|By Bus |
The LA bus system is extensive. Many Angelinos rely on the bus as their primary mode of transportation. Within the central area (from Downtown to the coast, below Sunset Blvd and above Interstate 10) the buses are frequent and ubiquitous enough to get around without a schedule. The drawback is that they are stuck in traffic just like cars. This means you may experience delays waiting for a bus, but during the morning and afternoon hours bus travel is only slightly slower than car travel once you board. Check out the MTA website and download maps and route schedules. The best routes for getting across town (east-west) are the #2 or #302(limited) on Sunset Blvd, #720 "Rapid" express service on Wilshire Blvd, and #33 or #333(limited) on Venice Blvd. Be sure to check night schedules; bus service (but not rail service) runs 24 hours but many routes change and have extremely reduced frequency in the late hours. Fares are currently $1.25 per boarding (no transfers) or $3.00 for a day pass (also good on Metro Rail).
The Metro Rail subway and light-rail system is efficient, but limited in its geographic coverage. It works on a 'trust' system: you buy your tickets from machines, then get on and ride... no checking, no gates, no nothing. There are, however, Metro police that are part of the LA Sheriffs Dept. who may check for tickets on the trains or platforms, and the fines for not paying are expensive. If you ride several times chances are you will be asked to show your ticket at least once. The rail is operated by the same agency as the bus system, so their maps include the rail lines. The fare structure is also the same as for the bus system. The Metro Rail system is composed of 5 lines. The Red Line is a subway that runs from Downtown (Union Station) through the near west side to the Hollywood area then into the San Fernando Valley. From there (North Hollywood Station) you can take the Orange Line (Busway system) to the west end of the valley. The Orange Line Busway uses special sleek articulated "bus-trains" on rubber tires. . The rest of the lines are above-ground light rail. The Blue Line runs from a subway connection with the Red Line Downtown at 7th and Figueroa Streets at street level or higher (with some interesting views) through south Los Angeles, southward to Long Beach. The Gold Line runs from Downtown (Union Station) north to East side of Pasadena. The Green Line runs from LAX east to the city of Norwalk along Interstate 105, connecting with the Blue Line at Rosa Parks Station in Watts. It runs west to a location just south of LAX, then on to a remote part of Redondo Beach.
The truth is that Los Angeles is huge and decentralized, so the Metro Rail is only helpful if it happens to go where you want to go. Attractions that are easily reached via the rail system include: Universal Studios, Hollywood, Thai Town, the Griffith Observatory (via a brief bus transfer on Vermont), Koreatown, the Wiltern theater, Westlake, Downtown (including the Financial District, Disney Hall, City Hall, Broadway, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, the Convention Center, and the Staples Center), Old Town Pasadena, the Watts Towers, LAX (via a free shuttle bus at Aviation Station), downtown Long Beach, and, via a frequent shuttle bus from downtown Long Beach, the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific. Most of the Metro lines meet in Downtown L.A., where you can transfer to Metrolink Heavy Commuter Railroad (at Union Station). This commuter rail system, which reaches as far as Ventura, Lancaster, San Bernardino, and Oceanside (northern San Diego County) is much more problematic. Unfortunately, most Metrolink lines are shut down on week-ends, and stops service to the suburbs very early in the evenings during the week. Unlike, most major cities, there is no alternative to the Metrolink, but a limited AMTRAK service, if you miss it. This, and the higher fares probably accounts for some of the low ridership, and dissatisfaction by potential users.
While many attractions are easily served by rail, and others are adequately served by bus, you will need a car to fully enjoy your visit. Yes, traffic sucks, but if you want to experience L.A., you need to get a car. Some of the most interesting parts of town can be very exhausting and time-consuming to reach via public transportation. For example, if you want to visit Malibu, any beach cities other than Santa Monica and Venice, the Korean Friendship Bell (with views of the port), the Chinese communities in the San Gabriel Valley, or any part of Orange County, you are strongly advised to travel by car. There are also many spectacular natural areas surrounding the LA metropolitan area that you can only reach by car. See the article about Driving in Los Angeles County for more information.
If you are going to be driving around, make sure you have access to extensive street and freeway maps, a Thomas Bros Guide (a large spiral-bound street atlas), AAA offers good free maps to members from any state, or a car with an onboard navigation system. The freeways in LA can be confusing and overwhelming, and typically the speed of the freeway during the non-rush hours is much higher than the speed limit. If you have two or more people in your vehicle, regardless of your purpose, you may use the "Carpool Only" lanes (some require 3 people, but these will be clearly marked). There's also lots of construction work going around since the beginning of 2004 (especially late at night), so watch out for that too. Listening to a radio station is helpful for any long trip through LA since most stations regularly disseminate traffic information during the daylight hours. KNX 1070 AM is probably the most frequent and has a strong enough signal to be heard well outside LA county, so you can plan ahead. As you get closer to your destination, it will probably be too late to change course. Note that freeways are broadcast by their name (i.e. Santa Monica) not their route number (I-10). The name usually changes on opposite sides of downtown LA. (I-10 becomes the San Bernardino) Be sure to have an alternate route planned out in advance and know its freeway name(s) also. Traffic accident reports on the radio will give the name of the freeway interchange cross street which, unfortunately, a non-local would have no idea where that is. It could be so far away that you won't be affected even on the same freeway and direction. If possible, use a passenger as your navigator. You may also check SigAlert for current traffic information before your trip. If you are traveling more than 10 or 15 miles on the freeway network, ask a local for the best route at that time of day.