Mobility Stories in LA

BUSted is the type of forum needed to help change people's thinking about transit.

More than 80 percent of adult Americans currently own a car. The process to convert these car people into shared mobility users will be an enormous undertaking. It will require a major change in our automobile culture. This is why I felt so fortunate to talk with Scott Schultz recently, a change agent who created the storytelling show in Los Angeles called “BUSted.”

Every major city in the world is working to get more of its citizens to use public transit and “compress” the amount of land it takes to effectively move people and goods. These cities should know about Schultz’s important work around improving mass transit.

Schultz moved to LA years ago to do stand-up comedy. Fast forward to today: he puts transit riders, bus operators and other multimodal city travelers up onto a stage to tell their personal stories about riding the bus and taking public transit. This is a great way, IMO, to help change culture.

Given how LA is a car city, Schultz has created a provocative show about riding the bus.

BUSted takes place most often on the patio at a large coffee shop and bookstore in Echo Park, a neighborhood located close to downtown LA. He also takes the show to other areas of the city/region, to generate more public awareness for the show. The show runs between 1.5 and 2 hours, and has between 5-6 storytellers at each show. He also puts on a tighter show, running 1 hour on the stage at Comedy Central. BUSted goes live roughly twice per month. He’s produced well over 100 shows.

I recently asked Schultz why storytelling is so important, and he said, “Storytelling makes new transportation alternatives more human. For example, when I was at the LA Commotion conference recently, I saw many mobility experts there, and the presentations were very technical and it was very dry.  I don’t think people can easily identify with what these experts are talking about, unless they themselves work in transportation or the city planning field.

Storytelling allows you to tell about these new ways of getting around in a more personal way–allowing a person to receive the information it in a more intimate personal way. It forces you to identify with the person telling the story and when you do that, it allows you to kind of see people in a different light and recognize the ways we are all similar.”

He continued; “When you hear these stories often, you recognize similar patterns and you identify with the reality of a daily commute. The stories are similar to the stories you hear from employees in a break room—where perhaps four people took the train to work and someone had an adventure on the train to Hollywood. That’s what we try to do with the show. I try to combine it with a Town Hall feeling that reminds me of Boston, where I grew up.”

As someone talking a lot about LA Metro transit, I asked him how he thought the service could be improved. He responded by saying he thinks the agency spends too much time to get car drivers to switch to the fancier light rail lines, and not nearly enough focus on just improving the core bus service that so many rely on each day to get to and from work.

LA Metro is one of the most innovative and well-funded public transit agency in the United States. In the past decade, the agency has raised well over $250-billion in new funding through local tax increases! I asked Schultz if the agency supported his green commuter show in any way.

He said LA Metro gives no money to the show, and sadly nobody from the agency, nor the LA Department of Transportation even comes to his shows. He said he sends invites to leaders at LA Metro and LA DOT before every upcoming show. He said the lack of reply back from these agencies feels like he gets a “Nah” or perhaps an emoji with a “thumbs down” in return from them. It’s very unfortunate the LA transportation professionals don’t support Schultz’s show in any way.

From my vantage point, changing culture is a highly messy and difficult process. BUSted is exactly the type of forum we need to help change people’s thinking about transit, and ultimately see their mobility behavior change. 

You can watch a BUSted show by going to the show’s website, where you can find links to the shows on iTunes, YouTube and Google Play: BUStedLosAngeles.com.