This guide will help you learn:
- How to ride the subway, commuter rail, and buses
- How to find your route
- How to track real time bus arrival times
- Tips for making transit more pleasant
The Big Picture
Despite our reputation as a car-centered region, Los Angeles County actually has a wide range of transit options. The fact is that on an average weekday there are around two million transit trips on public transit systems run by Metro and other local municipal transit operators in LA County. We encourage you to try transit too! It’s good for the environment, good for your pocketbook, and good for your blood pressure—no more driving in gridlock. The options can be broadly divided up as follows:
- Subways, “light rail” trains and “transitways”. Run by Metro.
- Transit buses. At the daily peak, Metro has around 2,000 buses on the road. More than sixty local cities and regions also run their own bus systems, like the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus.
- Commuter Rail (Metrolink). Big, infrequent commuter trains that travel large distances (e.g. San Bernardino to Los Angeles). Run by Metrolink.
- Commuter Buses and other options. Specialized commuter buses connect far-flung bedroom communities with job centers. Other options include ridesharing & vanpools, Access Services (for the disabled)—and biking and walking!
Subways, Light Rail & Transitways
Subway: the Metro Red Line (running between Downtown LA Union Station and North Hollywood) and the Metro Purple Line (between Union Station and Wilshire/Western) share the same route for most of the way, but split off at Wilshire/Vermont.
The Light Rail system consists of the following lines:
- Metro Blue Line (North-South route connecting Downtown L.A. and Long Beach, via South L.A.)
- Metro Green Line (mostly East-West route connecting Norwalk with Redondo Beach, via South Los Angeles.
- Metro Gold Line (connecting Pasadena, downtown Los Angeles, and East Los Angeles in a “C” shaped line.
Metro “Transitways”: Metro Orange & Silver Lines
Metro also includes bus “transitways” (also called “Metro Liners” on maps, and referred to as “Bus Rapid Transit”) on its Metro Rail map. These are actually buses, but they act a bit like rail routes – they go on routes with fewer stops, often on a dedicated roadway only used by this bus, and like rail, you buy your fare (at a ticket machine at the station before boarding.
- Metro Orange Line: connecting the northern terminus of the Metro Red Line subway in North Hollywood with Warner Center in Woodland Hills, via an East-West dedicated “transitway” roadway.
- Metro Silver Line: connecting El Monte, downtown Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, and the Harbor Gateway area.
How to Ride Metro Rail
Once you’ve checked the map to see if a Metro rail line serves the route you want to take, you can verify the hours and frequency of the trains by going to Metro.net and viewing the timetables (in PDF format), but generally, during operational hours, you can just head to the station without checking the timetables; a train should be along soon. (Keep an eye out to see if your station has TV monitors near the trains that display the next scheduled arrival times.)
Near the station entrance, look for a farecard machine (a big ATM type machine) and buy a farecard (ticket) using cash or a credit card. As of August 2011, fares are $1.50 ($0.55 senior/disabled) for each train or bus boarding, generally regardless of the distance. (If you change trains or buses you’ll need to buy another ticket.) Day passes ($5) are also available that allow an unlimited number of trips (and make financial sense if you have four or more boardings), but you need a TAP card, a prepaid card you can reload/reuse (details at metro.net/around/fares & taptogo.net).
Currently, Metro is in the process of phasing in turnstile gates, and you currently if you have a paper farecard you just walk through the turnstiles (they’re unlocked), or if you have a TAP card you have to TAP it on the blue sensor on the turnstile. Metro sheriffs can demand to see your paper farecard or TAP card anytime (and you can be fined if you don’t have a paper farecard or didn’t tap your TAP card). As you head to the train platform, keep to the right on escalators if you want to stand (the left is for those in a hurry who want to walk and pass on the left). Then look for the signs listing the destination (last stop) of the train going in the direction you want to go, and wait there for the next train. Allow passengers on the train to exit first, and then walk on board, being sure not to get anything caught in the door as it closes. It’s not like an elevator door—it will close on you. Grab a seat or hold on to a handlebar, and don’t lean on the doors as the train makes its way. You’ll whisk along many feet below the traffic gridlock above, and before you know it, you’ll be at your destination. As you exit, keep an eye open for possible signs (usually on lighted boards in the center of the platform) listing different station exits and explaining where each exit goes. You made it!
Buses: An Overview of the System
At any time, there may be as many as 2,000 Metro buses on the road, divided up into different set routes. Metro divides its lines into local buses (usually painted orange), which stop frequently, and faster “Metro Rapid” (usually red colored) express buses. For instance, on Wilshire Blvd, Metro runs the “20” local bus line, which has stops every couple blocks, as well as the “720” “Rapid” bus, which is significantly faster when going long distances because it only stops at certain major intersections. The system is good for serving transit dependent riders, and Metro has many innovations that make riding the bus more pleasant, faster, and better. But the bus is still slower than rail, as it gets stuck in traffic, and makes many stops. Where Metro really shines, though, its participation in the NexTrip system (NextBus.com), which tracks buses using GPS and lets you know the real time the next bus is coming (not just the scheduled time, which frankly can be meaningless, due to traffic and other factors).
There are also scores of bus lines run by smaller cities or regions (called “municipal bus operators”), which provide their own service. Their fares, system maps, timetables, and rules are separate and different. Examples range from the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus to LADOT (Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation)’s DASH bus system. Some have tracking systems like Nextrip, too.
Wikipedia has articles on some of these municipal bus operators (but the see the next section of this guide for easy ways to find buses serving your area): Antelope Valley Transit Authority • Alhambra Community Transit • Arcadia Transit • Baldwin Park Transit • Beach Cities Transit • Bell Gardens Trolley • Bellflower Bus • Big Blue Bus (Santa Monica) •Burbank Bus • Calabasas Trolley • Carson Circuit Transit System • Cerritos on Wheels • City of Commerce Municipal Bus Lines • Cudahy Area Rapid Transit • Culver CityBus • Compton Renaissance Transit • Duarte Transit • DowneyLINK • Easy Rider Shuttle • El Monte Transit • El Sol • FlyAway Bus (LAX) • Foothill Transit • Gardena Municipal Bus Lines • Glendale Beeline • GO WEST Transit • Huntington Park COMBI • La Puente Link • Lawndale Beat • Long Beach Transit • LADOT • Lynwood Trolley • Monrovia Transit • Montebello Bus Lines •Monterey Park Spirit Bus • Municipal Area Express • Norwalk Transit • Palos Verdes Peninsula Transit Authority • Pasadena Area Rapid Transit System • Port of LA Waterfront Red Car • Rosemead Explorer • City of Santa Clarita Transit • South Pasadena Gold Link • Sunshine Shuttle (South Whittier) • Torrance Transit • West Hollywood CityLine
How to Find and Ride Buses
Figuring out what bus to take and when to take it can be mystifying. But don’t fear, with this guide, you can do it!
First, figure out what bus line(s) serve the route you need to tak. The easiest and fastest way to do this is with Google Transit (http://transit.google.com) or Google Maps (http://maps.google.com/, just as you would with driving directions (but on the directions page, click , the transit icon). This will present you with several options and let you visualize the route’s path. But while all Metro buses and a number of other bus lines are on Google Transit, many are not. For example, Santa Monica Big Blue Bus is on Google Transit, but Montebello Bus Lines is not. A more comprehensive source (but less user-friendly) is the trip planner on the Metro website, which has data from 69 transit operators. It’s found either at http://www.metro.net or http://socaltransport.org/. Both Google and the Metro trip planners not only provide route information, but also pickup and arrival times.
If you already know the route (e.g. Metro line 20), you can also manually view timetables & line route maps (in PDFs) on the transit provider’s website (e.g. Metro.net.) But keep in mind that the times in the timetables, Trip Planner, and on Google are all the scheduled times. Just as cars get stuck in traffic, so do buses. And frankly, waiting…and waiting for the bus has been an all too common an experience for bus riders. Until now. A marvelous new system called Nextrip monitors actual bus locations using GPS and lets you know the actual bus arrival time. It’s extraordinary. It only works for certain bus systems (e.g. for Metro but not Big Blue Bus). Go to their website on your desktop computer or smartphone at Nextbus.com, or call 511 and say “Nextrip”. Additional instructions can be found at metro.net/service/nextrip/.
Back to how to use the bus: Unlike with Metro rail, you don’t have to buy your fare before you board a bus – you pay (by cash, not credit card) as you board. There will be a fare box by the driver, and you can insert dollar bills and coins – but if you overpay you won’t receive change, so try to carry exact change with you. Fares vary by operator; as of August 2011, Metro buses are $1.50. (You can also ask the driver or visit the transit agency’s website for information on day passes, transfers, and the like. Metro and some other buses accept TAP cards.)
Once you’re onboard, there may or may not be audio or scrolling text announcements of upcoming bus stops. If there’s not, keep an eye out, or tell your bus driver in advance to let you know when you reach your stop. If you see your stop is the next one, signal to the bus driver to stop by pulling on the yellow pull cord hanging along the windows & walls of the bus, or (on certain buses) by pressing one of the buttons mounted on the metal handlebars on the aisle of the bus. Your fellow passengers or driver can point these out. This is important—the bus will not stop unless requested. When exiting, try to use the rear doors.
Commuter Rail: Metrolink
View full size maps and info at metrolinktrains.com or call 800-371-LINK.
Metrolink is a fantastic commuter train system (so long as their schedules work for you). Picture Amtrak type trains, except double decker, much nicer and more dependable to be on-time, and serving fixed routes such as San Bernardino to downtown Los Angeles and points in-between. Tickets are much more expensive than Metro subways, given the greater distances involved, and service is dramatically less frequent and hours limited. However, these double decker trains are an extremely pleasant way to get around. Prices vary by distance. Weekend passes are just $10. Metrolink routes include the 91 Line, Antelope Valley Line, Burbank-Bob Hope Airport, Inland Empire-Orange Co. Line, Orange County Line, Riverside Line, San Bernardino Line, and Ventura County Line. Because trains are infrequent (e.g. hourly), and many lines do not operate on weekends, you must plan your trip around the schedules, which are online. At the station, buy your ticket before boarding at a machine. An inspector onboard may demand to see it during travel.
Commuter Buses and Other Options
Several transit operators offer long distance commuter buses, which generally are on comfortable coaches. Check details online:
- LADOT Commuter Express (City of Los Angeles)
- City of Santa Clarita Commuter Express
- Antelope Valley Transit commuter buses
Access Services: for the disabled.
Tips for Riding Transit
- Bringing a music player & headphones, or something to read can make your ride more pleasant.
- Combining a bike with transit is a great way to get to the stop from your starting point. Most buses have racks for 2 or 3 bikes; see Metro/Metrolink websites for bike on rail details.
- Getting a TAP card can be a big help. But keep in mind these currently don’t work on many municipal bus lines. Instead, more expensive “EZ Passes” cover a wider range of lines.
Need More Info?
Metro.net is very helpful (or call 323.GO.METRO). View additional contact information for Metro here, including customer service contacts. They also have several in-person customer centers in different parts of LA County, and an online chat service for assistance.
There’s also a 511 telephone information system. Just call “511”, or visit Go511.com.
Want to Make Transit Better?
This guide was prepared by Angelenos Against Gridlock, which is an independent effort committed to a better future for transit in Los Angeles. Be sure to check out the blog on our homepage and follow us on Twitter at @EndingGridlock.
Check out other independent groups, such as:
Keep up on transit news at:
This guide was produced by Angelenos Against Gridlock, and was made possible by a grant from The David Bohnett Foundation, one of the leading supporters in the Los Angeles region of transportation efforts.