A Londoner’s perspective on LA’s public transport

Let’s be realistic, the City of Angels isn’t known for its public transportation system. The consensus here and abroad is that if you’re in LA, you need a car. I have a car! Unfortunately, I don’t have a valid California driving license (through no lack of trying) so I have instead relied on buses and trains.

As an ex-Londoner, I’m used to delayed trains and, particularly on the Tube, a lack of personal space. Before moving, I was told a fable about some visitors exploring LA on foot. As they went about their day, drivers would pull over and ask if their car had broken down and if they needed help. After taking multiple commutes myself, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the system works.

A few things stuck out for me:

  1. All the announcements are made in English and then in Spanish.
  2. Several of the announcements mentioned reporting incidents to the “Sheriff!” I had to laugh when I heard this word. Toy Story was the last time I’d heard mention of a Sherriff.
  3. I might have been in another country but there was still that one person who listens to their music so loud you can make out the lyrics 30 feet away. ‘I am for real. Never meant to make your daughter cry. I apologise a trillion times.’
  4. A girl caught me staring at her outfit and I was greeted with a friendly scowl. The unspoken rule of not talking to strangers on the train still applies. I felt like a creeper.

As well as these general observations, I noted quite a few positive features:

  1. The service is super cheap. It’s $1.75 a pop for one journey with the “TAP” card. (This is the base fare; finer detail can be found here).
  2. You can use the “TAP” card on all types of transport e.g., Big Blue Bus, Culver City Bus, Metro. “TAP” cards are just like London’s “Oyster” card, one card for all modes of transport and easy to top up.
  3. The “TAP” card actually has one up on London’s “Oyster” card, as it costs either $1 or $2 depending on whether you buy it at a vending machine or a vendor location. The “Oyster” card requires a 5.00 deposit.
The good ol' tap card
The good ol’ tap card

It’s only fair that I also share some negative observations:

  1. I have experienced a few delays, but nothing terrible. London was worse with delays caused by staff shortages and multiple cancellations and station closures due to 1″ of snow.
  2. The Bus to Downtown is SO bumpy, like, jolt-you-out-of-your seat kind of bumpy. I think this has less to do with the bus though and more to do with the road.
  3. Particularly around Santa Monica, it’s felt a little shady late at night. To be fair, I think this can be expected of most cities.
Passadena Train Station - Train pulling out at night
Passadena Train Station – Train pulling out at night

Finally, one of the great things about getting public transport is the block of time you’ve gained to do something else. You may end up stuck in traffic while on the bus, but you don’t have to concentrate on the road. You can read, play a game on your phone or just be. One thing about modern travel nowadays is that transport links have adapted and have started using updated technology that can be a great support to vehicle fleets as well as those who choose to ride in it. Using resources such as https://www.lytx.com/en-us/resources/articles/fleet-fuel-management-systems to manage fuel and distance can provide the necessary security for these fleets.

Angelinos, if you’re reading this, I encourage you to try public transport if you haven’t recently. Non-Angelinos, please don’t be put off by the old myth about LA not having a useable transport system. If you didn’t already know, there is a perfect opportunity next week. The Metro is launching the Metro Expo Light Rail Line which will take you to and from Downtown LA to Downton Santa Monica. The journey should take approximately 48 minutes so you could even have a little nap. On May 20th, you will be able to ride the Expo train for free from 1pm to 2am and all day Saturday, May 21st. There are all sorts of celebrations taking place at the same time and there is so much information to share I’m excited about, that I will be dedicating my next post entirely to this.

Lights inside Union Station
Lights inside Union Station

In case you wanted more detail about getting around LA on public transport, I found these sites pages really useful:

  1. Discover Los Angeles – Los Angeles Public Transit (An overview written in 2012 but updated in 2015)
  2. Trip Advisor – Los Angeles Public Transport (General useful tips)
  3. Metro – Breakdown of fares
  4. Metro – How to reach the new Expo line stations without having to drive

xoxo Jessica

Union Stations swanky waiting area
Union Stations swanky waiting area


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    1. Thank you very much, on both counts. I took my first trip on the new LA Expo line today! Excited to talk about that next. I’m sure I will see you around the blogging world again soon 🙂