‘Local Metro’ is off the Rails

A California comedian thinks you've just got to laugh at the state of transit and our streets

A look at the San Jose BART extension--in the tenth level of hell. Image: Local Metro
A look at the San Jose BART extension--in the tenth level of hell. Image: Local Metro

Sometimes transit planning and the state of streets get so ridiculous, one doesn’t know whether to–as the saying goes–laugh or cry.

Los Angeles-based comedian George Coffey decided laughing was better. That’s why he built the website and social media feed “Local Metro.”  Streetsblog first became aware of his work after seeing a Tweet about a new subway being planned that would be ten stories below the surface. The reason: “After feedback from multiple local businesses that Metro construction may inconvenience them, we’ve completed a new design for the central Downtown station! Building 300 feet below ground ensures the least disruption while adding less than 15 minutes to each rider’s travel time.”

As with most good satire, the plan for this fictional subway wasn’t far off from reality: several readers of the Tweet took it seriously and were outraged by the proposal to build so deep because one or two local business owners “were still uncomfortable with the possibility of losing street parking for three weeks.”

Streetsblog thought it’d be fun to have a virtual sit down with Coffey and find out what inspired him to start the site, what it says about real transit, and how he became a transit nerd in the first place.

***

Streetsblog: So I assume the 300-foot-deep subway is a spoof of VTA’s ridiculous BART extension plans?

George Coffey: That is what it’s parodying, yes. Although once I tweeted it, people responded about a proposed subway in Seattle that’s also ridiculously deep. But yes, it’s a parody of the San Jose extension.

SB: It seems you started with a real rendering of it in fact?

GC: It’s based on a real rendering with four or five escalators.

SB: So you’re based in Los Angeles. Why are you picking on a Bay Area project?

GC: The Bay Area transit systems provide a lot of material. And it’s the place in America with the most NIMBY people trying to mess with everything. With the whole BART San Jose extension there’s just a lot there. I also ended up following a lot of YIMBY housing people with my personal account and their activism points out flaws in zoning around transit and flaws with the frequency of service.

SB: I’m assuming you’re a transit nerd.

GC: Yeah, I’m a little bit of a transit nerd.

Transit spoofer George Coffey
Transit spoofer George Coffey

SB: Just a little bit? You run a whole site dedicated to making fun of it.

GC: I had the idea in my head for a couple of years. At some point I just had too many ideas and jokes not to do it. Okay, yeah, now that I’m running the account I guess I’ve earned the credit of “transit nerd.”

SB: Where did you first begin to suspect you had this affliction?

GC: I grew up riding the T. My dad worked in Boston and my grandparents lived there. I used to collect the little punch tickets.

SB: Punch tickets?

GC: Yeah, from the Boston-area transit systems. Each conductor had his own ticket puncher that made a unique shape. So I used to collect them to see how many symbols of the little punch-things you’d get. So I always enjoyed it.

SB: That is meta transit nerd status. Do you still ride now?

GC: I do.

SB: What’s your commute?

GC: About an hour and a half across LA. I take one bus down Cesar Chavez, then the Purple line to Wilshire and Western, then the 720 bus to Beverly Hills.

SB: That doesn’t sound fun.

GC: I’ve been reading lots of books. It’s almost an hour by car too, but it’s way more stressful to drive down the 10, so mentally it ends up being pretty even.

SB: So why make fun of it?

GC: I am pro-transit and I want it to get better. So I intentionally try to ridicule things that are clearly bad moves by a transit agency. Or sometimes I stick to things that are obviously absurd.

SB: So you have standards?

GC: I’m not going to ridicule a bus operator.

SB: You have a thread and video on your site that’s got to be inspired by the Los Angeles airport Rube Goldberg transit connection plan. What is it going to be, three different vehicles and over an hour to get to Union Station, where you can catch a fourth mode to–hopefully–finally get home?

GC: I was more inspired by how LAX transit is now. I think what they’re working on will be more reasonable than having the audacity to call the Green Line station nearest the airport the “aviation station.”

SB: Right, where you wait around for a bus under a freeway with your luggage to travel the last couple of miles to the terminals.

GC: So I was making fun of their first try. But yes, the new try is also pretty ridiculous, considering you still won’t be able to take a single train to Union Station from the airport.

SB: I like your video about it (which I’ll embed in the interview) about the train to the train to the train to the bus to Lot B to the other bus to the terminals.

SB: You also like to poke fun at transit systems and their customer-last perspective. You did a video about a new line that was cheap to build because it has no stops. Is there a transit system you’re picking on in particular with that?

GC: That’s inspired by real promotional videos you’ll see for new transit lines, where they’ll try to claim they’re reinventing the wheel or doing something really innovative or revolutionizing transit.

SB: Instead of just building a God-damn train or bus line that works for riders?

GC. Right. They should just be sticking to old standbys. So that was based on just thinking about what would be the most ridiculous thing they could do technically, which would be a line with no stops.

SB: It does save money–as does making people get off BART in the middle of a freeway to change to a cheaper BART at a transfer station that has no entrances or exits.

GC: Right.

SB: You also go off about the lack of customer service, like when agencies randomly cancel bus and rail services and the poor announcements about it. The quips on your site are so close to what really happens. I’m thinking of the frequent shutdowns of the Muni subway. Did you have Muni in mind for that?

GC: It almost doesn’t matter.

SB: Right, one of your Tweets had people responding as if you’re lampooning Philadelphia, or Boston, or Washington. It really didn’t seem to matter.

GC: When I Tweet something with one specific agency in mind, people always think it’s about their metro, wherever they’re from.

SB: That says something about the status of transit in the U.S. You also go off about bike lanes on the site.

GC: That’s definitely something I like to parody because I don’t think painted bike lanes are taking things seriously. Just look at the whole Sixth Street bridge debacle in L.A., all because they didn’t think they should close the bike lanes in with Jersey barriers and in the first week cars crashed and spun out into both bike lanes.

GC: I once posted something about how our city’s bike lanes are delineated by some of the thickest paint in the country. And what are sharrows? What is that? Is that a request that you try not to run over bikes? Which also implies you are allowed to be mean to bikers on other roads?

SB: Sharrows are a city’s way of telling cyclists to go f’ themselves.

GC: I’m sure sharrows were originally pitched as a clever innovation.

SB: Ha! No doubt they were. So we’re just about out of time. Any final thoughts?

GC: Probably the most fun, wildest thing I’ve ever experienced on transit was taking a bus back from West Hollywood on a Saturday night and everybody was still having a great time, partying on the bus on the way home. I want to reiterate that I’m pro-transit. Everyone who follows the account is also pro-transit. I make fun of it because I want it to be better.

This interview was edited with a rusty machete. 

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