A Cheat Sheet for the Savvy L.A. Metro Rider

Coming to Los Angeles for a visit? Or already here and having to commute soon? Looking to start taking MetroLink, but can’t take the plunge? Or just fed up with driving, all that car maintenance and expensive fuel ups? Like a typical Angeleno, I’ve driven a car in Los Angeles since I was old enough to, but I finally  made the transition to taking transit on a daily basis. I still have (and need) a car, but I prefer taking transit for my daily commute.

The subway system in L.A. is nowhere near finished, and it might not ever work for everyone. In some cases, taking the subway, may be too much of an inconvenience for people looking for a direct route. Still, it is worth getting to know it, since it definitely has a place in the future of Los Angeles. As it develops, people will surely start to more closely consider the proximity of transit stops when choosing a place to live. The following post is a bit of a primer for the L.A. transit newbie, and a number of tips to help you survive your first (or next) transit experience.

Firstly, the Los Angeles metro system is a compilation of buses, subway, light rail and regional trains. (And a street car at Angel’s Flight in Downtown L.A.) This advice focuses mostly on subway and rail, since I haven’t used the bus quite as much. Keep in mind that the bus system is decentralized by city, for example Santa Monica has its Big Blue Bus system and Culver City has its buses, as well. Now, moving on to 5 major tips and tons of extras!

The Future of L.A. Transit
The Future of L.A. Transit

Tip #1: Get your Tap card and be prepared to ride the subway! If you are looking to move quickly around the more central parts of L.A, jump on the subway for just $1.50 a ride. In fact, familiarize yourself with the fare and ticketing options, choose the right one for you, get your Tap card for one dollar and fill up. Again, regular fares are $1.50 per ride, so if you are riding the metro or bus 4 times in a day, get a day pass for $5.00. Armed with your L.A. Metro “club card”, you are  ready to ride!

Extra tip! Students and seniors get special prices.

Tip #2: Get to know the existing lines: Blue, Purple, Red, Green, Gold & Expo. In Los Angeles, (almost) all subways lead to Union Station, so it’s the best place to get started. Take the Red, Purple, Expo, and Gold lines from here. Currently, these take you to North Hollywood, Wilshire and Western (Koreatown), through USC and into Culver City, and to Pasadena, respectively. Over the years, each of these will keep expanding either north, west, south or east, so it’s best to get comfortable with each of them. In my experience, the subways are on time and efficient, but light rail (the Gold & Expo lines) can run late, and more slowly.

Extra tips! You no longer need to drive from North Hollywood to Downtown or from Downtown to Koreatown (or vice versa). Use the Red and Purple lines. Remember, you can’t get the Blue or Green lines from Union Station. Transfer to the Blue from 7th & Metro and get to the Green if needed from the Blue. The Green almost gets you to LAX! From the end of the Red, you can also take the Orange line (a bus) and get out to Van Nuys and the San Fernando Valley.

L.A. Metro Map Today
L.A. Metro Map Today

Tip #3: Take the bus if you find yourself short of getting from A to B. Overlapping bus systems will surely make up for any shortfall or gap in the subway system. The good news is that the Metro app, combines subway and bus data for trip planning, so you can easily plan combinations. The bad news is that you don’t get a less expensive transfer fare. That said, at least your tap card now works for all city buses, too. The bus system is quite frequent and you have several choices. Some buses can be very run down, however, unveiling L.A.’s underbelly. This will hopefully improve over time, but also why many Angelenos opt to drive instead!

Tip #4: Going the distance? Take MetroLink! We’ve got most of central L.A. covered, but if you need to get out to Antelope Valley, Orange County, the San Gabriel Valley, San Bernardino or Riverside, things get trickier, or wait, easier. This is where MetroLink comes in to save the day. Figure out which line you need– and in this case, they really do all start/end at Union Station– and get riding. You can buy daily, weekly and monthly passes, and prices vary depending on the distances. Fares typically range from about $7.50 for a one way pass, to around $200 for monthly passes. If commuting daily, for the most part it’s more economical to choose the weekly or monthly passes. And the best part? With your MetroLink pass you are allowed to ride all the L.A. Metro subways or buses, so you don’t even need a Tap card (Tip #1), just show the bus driver your MetroLink ticket.

Extra Tips! After 8am, MetroLink trains run less frequently, with up to an hour in between trains. (I learned this the hard way.) And the last trains depart by around 11pm. There are power outlets (and toilets) on the train, but they are only at the tables in the new carriages. These can be life savers sometimes! If you need peace and silence, find the designated “quiet train”.If you know it’s a long haul, pack a snack for the ride. Be prepared to show tickets at any time, though in my experience, it’s uncommon.

Tip #5: Finally, plan ahead to avoid possible setbacks and delays. Riding public transit can be frustrating, and as I’ve alluded to, lines do run late. This is especially true with the MetroLink, where you’re looking at an average 30-40 minute ride to start. Plan for delays and  consider taking earlier trains, when possible, especially during peak hours when the trains are more frequently. That way, you guarantee getting in on time. In any case, make sure to  arrive to your MetroLink station early in order to give yourself time to park, and walk, not run, to the platform. Parking can be a few blocks away, and can cost up to $2 a day. You can get parking passes ahead of time online, in some cases. Or better yet, get a ride. (I would bike if I could!)

Extra tips! Two more tips about Union Station: there aren’t any power outlets there or access to the internet, but Starbucks provides both for the cost of a latte. 😉 Also, oddly enough, the large clock at the front of Union Station seems to be running a few minutes fast, so you might still make your train if you see this and think you’re too late. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the best and biggest source for all transit news is L.A. Metro. If you haven’t done so already, make sure you download their app. Check out “The Source” for more in-depth transit news.

Now stop all that driving, sit back and enjoy the ride! Hope these tips are helpful. If you liked this post, then LIKE it, SHARE it, and COMMENT, too. THANK YOU!

Signing Off,

~ Erica


  1. “.If you know it’s a long haul, pack a snack for the ride. Be prepared to show tickets at any time, though in my experience, it’s uncommon.”

    I read that food and drinks are prohibited, and since we have to use a TAP card, we don’t have tickets to show anymore. Also, at the Unuversal station on the Red Line, there are bicycle lockers, I don’t know about other stops. But you could ride your bike and leave it in a locker when you get to Unuversal.

    • Hey K Watkins, thanks for the comment! Glad to know there are bicycle lockers at the Universal Station! I hope more stations get those, too. About food and tickets, that only applies to the MetroLink rides!! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s