You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times, and you’ve sat through hours of traffic as we try to make it come to fruition: take public transportation. The benefits have been touted; whether you’re looking to avoid traffic or save the planet, everyone knows that public transportation is a good great idea, and yet only 7% of Los Angeles County residents are regular users. Why? What is keeping us from making the right decision when it comes to our daily commute?
With horror stories abound, from urine-stenched seats to the “crazy homeless man” that everyone supposedly encounters (and did anyone watch The Brave One with Jodie Foster? Sheesh.), it’s easy to see why anyone would be hesitant to change their routine. But maybe we should.
As your local chamber you know we are here to fight for what is best for the LAX Coastal community, so our staff went on their own Metro adventures to shed a little light on public transit. Hesitation is often the child of fear of the unknown, so let’s take the unknown out of the equation and inspire engagement instead.
Mission: Travel to Downtown, Los Angeles City Hall, via public transit from the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce
Estimated Travel Time: 50 to 75 minutes
Estimated Travel Fare: $2.50
Being unfamiliar with the whole Metro system in general, our first mistake was attempting to find our way Downtown on our own. At first glance, the Metro Bus and Rail System map is daunting. What do all of the numbers mean? Where is everything going? Wait, where am I? Is this really what Downtown looks like?
Our heads started to hurt before even stepping foot on a bus… But then we realized there must be a better way to do this. We were smart people (some of us even have degrees that say so), we could figure this out, so we headed on over to Google and found our saving grace: Metro Trip Planner. The ease of using this system was refreshing; just tell it where you are and where you want to go, what time you are leaving, and how little you want to walk and viola! Instant game plan. Time to head to the Metro Rail Green Line!
Next mistake: karma finds you when you try to cheat. Don’t drive to the Aviation LAX Station unless you are arriving extremely early and are looking forward to creepily stalking a few human beings through a parking lot. We arrived at 8:32am, planning on boarding the 9:11am Green Line, completely confident that we had left ourselves enough of a cushion to avoid stress. We were wrong. After circling for millions of years and making one poor gentleman feel incredibly uneasy as we followed behind him on his walk from the station to the street at a leisurely 3 miles an hour (only to give out a sigh of exasperation as we realized he was smarter than we were and did NOT park in this lot), we found a duo heading to their car and happily stole their spot. The time was now 8:43am. Overall confidence lessened by 15% (but we were surprised to find out you can park at this station for up to 72 hours!).
Time to purchase our TAP cards. For those as unfamiliar as we once were, TAP cards are like credit cards for public transit: great for those of us who don’t often have exact change in our pockets and enjoy the ease of refilling our balances online. We found ourselves the proper kiosk, rejoiced in the lack of a line (confidence increased by 5%), and prepared to purchase 15 TAP cards for our Leadership Academy students who would be taking this Metro adventure themselves the following day. We happily pressed the button to purchase a new TAP card and… learned the hard way to choose the correct option because, after that, things weren’t entirely self-explanatory. Were we just adding one fare? Did we want to add a total balance? How come you have to be as fast as The Flash to get a receipt (because the option to say yes to a receipt literally stays on the screen for only about one second)? Confidence decreased by 3%, we annoyed a few people in line, engaged in conversation with a Veteran who informed us that the Military bus fare was discounted to $0.35 (!), and bonded with the confused family at the kiosk next to us who looked just as lost and confused as we were. But luckily, after the first 2 cards, we got the hang of it and were buying TAP cards like a pro. Pro tip: Always buy your TAP card at a kiosk and not at the Metro office. When we called for support they informed us that the kiosk price was $1 cheaper!
With smiling faces and a handful of TAP cards, we TAP-ed our way onto the platform just in time to hear our Green Line pull away from the station. Without us. Our smiles flagged a little, but the near-empty platform was almost worth it. The view was beautiful (did you know they were building new apartment complexes across the street?), the furniture was eccentric (complete with concrete lawn chairs), and small bits of literature were included as aesthetic enhancements (including a piece from Ginsberg, a personal favorite). We waited patiently on the side of the platform heading to Norwalk—where on earth is Norwalk?—until it was our turn to take the Green Line.
We joined the small group of passengers already on-board and took our seats. Plenty of options to choose from at 9am, by the way, since the morning rush is already over and done with. I sat by the window, enjoying a view that I rarely get to see as we traveled eastbound down the 105 freeway, for the first time taking in the scenery that I’m dissuaded from looking at when driving a vehicle. (Something about keeping your eyes on the road… I’m not sure.) I smiled as I watched the cars on the freeway who had to deal with traffic jams and inconsiderate drivers who don’t know how to use their turn signal and, yes, I did feel like gloating. There is something incredibly freeing in not worrying about being the one in charge of your commute. My Green Line was going to take me exactly where I needed to go. It wouldn’t get lost, it wouldn’t get stopped by traffic, and I had a little time to myself. For the first time I can remember, my commute was filled with a sense of peace.
Next stop: Harbor Freeway Station.
For the final leg of our journey we needed to board the Silver Line at the Harbor Freeway Station, so we hopped off our rail, looked around for the proper signs to tell us where to go (good on you, Metro! Your signage was definitely on its A Game), and caught the proper vantage point just in time to see us missing our ride… again. Confidence did not decrease—we started to notice that sometimes these things happen and Metro seems to account for it—and we walked down two sets of stairs to our stop. By this time we noticed we were waiting for a bus, not a rail (did Trip Planner tell us this?), and that there were two options for the Silver Line: 910 and 950x. What’s the difference? Are they the same bus? Why does one say something about Rush Hour times? Hey, you know what you should do when you’re lost and confused? Ask for help. So, when the bus pulled up about 4 minutes later, I asked the driver of the 950x Silver Line “Do you stop at Spring Street?” and his simple nod helped raise confidence level by 10% and we TAP-ed our way onto the bus. Never doubt the importance of asking for help.
We took our seats near the back and settled in for the longest part of our journey. This bus ride was estimated to take us nearly 30 minutes, so we planned on spending it in comfort and conversation. Our fellow bus patrons were engrossed in their own worlds of books and phones and iPods and none of them raised any red flags, contrary to popular media belief. The woman sitting in front of us laughed quietly to herself at our stories while commenting on Facebook. The gentleman to our left bobbed his head along to a beat none of us could hear. We watched cars disappear from view as they were left behind, stuck in a traffic jam our Silver Line wasn’t hindered by as we continued along the 110 freeway on the Metro ExpressLanes. Again, I felt a sense of quiet and peace, as well as satisfaction as I was finally able to drive on the bus-only lanes that have been taunting me since their construction.
As we made our way Downtown, exiting the freeway for surface streets, I was able to enjoy a view that, once again, I never get to see. Rather than being hyper-aware for wayward pedestrians and getting lost in a myriad of one-way streets, I was finding Escape Rooms I never noticed, watching groups settle in front of the Staples Center, and looking at the people making their way up and down the streets. I have always been averse to traveling Downtown, disliking the maze of busy streets and expensive parking and the hassle of traffic, but sitting on the Silver Line, with its charmingly ugly seat cushions and broken TV screen, erased all of my misgivings. I could finally see the allure of our metropolis and the draw to using public transportation on a regular basis. Bus patrons even seemed nicer than fellow Los Angeleno drivers; instead of exchanging swear words and middle fingers in the midst of a crowd, I saw a man holding the bus doors open for an elderly woman and a young adult moving his bag to clear a seat for another gentleman to sit down. Maybe there is a little something to togetherness. Who knows, maybe the world would be a nicer place if more people took the bus (care to wager?)… Oh crap, did we miss our stop? I wasn’t paying attention.
True to its word, the bus pulled up to Spring St./Temple St. at 10:11am (after we stopped our philosophical conversation long enough to remember to request the stop. Pro tip: Pay attention to where you are, the bus driver doesn’t know what stop you are looking for unless you tell him), and we were finally standing right on the steps up to Los Angeles City Hall. We had made it. And we were ready to do it again! (Okay maybe not, I have to get back to work… Can somebody call us an Uber?)
Mission Completed: Travel to Downtown, Los Angeles City Hall, via public transit from the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce
Travel Time: 54 minutes
Travel Fare: $3.25 (extra $0.75 for the Silver Line)
(Estimated Driving Cost: $8.52)
Travel Distance: 15.74 miles
Confidence Level: 97%
Willingness to ride public transit again: 125%