How can I minimize the cost of a public transit only trip to LA?
December 20, 2013 8:29 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning a solo trip to Los Angeles for a week this coming February and will only using public transit...

What is the most cost effective way to use the bus system? Is there a pass I could buy? Sort of a LA version of a metrocard?
posted by danlewis84 to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You could buy a weekly pass. LA has something called a TAP card, and it's required for usage on subways and all passes.
posted by signondiego at 8:46 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't know about a "pass", but there is a metrocard-esque card called the TAP Card that one can load up with cash for fares, pretty much exactly like NYC's metrocard system. There may be deals for putting more on the card in large lump sums (just like NYC), or unlimited pass options, I'm not exactly sure. It covers buses and the Metro, all across LA. I my opinion as a former New Yorker, the fare system is very fair and cost effective.

My biggest cost saving advice would be that, if you want to only use public transit, choose EITHER the Santa Monica/Venice area and concentrate on things convenient to the Big Blue Bus system, OR the Hollywood/East Side area and concentrate on things convenient to the Metro.

You can't really see all of Los Angeles only on public transit, and trying to do so will be neither cost nor time efficient. It's not so much a matter of what is covered, but the sheer distances involved.Think of Hollywood/East Side/Downtown as one city, and the West Side/Beaches as a different city. Which do you want to visit more?
posted by Sara C. at 8:47 PM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

You'll want a weekly or day pass:
For riding LA Metro:
Day Pass: $5 Good for local travel until 3am the following day. May be purchased aboard buses (TAP Card required) or at Metro ticket vending machines. Zone charges may apply on some lines.
7-Day Pass: $20, Valid on first tap for 7 consecutive days

Google maps transit directions work pretty well for plotting a route.

If you have a smartphone, bookmark (it's location specific, so it won't work for la metro until you get to los angeles). There is a go metro app, but I tend to use nextbus more. It will tell you bus arrival times near your current location.

One thing that can get annoying with buses here is that they are much less frequent after 8pm. So if you're heading out for the night you might want to be aware of that.

Where are you staying? Your first step is acquiring a TAP car (which costs $1). This is easier to do near rail stations because they have vending machines. Single fares ($1.50) on the bus can still be paid with cash (coins and dollar bills accepted, but no change obviously). As far as I know you can also buy a TAP card and day pass on the bus with cash ($1 for card, $5 for day pass).
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:15 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

On solution for getting your TAP Card might be to take the FlyAway bus from LAX to Union Station. Union Station is the transit hub to the rest of the city, and unless you're staying on the West Side, it's probably the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way into town from the airport.
posted by Sara C. at 9:19 PM on December 20, 2013

Get the weekly pass because they don't do transfers, so if you switch buses or Metros you'll have to pay again. I think Safeways have TAP cards, so if you're near one you can pop in there and get it.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:15 PM on December 20, 2013

As others have said, you'll need a TAP card. Here's where you can get one. (You can even order one through the mail if you have enough time before your trip.)

It's important to note that Los Angeles Metro (red=metro rapid, orange=local), Santa Monica (blue), and Culver City (green) are technically their own cities and run their own bus lines. The TAP card is for Los Angeles buses. They'll be implementing it soon on Santa Monica buses, but that hasn't taken effect yet. You'll need dollar bills for the Santa Monica line. I don't have any personal experience with the Culver City buses.

There are transfers between the buses, but you'll need to pay that in advance on the first bus. It's a paper stub that you hand to the next bus driver.

The day pass is a great value because it allows you unlimited transfers on the buses (Los Angeles Metro only) and subway up until 2AM (3?). If you want a Day Pass, make sure you tell the bus driver first, he'll hit a button, then he'll nod at you to tap your card. If you want a day pass but you're unsure how much you have on your TAP card so you want to use cash, tell the driver you want a day pass, put a $5 bill into the money reader, he'll hit a button and nod to you, then tap your card. (Make sure you keep your card away from the reader before this so it doesn't accidentally register and deduct a single fare - this happened to me once.)

Google Maps switched to Public Transport can be good for planning routes. Also, their own Metro Trip Planner, especially since it tells you how much transfers will cost.

The Metro Trip Planner is helpful, but can be a bit fiddly:
1) It works best if you put in the street address and zip, but not the city, state. So:
123 Fake St 90210

2) It doesn't do "fuzzy" times, so if you say you want to leave at 7:15 and there's a bus that leaves at 7:14 that would cut off 30 minutes a travel time, it won't tell you.

3) Try playing around with the walking distance and leaving time to make sure you're getting all the routes.

4) Sometimes it can give you a bus route where one of the bus stops is on detour - a marathon, a street closure, etc. This is why it's good to have a smart phone with backup options for rerouting or calling Uber/Lyft/Sidecar in an emergency.

5) If you're going from bus to subway, ignore the transfer info - it's a bug as there are only TAP card readers at subway stations so paper transfers are useless. is also good when you're at a bus stop.

The Santa Monica Blue Bus Rapid 10 ($2/trip) is good for going between the Westside and downtown LA (or vice versa) because it takes the freeway and is drop off only on its delivery end, so you avoid a lot of surface streets and people boarding.

That's all I can think of. Feel free to PM me if there are specific questions I haven't answered.
posted by bluecore at 4:42 PM on December 22, 2013

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