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The L.A. Taco Guide to Riding Public Transportation in Los Angeles

I grew up taking public transportation in Los Angeles and mastered it as an adult, like the rest of the million-plus other Angelenos who seem to not get noticed every time somebody dares to say the following words: “No one takes public transit in L.A.”

After L.A. Times released their “Beginners Guide” to riding the metro in the city guide last week, I can’t help but to share some of my own time-honored and tested best practices and tips for riding the bus. 

So what makes my guide to riding Metro in L.A. different than all the other guides out there? 

For starters, I do not dismiss houseless people and those going through a mental health crisis like it is an inconvenience. Secondly, it isn’t geared toward transplants or tourists. Lastly, chances are that a lot of what I’ll share is what regular Metro riders already practice in their day to day use commutes since I've been riding it for so long. 

Sure, if you bum rush the entrance first you can grab a seat, but do you really wanna be that asshole?

There is an ebb and flow of riding the bus and/or train and it has to be acknowledged and respected because the moment you go against the tide, the tide will knock you on your butt. And by all means, no guide is definitive, so please share your own personal tips and tricks for commuting on public transportation in the comments if you may. We’re all just trying to get where we’re going in one piece, so let’s look out for each other and treat each other with respect.  

Are You an Able-Bodied Person? 

If the answer is yes, then be considerate of everyone else who takes public transportation who isn’t. This means waiting for everyone else to board the bus first, maybe helping out someone with their bags or a person carrying a baby stroller. Sure, if you bum rush the entrance first you can grab a seat, but do you really wanna be that asshole? Just wait for everyone to get, squeeze your way to the back because everyone is crowding the front, and double-check that the seat you are eyeing isn’t wet with a mysterious liquid.

I think of carrying baggage the same way I walk down the aisle on a flight. I take off my backpack and carry it in front of me to avoid hitting others with it.

Where to Put Your Stuff 

It's a rare occasion when you don’t have to take a backpack or tote bag with you on your bus or train ride. For the days when you are carrying baggage with you, be mindful of it and yourself. I think of it the same way I walk down the aisle on a flight. I take off my backpack and carry it in front of me to avoid hitting others with it. Same when getting on a crowded bus. Once I get where I’m going to stand or sit for the commute, I place my bag in between or in front of my feet where it won’t trip people up or on my lap because I’m sitting. If the bus is on the empty side, then sure, go ahead and place your bag on the seat next to you. You’ll probably get off before someone needs that seat, but on the off chance that doesn’t happen, do take your stuff off the seat so someone else can sit.  

The author on the bus

Taking up Space and Blocking the Doors

Don’t do it. From manspreading to standing next to the back door exit. That is unless the bus is hella packed and you’re stuck there. 

Load Your Tap Card Online

Tap Cards are the norm now and while Metro is trying to innovate new ways in which people can use them, you can load your tap card online through www.taptogo.net. The site has seen some major improvements over the years, which have streamlined the process to register and reload your tap card. By registering your card online, you’ll not only be able to add funds and passes online, but you’ll also be able to transfer any leftover funds from one card to another if you happen to lose it. 

The Twitter account @LAMetroRiderAlerts has saved me from getting stuck in delays and knowing what is going on when it comes to emergencies. 

Planning Your Commute 

Back when I was a regular straphanger, especially during my commutes to work, I checked the Twitter account:  LA Metro Rider Alerts. Make it a habit to check the twitter account before heading out on your commute to double-check for any delays and detours. That Twitter account has saved me from getting stuck in delays and knowing what is going on when it comes to emergencies. If you don’t already have a go-to transit phone app, then may I suggest Transit? I’ve been using it for years and aside from giving you the latest times on trains and buses, it also shares the locations of nearby bike-share systems and scooters in any U.S. city.   

Your Bicycle on Metro

Riding your bike in combination with taking the bus or train can help you go the distance, but there are a few things you have to be mindful of when you bring your bike on Metro. If you’re going to place your bicycle on the rack, be sure you are placing it correctly. In the rush of the bus arriving, make sure you place it correctly, hook it, and lock it up. Yes, lock it up. The bus driver is not going to look out for your bike. Sure, you might get stares or even honked at to hurry up, but at least your bike will be there when you get off. 

If there is someone else using the designated bike area, ask them politely where they are going to get off and coordinate.

At the same time, let the driver know when you are going to get your bike before they make your stop so they can give you time to get it safely. Your bicycle on a train is a different story. Aside from placing it in the designated areas in between cars or off to the side, don’t be an asshole and block the door. Again, the only exception for that is when the train cars are full during rush hour, but even then you can get on without having to block the door for everyone else. If there is someone else using the designated bike area, ask them politely where they are going to get off and coordinate. If they’re going to get off at the station before you, try switching places so they can have an easier time getting out and vice versa. 

Mural on the side of Trade Tech as seen from the Expo Line
Mural on the side of Trade Tech as seen from the Expo Line

Your Personal Safety

For legal reasons, I can’t give any substantial advice when it comes to personal safety on public transportation. Even Metro themselves are limited to what they can recommend you do if you don’t feel safe, which is to use their App to call the cops, ask the bus driver to call the cops, or contact the train conductor through the intercom so they can call the cops. If you’re a regular rider, you’ll eventually get caught up in a moment in which you’ll have to make a decision about getting help from Metro staff and/or the police. 

All we can really do for now is to look out for each other with respect. 

Aside from on an announcement on the intercom warning of the consequences when riding the trains, sexual harassment continues to be largely unaddressed by Metro on busses. The LAPD’s broken windows style of policing have already resulted in officer-involved shootings, getting killed over fare evasion, and a young woman getting dragged off a train for having her feet on a seat. I don’t have an answer that will solve all these systemic issues. I’m limited to what I can recommend in this space. All we can really do for now is to look out for each other with respect. 

Bonus tip on bus shelters: If part of your commute has a bus stop or two that could use shade and shelter, hop over to Twitter and reach out to @OutfrontDecaux. They’re always looking for bus stops in need of shelters and a well-placed Tweet can help guide those efforts. I myself have submitted a few bus stops already and they all have shelter now.  

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