Will They Ride?
Air Date: Week of May 14, 1993
Steve asks Michael Jackson, a Los Angeles talk show host for the last thirty years, the crucial question for the city's residents and their new subway system: will they ride?
CURWOOD: Will they ride? Well, you could ask all the planners and bureaucrats and historians you like, but who really knows the hearts and minds of the city better than a talk show host? Michael Jackson began talking to L.A. -area residents 31 years ago, just about the same time of the last run of the old Red Cars. He joins us now from the studios of KABC-AM, where he's host of a popular talk show. Mr. Jackson, what do the people that you talk to think of the return of the rails to the city of automobiles?
JACKSON: Wonderful -- for everybody else.
CURWOOD: So they think that they don't have to do it, huh?
JACKSON: No, I'm -- Let's put it this way. I come into the studio early, the freeways are already crowded. We're all going to different places. Topographically this is unlike any other city anywhere else at any time. It is all so spread out. Think of almost anywhere -- people go downtown here or to that particular region there, but in this city we all have our own agenda, we go where we have to go.
CURWOOD: All right, well, if nobody actually wants to ride this, why are they willing to, people willing to vote to tax themselves to pay for it -- it's a $200 billion dollar tab over the next thirty years?
JACKSON: Ah, because it will get the other guy off the freeway. See what I mean? We think -- we hope -- but we don't know. You know, it's going to work eventually. The critics will tell you that it's the, it's the late 20th century answer with a 19th-century system of transportation. But it will work eventually, when it's all integrated -- when you have monorail with subways with buses, when you have vast areas where you can park your car and be able to then get on some form of rapid transit. Where I think it's going to become very useful, seriously, is when it starts to get through the San Fernando Valley. Now if you think back, when I came here, that San Fernando Valley was very sparsely populated. It's now over one and a half million people. So when the subway starts going through there, and out beyond the other valleys, then we'll be able to see people saying, I've gotta use a rapid transit, because the transit on the freeways is getting ever slower. But none of us view it at this stage as something immediate. But why? Well, take the situation with our mayor. You know, we've had him around for twenty years, that was his number-one promise, and we're just finishing our first four miles. It's taken twenty years.
CURWOOD: All right, now to get from here to there, you say eventually people in L.A. are gonna use this system, but what about between here and there -- are there any sort of incentives you think that can be used to get people to ride?
JACKSON: Well, first of all, let's step back again. When I mentioned the fact that this is sort of a current solution to a yesterday problem, or a yesterday way of resolving today's problem, who goes downtown in L. A.? I mean, I don't know many people, a few lawyers and I promise you they're not going to go in the subway, a few businessmen and they're not going to travel that way. They've made the mistake, I feel, of making the hub the hub -- making the center of the city where everything meets up. So when I say eventually, when they get the message and spread farther abroad, then I think more people will use it.
CURWOOD: You grew up in London, where you have public transport --
JACKSON: Oh, well, I use it all the time.
CURWOOD: -- and can you compare your two cities, Los Angeles and London?
JACKSON: Funny you should mention that, because you grow up relying on the Tube. I was a little boy, a very little boy in World War II, and they saved our lives, we, the subway, the Tube, the Metro, the Underground, as we called it. Because we would go down there as an air-raid shelter. It was the heart -- I mean, it really was, the artery of a great city. But beyond that, it is so well designed -- it takes you everywhere and anywhere. So we had one jump-start on Los Angeles in that it has been for the entire century the prime mode of transportation in London. It has never been the prime mode of transportation in Los Angeles.
CURWOOD: All right, now if you were king -- if you were king, Michael Jackson, would you build this subway and transit system in Los Angeles, for $200 billion dollars?
JACKSON: Yes. Because I'm planning for the next century. And we like to think of ourselves as the place where the stone hits the water, causing a ripple-out effect . We like to think of ourselves as the trendsetters, people in the vanguard of new ideas and planning for the future. Many of us thought of this as the city of the 20th century, and then all of a sudden towards the century's end we began to think, maybe we're not, maybe other people have better ideas. So were we girding for King Jackson here, I think would definitely say rapid transit, but I'm not sure that it would all be underground. I think we have more and more to use the corridors that we currently have and have surface or light-rail.
CURWOOD: All right, well, I want to thank you, Michael Jackson, and I just want to ask you one quick question -- do you think that the subway system will be a success when you get your first call from a subway phone?
JACKSON: Oh, yes, and I shall try and find a way of making sure that no other radio station can receive calls from subways.
CURWOOD: Michael Jackson, host of the very popular talk radio program in Los Angeles on KABC-AM. Thanks for joining us.
JACKSON: My pleasure. Good day, sir.
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