While writing up my last post, I remembered something that really bugs me on Metrolink’s website.

The fare calculator tries to make the train cost look more appealing by showing you how much you’d spend driving the same trip, using a factor of 54.1 cents per mile from AAA’s driving cost formula.

Two problems:

1. They’re using the average value of all the cars on the road. Drive a gas-guzzling Hummer? A fuel-efficient Prius? Same cost estimate.

2. They’re using the formula wrong. It’s not intended to answer the question of “How much does this trip cost?” but “How much am I spending overall to use this car?” So in addition to fuel and maintenance, it also includes static costs of owning a car, like registration, insurance, interest payments, etc. Things that you’ll be paying whether you drive it today or not.

So unless you own an average car and plan on getting rid of it entirely, the comparison doesn’t actually tell you anything useful. But it does make Metrolink’s ticket prices look cheaper.

A couple of months ago I started a job near LAX. I live in central Orange County, 40 miles away. Unfortunately, that includes driving through the mess of Los Angeles freeways during rush hour. It’s a horrendously frustrating slog through stop-and-go and slow-and-go traffic that has me ready to gnaw off my own leg well before I get to work.

To make things easier, what I’ve been doing is driving about half-way to the end of the LA Metro Green Line in Norwalk, then taking the train the rest of the way. It’s worked out pretty well so far:

  • It cuts my driving time in half.
  • The part of the drive that it cuts out includes the worst of the traffic (east-west on the 105, or 405, or 91).
  • I get some extra reading time.
  • It’s relatively cheap ($1.50 each way, plus 35ยข to transfer to a local bus for the last mile).

It saves a lot of stress. The main downside is that I can’t drive anywhere during lunch, but at least there are a lot of options within walking distance. Unfortunately, the parking lot in Norwalk is often full when I get there, so some days I end up driving the whole trip anyway.

In theory, I could take trains the entire way. There’s a Metrolink station a couple of miles from where I live. Unfortunately, the Metrolink system and Metro system only share one transfer point: Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles. I’d have to go really far out of my way, and transfer across two or three different Metro lines. Or else stop at Norwalk/Santa Fe and take a bus across town to the Green Line. With all the extra transfers, it didn’t seem worth it.

Still, the first day back at work after J was born, I figured my sleep-deprived self could use the break.

The Metrolink Experience

The thing to remember is, Metrolink isn’t light rail. It’s commuter rail.

The ride itself? Great. The trains were nice and roomy. Some of the cars had seats with tables. I even tethered my laptop to my phone to catch up on some blogging.

On the downside…

It’s expensive. Metro costs $1.50 to ride anywhere in the system, plus 35 cents to transfer to a bus for the last mile. Metrolink costs me $7.75 each way, but includes free Metro & local bus transfer. Monthly passes, of course, would cut down both prices.

Trains don’t run as frequently. I missed a train and had to wait 40 minutes for the next one. (I actually missed two trains, the first because I had to drive around the block to the alternate parking lot…so I spent an hour waiting just to get on the train.)

Trains don’t run into the evening. The last Metrolink train heading south from Norwalk leaves at 6:51. With two buses and a train between me and that train station, and every transfer a potential delay. This time I lucked out: The bus I took from work got me to Aviation station just in time for me to catch the green line, which got me to the end of the line just in time for me to catch the Norwalk bus, which got me to the Metrolink station with 5 minutes to spare. Just a couple of minutes at any of those points could have added 10-20 minutes of waiting and left me scrambling for an alternate way to make those last 20 miles home.

That last one is the kicker. For me, the main point of taking the train instead of driving is to reduce stress so that I can focus better when I need to. If I have to spend half the trip home worrying about making that last train, what’s the point?

Want to see what Los Angeles traffic looks like on a typical Friday evening? You can! A co-worker pointed out to me that you can view statistical traffic on Google Maps in addition to live traffic. To see it, go to Google Maps, enable traffic, then look at the inset traffic key and hit “change.” You’ll be able to choose a day of the week and time.

A Scott Pilgrim fan tracked down the real-life locations in Toronto that Brian Lee O’Malley used as reference, then took photos to match them up with the comic panels.

It reminds me of a story that O’Malley told at Comic-Con last(?) year about the movie production. They tried to use actual locations when possible, and at one point went to film a scene with a particular phone booth, only to find it had been torn out. They rebuilt the phone booth for the scene!

How To Be a Retronaut has a fascinating gallery of illustrations from the 1976 Soviet edition of The Hobbit. (via @dixonium)

Copyblogger presents: Five Grammatical Errors that Make You Look Dumb. Please, people: learn the differences between your and you’re, and between they’re, their and there! (via This Is True)

A university library has put together a great parody of the Old Spice ad campaign: Study Like a Scholar, Scholar. (also via This Is True )

NPR story: In Politics, Sometimes The Facts Don’t Matter

New research suggests that misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs. The finding raises questions about a key principle of a strong democracy: that a well-informed electorate is best.

This makes me feel a little less enthused about the next two items:

It’s incredibly cool that we’ve got photos of the Apollo 16 landing site. But that won’t convince people who are absolutely certain that the landings were faked.

And a U.S. Department of Transportation investigation of Toyota crashes blamed on sudden acceleration has implicated driver error in nearly all cases. Of the 75 fatal crashes investigates, only one could be verified as a problem with the vehicle: the Lexus crash last August in which the accelerator was caught on the floor mat, leading to a recall. Of course, the court of popular opinion has already made up its mind…

The parking lots at The District in Tustin, and the streets that run through them, are just plain horrible. They’re bad enough, in fact, that the last time we were there*, it wasn’t clear at first that the reason traffic was moving so slowly was that it was working around a car accident.

As I slowly drove past the crashed Lexus, we both looked toward it…and burst out laughing.

I felt awful for it…but the license plate was DIMWIT1.

Bonus in-joke: Katie asked me where the other two were.

*June 13, for the record.