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GOOD TURNS

Just Getting There Is More Than Half the Fun

A volunteer group that takes students on educational trips makes using public transit the keystone of its lessons.

April 14, 2002|CLAIRE LUNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For Tim Adams, the destination is important, but it's the trip that really matters.

Through TransitPeople, a volunteer organization Adams founded three years ago, inner-city youth groups travel each weekend to places ranging from the La Brea Tar Pits to Exposition Park. The catch: no cars.

For Adams, a former elementary school teacher who doesn't own a car, the 80 trips he has led don't seem particularly revolutionary.

But many of the students and volunteers who travel with him have never boarded a bus, and the mere existence of a subway system in Los Angeles surprises some.

Fifth-grader Christopher Del Real recently went with Adams from Chris' East L.A. school to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, a trek that included a crowded bus, a walk through a neck-craning batch of skyscrapers downtown and a Blue Line light rail train.

First-time public transit user Christopher and 39 other Rowan Avenue Elementary School students said the journey was far more fun than the usual school bus ride, especially the elevated portions of the rail line.

"When you get high above everything else, it's like you can see the whole world," he said.

After cautions about safety, the children donned white nylon jerseys with TransitPeople and Adams' cell phone number plastered on the fronts and backs. He hasn't lost any kids, but just in case.

Some passengers visibly blanched when the dozens of children climbed aboard the Rapid Bus, and Adams quickly shepherded them to the back.

The children got a mini-tour of downtown as they walked the several blocks from the Library Tower bus stop to the Blue Line station--one girl lagging behind as she waved solemnly to the tallest skyscrapers.

"It's a big, big world, but taking public transit makes it small," said volunteer Vivian Ejimofor of Long Beach, who met Adams after he saw her explaining public transit to her 4-year-old daughter on a Blue Line train. "These trips show kids there's more to life than their neighborhoods."

About 30 schools and church groups have participated in TransitPeople's weekend trips. Starting this month, Adams and another volunteer will lead Friday afternoon trips to places that are quieter and less interesting on weekends, such as Los Angeles City Hall and USC.

"Many kids just don't have that much to do when they're not in school," Adams said. "That's one of the reasons they get involved in bad things."

Ten-year-old Alicia Hernandez's weekends normally include watching TV, playing in the park or visiting neighbors. She said the trip to the aquarium was much more fun.

"My little brother was so jealous," she said, her hands clutching the bars on the seat in front of her as the train barreled down the track. "This is way better than just taking a school bus somewhere."

Groups request to go on the trips through TransitPeople's Web site, www.transitpeople.org. Although the outings were monthly at first, they have become so popular that they now take place nearly every weekend.

"It was kind of like a Battle of the Bulge descending on those destinations," Adams said.

He first relied on corporate sponsorships to cover fares, but now the MTA provides the trips free to trip leaders and students. Corporate sponsorships, or the venues themselves, cover admission to attractions such as the aquarium.

Adams gives the MTA copies of his itineraries a month in advance, and the agency notifies bus drivers and rail station officers so they are prepared for the swarms of kids.

MTA official Rich Morallo, who has observed TransitPeople groups trekking through Union Station, praised Adams for keeping the children under control.

"Typically when kids come to Union Station, they run up and down like it's an amusement park," said Morallo, assistant manager of public affairs. "Adams runs a tight ship; the kids queue up in columns and are extremely well-behaved."

He commended Adams' efforts to promote ridership and awareness of public transit.

"He's giving an opportunity for all families to prove they can travel to fun locations via public transit," Morallo said. "The kids go home and tell their parents and hopefully that will encourage family outings to follow."

Angelica Del Real, Christopher's mother and a Rowan Avenue Elementary teacher, said the journey showed her how easy it is to navigate the public transit system. Her fourth-grade daughter, Hannah, also went along.

"My kids had never been on a bus before, and we were all a little skeptical," Del Real said. "This proved, 'Hey, we can do this,' plus it gave me a great opportunity to talk to my kids. We shared things we never can talk about when I'm driving because I'm too distracted."

The kids were quick to see the advantages of taking public transit, shouting out "Gas! Parking! Insurance!" when asked what they were saving money on by taking the bus and train.

"We're teaching children that cars aren't the only way to go," said Jill Goularte, a film director's assistant who has volunteered on about 20 TransitPeople trips. "We're laying the tracks for this generation to realize there's nothing uncool about using public transportation."

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