out regime, she runs like the wind? helpful for a spirited gazelle like her!

    Strikingly attractive in so many ways, this woman of colour now shares herself with you, only here on Hegre-Art.

  25. After reading this I love my commute. 15 seconds from my living room to my den. Working at home is a blessing.

  26. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, 17 miles in 78 minutes is about a normal commute in a car in a big city during rush hour. At least on light rail, you can use that hour to actually do something productive or rest. In a car, you’re stuck driving unless you want to be the asshole on his iPhone that causes a 9-car pileup. This article is really misleading.

  27. My contribution to this discussion is to bring up the ruling classes’ psychotic policy of “traffic calming.” It is no accident that auto trips take much longer than it seems like they should – this is official government policy, which they implement by a means they call “traffic calming,” which amounts to artificially slowing down traffic. TPTB deliberately create bottlenecks, barriers, and chokepoints just to eff us up. My own commute takes about 30 minutes to go 7 miles on city streets, which isn’t too bad considering, but the problem is getting across the I880 freeway; there are only a few overpasses and during rush hour they are jam packed, hence the absurd amount of time to go a lousy stupid 7 miles. I believe they like it this way, and for that I hate their stinking rotten evil guts.

    1. Traffic calming is typically done in residential areas and areas with lots of pedestrians, to control reduce the number of accidents by reducing vehicle speed. I don’t know the story with your I880, but the instances that I know of have seen a reduction in accidents.

  28. LA is hurting for commuter trains. For the huge size, they are pretty scarce, compared to a city like Boston where there are some every few blocks. Without a car out there you are bumming.

  29. Konata has come to us from what could be almost another world. We know of the Japanese tradition. The girl-woman seems so quiet and almost timid. Very eager to please and very submissive.

    Get ready for a big surprise. Konata is all this but much more. This giggling girl with a fondness for fizzy sodas has her big secret and it’s just come out.

    Konata thinks about nothing but sex. Whatever way, whenever is her style. Most of all being in front of the camera – to show off her perfect breasts and milky skin – is what turns her on.

    Right now she has a glorious black bush. Catch it now before she tries something new with that as well.

  30. I don’t have anything against public transportation, but I usually think buses are a better idea than rail. You don’t need to get into eminent domain wrangling to establish a bus system, you can change routes easier, there is less initial capital needed… in general, buses make more sense.

  31. Think there’s a lot of missing the point going on – rider cost for the trip was $5.00 vs. the $20.00 in subsidy cost per rider per trip. If that figure is accurate the LA light rail system isn’t really designed to move people efficiently around LA but to inefficiently “spread the wealth”.

    1. Yes. I was recently researching the Denver mass transit and they provided similar numbers on their website. That rail requires about ten times the subsidy per passenger as bus travel. And this is the key reason why rail is no good. It can never be in the black.

  32. 2:56 …businest train. I believe you have a typo

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