So you’re considering riding the LA Metro.

Your tolerance for the daily gridlock in this city’s notorious traffic has reached its maximum level, but you’re scared to venture into the widely uncommon practice of riding LA’s train to work. Or, perhaps you’re seeking a better way to travel home from a drunken night of debauchery – one that doesn’t involve a ridiculously expensive cab or a less-than-ideal excursion from your not-so-reliable Designated Driver.

As Heidi Niedermeyer and Elena Crevello playfully demonstrate in their “Shit People in LA Say” video shown here, most Angelenos consider the Metro completely intolerable. And honestly, if you’ve been to other major cities around the world, you may find LA public transport a bit limited (if from Chicago/NYC), if not downright horrifying (if from Seoul/London).

Los Angeles Metro map vs. Seoul Metro map

Los Angeles Metro map vs. Seoul Metro map. The route options don’t even compare!

But, allow me to provide you with some real-world pointers for LA public transport etiquette to help you overcome any apprehension for venturing into the unknown– a decision that just might improve your daily commute forever.

Reader, consider yourself forewarned that this has been written by a girl who has taken public transportation her entire life which requires a certain amount of tolerance for germs, socioeconomically diverse crowds and street smarts. If you lack said tolerance, perhaps you should address these qualities prior to riding the train.

I’ve always thought of riding the train (or as I like to call it, the subway, ooh lala) as a rite of passage as a modern urban-dwelling career woman. Growing up I envision “adulthood” as myself riding the subway to a downtown high rise building wearing a chic suit holding a briefcase as part of what. Therefore, riding the train for the past five years is somewhat like fulfilling an adventurous childhood dream from which no amount of homeless co-riders will deter me. Therefore, I feel it part of my civic duty to share the love with you, along with some pointers for your first train voyage.

Plan Your Trip: The Metro staff is surprisingly helpful

If you are taking the train for the first time, unless you are super savvy with maps, I recommend that you call the Metro directly (213-680-0054) for personal guidance. I’ve spoken with Metro staff on more than one occasion and not only are they patient, but totally helpful and willing to offer you detailed turn-by-turn directions that a child could follow. [p.s. This post is no way endorsed by the LA Metro as you’ll probably figure as you continue to read.]

Once your route all squared away, here are some of my tips for some real deal preparation. I take the Red Line, which is probably the most common train which the tamest crowd, which runs from downtown to the Valley in North Hollywood and consists of just 12 stops. From doorstep to doorstep, my commute from home to work is approximately 30 blissful, traffic-free minutes during which I read, write blog posts like this, nap and/or shamelessly apply my eye makeup. These tips are specific to this train but probably applicable to most Metro riding experiences.

Keep in mind that it’s good to know the name of the last stop of the train that you plan to ride as this is how you will know if you are boarding the train heading in the right direction. ie: If boarding the Red Line from the Pershing Square station to the Universal City station, make sure to board the Red Line going to North Hollywood (its final destination).

Location: If you’re not underground, you’re not in the right place

A Beginner's Guide to Riding the L.A. Metro

A Beginner’s Guide to Riding the L.A. Metro

This may sound a little obvious but if you did not take an elevator or escalator to a below-ground platform with train tracks, you are not in the right place. You are probably waiting for a bus or just hanging around. I wouldn’t type this out if I haven’t seen this happen to my out-of-state visitors. If you can see the sky, you are not waiting in the right place.

Elevator/Escalator Etiquette: Don’t be an asshole

Yes, even before you get to the platform, there are unspoken rules to be aware of. If you are taking the elevator, don’t be that asshole who closes the doors when you see someone approaching. Slow your roll, and hold the door. Also, if you aren’t handicapped, injured, commuting with your child or a bike or the elderly, I recommend avoiding the elevator because you cram yourself within a 5 x 5 foot box with about a dozen other people and, honey, it doesn’t smell like peaches in there.

If taking the escalator like most do, take note that other people are in a hurry so stand to one side (preferably the same side as your fellow escalator-riding peers) so that others may walk past you.

Bike riders: invest in a heavy-duty bike lock that secures both tires if you plan to leave your bike at a station. There are also special lockers you can rent but there is a six-month waiting list. Or buy a cheap bike from Craigslist that you wouldn’t be sad to see stolen. Otherwise, take that bicycle with you, my friend.

Ticketing: Free isn’t free

There are automated ticket booths located in obvious locations on the Mezzanine level (the one you get to off of the escalator/elevators) of every station. At the time that I am writing this, ticket booths dispense cards that cost $1.00 and it’s $1.50 for a one-way ticket so you’re going to pay $2.50 for the first ride and $1.50 thereafter. Unless you are taking the train every day and transferring to more than one train, the one-way price is the most cost effective ticket. ie: I pay $3.00/day every weekday, an average of 20 days per month costing $60/month which is still less than the $75 monthly unlimited rides Metro pass. This is about the same price that a parking pass might cost you if you work in downtown LA, but factor in the price of gas and your emotional frustration to consider whether the train is a better option for you.

The card that you receive is reloadable and the machines accept cash/credit/debit. Note that you need an individual card for each rider, which means that you can’t just pay for you and an additional person with a single card– even your child.

There is a common perception from tourists that the LA Metro tickets are on the honors system. The truth is, attendants are never on duty check that you’ve paid, however, more often than not, Sheriff’s deputies will either board the trains or wait for you upon the exit at the most popular stations to double check for unpaid ticket riders, the fine for which is around $250. Scary bear!

Where to Go/ What train to board

LA Metro train platforms.

LA Metro train platforms.

Your ticket will grant you access past the turnstiles to take another escalator, stairway or elevator down to the train platform level.

The signs on the platform can be a bit confusing. Again, it’s good to know the final destination of your train to make sure you board the train heading in the right direction. If boarding from North Hollywood, you’re in luck as it’s the final stop so the only trains departing this station are heading in the same direction.

To know that you are boarding the right train, look at the signs that hang from the ceiling which indicate the final destination of the trains running along that side of the track. Take note that two trains with different destinations may run on the same track at some stations. For example, if departing from the main downtown LA 7th/Metro station, both the Purple Line (heading to Koreatown) and the Red Line (heading to Noho) run on the same track. The signs that hang from the ceiling indicate both Wil/Western and North Hollywood. You have to pay attention to both the announcements and the highly subtle digital signage on the train itself to figure out which one is approaching.


LA Metro late night hours. Image courtesy of Metro.Net.

LA Metro late night hours. Image courtesy of Metro.Net.

During normal weekday mornings, the train arrives every 10 minutes so don’t stress it if see your train just leaving the station. You see a lot of fools running shamelessly to catch the train as it departs. Seriously, is that necessary? I don’t recommend holding the doors here for someone running to make the train as I’m not positive that the doors won’t slam shut on your arm. Not worth it.

In my experience, the train runs on time about 95% of the time*. On rare occasions, the train will experience delays and the attendants will let you know what’s happening. I think that Metro might have an app so you’d know ahead of time if there are delays, but I’ve never tried it. LAMetro is also active on Twitter, but you can’t reach it from the train anyway.

In the evenings, the trains do not run as often so your wait will be longer and the good news is that they continue to run until 2:00 a.m. for your weekend adventures.

*A totally made up statistic.

What to bring
Equip yourself with headphones, a book, and an emotionless expression (or sunglasses if you really want to look pretentious). There is no wifi on the train so Internet surfing is not an option. Consider your ride a nice opportunity to unplug. What not to bring: your pet, obviously expensive technology, a scaredy cat face. Try to at least look like you’re comfortable.

Who you’ll encounter

Typically people do not make conversation on the train, with the exception of people begging for change or asking for your signature on an upcoming ballot measure. You’re also likely to encounter a mix of white collar work-bound yuppies, families, teenagers, blue collar workers, bicyclists, game-bound Dodger/Kings/Lakers/USC fans, and retirees of all cultures.

Basic train etiquette

  • It’s nice to wait for riders to exit before boarding… But on a busy evening train you might have to push your way on board.
  • There is “no smoking, eating, drinking, raucous behavior, loud music” allowed on trains, not that you’re planning to do any of these.
  • If riding with a stroller or bicycle, there are special carts for you. Look for the handicapped signs and board those carts.
  • Don’t be that guy who sits in the seats reserved for the elderly or handicapped if you are neither of these.
  • If exiting with a bicycle and you are crammed in the back of the cart, a loud but polite “coming off” prior to your stop will alert riders to kindly GTFO of your way.

If you encounter trouble

What kind of trouble am I referring? Well there’s a variety. Sometimes you witness people getting in verbal confrontations that begin to escalate. Honestly, I usually avoid acknowledgement and the promptly switch carts at the next station. I once witnessed a crazy physical girl fight during which I was desperately seeking the attendant’s button, which I’ve discovered are toward that end of each cart. I don’t mean to give the impression that scary things happen on the train often. In five years, I’ve only witnessed a handful of situations that caused me to raise my eyebrows and most of the time, they are entertaining at best and mildly troubling at worst.

Enjoy your ride!

Like I said before, these tips are based on the Red Line. Here’s a brief explanation of my impression some of the other trains:

  • Blue Line (Long Beach): Always crowded, kind of scary crowd
  • Gold Line: you can take this one to Pasadena but you have to go all the way to Union Station to transfer so kind of inconvenient. I’ve never taken this train.
  • Purple Line: shortest destination ever, only runs from downtown to K-town
  • Expo Line: the new line to Culver City! Probably the cleanest/nicest ride although I haven’t taken it yet.
  • Orange Line: super fast bus line, not a train.

I wish you the best on your Metro-riding excursion! I’d love to see our LA Metro improve and expand to more destinations so that more people have the option to use pubic transportation. Let me know how your experience is and if you found these tips helpful of totally obnoxious.

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