Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Buses in L.A.? No Way!

Holland is full of interesting things to learn, including even the Los Angeles bus system. There are places, like Downtown, I will only go by bus now. But I don't know if I ever would have even noticed the buses had I not needed to teach my son how to get around town without a car.

Contrary to popular belief, Los Angeles does have buses. Not only buses, but also subways and trains. And they work. And they're usually on time. And they can be faster and easier than driving. (Well, at least the Color Lines can be faster and easier
than driving.)  Your choices, in order of speed and comfort:

  • Metrolink (Amtrak). Metrolink is an Amtrak[1] service that "links" Los Angeles to outlying counties, allowing travel to/from/around Ventura, Antelope, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
  • Metro Rail & Transit Lines (the Color Lines): The Red, Blue, Green, Gold, Purple, Expo, Orange and Silver Lines are mixed rail, subway and transit lines that offer mostly dedicated lines with few stops (no traffic jams!).
  • Metro Rapid (the red 700-series). These buses follow some of the most traveled boulevards -- e.g., Ventura, Van Nuys, Wilshire and Sepulveda Blvds, among many others -- but with fewer stops, and therefore, more rapidly, than the local buses.
  • Express (400- and 500-series commuter routes). Mostly heading downtown from various suburbs or outlying areas, with very few pick-up and drop-off points, and sometimes using the freeways.
  • Local Buses and Shuttles (100-, 200-, 300- and 600-series local routes, shuttles and circulators).
  • Dash (LADOT). Local circulators separate from Metro (i.e., you pay extra), but for short hops on an off around a small area (e.g., downtown).
All separate bus timetables and maps are available for download, or you can look at one large system map. For individual trips, you can plug your start, stop and other information into the Metro Trip Planner or you can call Metro (1.322.466.3876). However, Google Maps may be better for some trip planning, because the Metro Trip Planner cannot handle trips that involve more than 1/3 mile of walking.[2]  Metro also offers a free app for Android and I-Phone (search "Go Metro" at the app store).[3]

Within Los Angeles, the Color Lines are the fastest travel routes: The Orange Line rides from Canoga Park to North Hollywood on dedicated tracks. The Red Line subway picks up in NoHo to go to Union Station (through downtown). From there, several colors branch out and intersect, including Purple (Union Station to Wilshire Blvd.); Blue (connects with the Red and Purple to go to Long Beach); Expo (also connects with the Red and Purple, to go to Culver City); Green (Norwalk to Redondo Beach, connecting with the Blue and Silver lines ); Gold (from Pasadena to East L.A., connecting at Union Station); and Silver (from El Monte to Gardena/Harbor Gateway, also connecting at Union Station). The Green Line goes near LAX, but not right to it: you have to take a shuttle, or wait until 2020, if you want to go to the airport.

On most local buses and Dash, you can pay for a single ride using exact change (cash), but you need a TAP card for riding the Color Lines, for full day passes (including bus transfers), for monthly passes, or just to make it easier to ride a local bus or DASH. TAP cards are reusable, refillable plastic cards that are sold at self-service TAP vending machines[4] or that are included in a Metro Reduced Fare ID card.[5] Fare amounts are loaded onto the cards electronically, then you just "tap" the card onto the bus's reader, or at the entry to a Color Line. You can load and re-load fare amounts at the same stations that sell the TAP cards, or by phone or online.[6] You can also use your Metro TAP card to ride DASH, and if your card is a Reduced Fare (disability, senior, etc.) MTA card, the DASH bus scanner will "know" to deduct the discounted price from the card.[7]

Like DASH, MetroLink (train) tickets are sold separately from the Metro (bus) system. However, if you have a Metro Reduced Fare ID card, you are eligible for half-price tickets on Metrolink (and a 25% discount on 30-day passes). Also, while Metro tickets do not include Metrolink rides, the converse is true: Metrolink tickets can include Metro bus rides.

It's never too soon to start teaching your child about buses and how to use them. As a parent, you can start by taking your child by bus to places you regularly visit, to familiarize him or her with the buses and the bus-riding process (using bus cards, locating bus stops, identifying bus numbers, getting on and off the bus, etc.). Our recent post also shows you how to get a bus discount card for a special education student.

[1] Technically, it's a mixed Amtrak/Connex/SCRRA service, but it runs on Amtrak rails and uses their cars -- i.e., it looks like Amtrak.
[2] For example, my house is almost a mile from any bus that operates on the weekend. If I ask the Metro Trip Planner to find a route from my house to my son's apartment, leaving Sunday afternoon, it will say there are no buses that travel that route. If I plug the same information into Google Maps, and choose the Public Transit (bus icon) option, Google will tell me to walk a mile to Ventura Blvd. (or drive and park nearby), then catch the 150.
[3] The app is not the greatest thing ever -- it does not give you access to individual bus schedules, though you do get access to the individual bus maps. Go Metro also has a GPS locator that identifies local bus stops and lets you know when the next bus is leaving from any stop you choose. MTA's Trip Planner is included (and the app includes settings to change the default walking distance to 1 mile, which makes it better than the website). I would prefer also having access to the schedules, but that's just me. And my son.
[4] Found at Metro Rail and Transit (Color) Line stations. You can also find TAP card sellers with Metro's TAP seller locator. The price is $1 at a Metro station, $2 from a non-Metro TAP seller.
[5] Our previous post discussed how to get a discounted ("Reduced Fare") Metro bus pass. These cards double as TAP cards and discount ID cards.
[6] Bus fares are typically $1.50 for one-way (no transfers), $5.00 for a full day pass (including transfers), and $0.50 one-way for DASH. 7-day and 30-day passes are available, and there are discounts for students (K - college/vocational school), seniors (62+), people with disabilities (including special education students), and people on Medicare:
[7] DASH bus rides are not included in 30-day MTA bus passes. So, if you are using your TAP card for 30-day MTA bus passes, you will have to add extra money to use DASH buses. However, if you put the extra money on a Reduced Fare MTA card, the DASH card reader will only deduct $0.25 for the ride. (Any extra money loaded onto the card for DASH rides will not expire at the end of the month.)

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