7 tips for riding Metro like a pro

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Welcome to Curbed’s firstTransportation Week!

From how to improve public transportation in cities, ranking the best car-free neighborhoods across the country, and a friendly competition among NYC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to determine which has the best public transit, this week is all about how we get around in our favorite cities. All aboard!

I have always felt most at home in Los Angeles. I’m a third generation LA resident, but I was raised mostly in New Jersey. When I returned to the West Coast seven years ago, everything except driving a car felt familiar to me.

Parking tickets chased me like a bad dream. I was hit by a fellow driver who was using a parking lane like an expressway. My Scion IQ felt more like an anvil shackled to my ankle than a tool for freedom and exploration.

Last year, when I was up to my ears in student loan debt and my car was towed because I failed to move it at 7 a.m., I said goodbye to the freeways and hello to Metro. I get frustrated by delayed trains and passengers who use boomboxes instead of headphones, but taking public transportation gives me a sense of community. I interact with my city and learn more about it everyday. I’ve never felt more like an Angeleno.

Whether you’re a visitor, a new transplant, or a longtime resident who’s ready to try ditching your car (you absolutely should), you’ll likely want some advice to feel like more like a pro while riding public transit. And, since there’s no DMV class for how to ride Metro, below are seven tips to make your commute easier.


1. Download CityMapper: Google Maps public transit feature is a great place to start, but there are better navigation apps. Citymapper, as shown in Wired Magazine’s article on a new tool for transit users is perfect. Think of it as Waze for public transit.

More than just getting to the station on time, Citymapper offers data using interesting graphics that add to your experience, and is fascinatingly accurate even for bus arrivals. You can set your preferences to encourage or limit walking, or ride-sharing preferences to Uber or Lyft. It’ll let you know if you have time to stop for a coffee or when you should leave so you’re not sitting at the station for 20 minutes.

2. The Power of your TAP Card: This may sound obvious, but it can be a game changer. TAP cards are strong enough to read through a wallet. Obviously it depends on your wallet, but putting your TAP card on the closest available pocket to the skin of your wallet allows for seamless transactions. The seconds saved pulling it in and out is often the difference between you catching a last minute train or waiting for the next one. A phone case with a card holder on the back also works well.

3. Carry a phone charger: Citymapper and podcasts drain my battery pretty quickly. So buy a mobile charger if you can afford it. It’s part of a good Metro survival kit, which should also include a backpack with water, a book, and headphones.

4. Know the last stop: If you’re riding rail, don’t be one of the many tourists and locals alike staring at a train with no idea where it is headed. To figure that out, look at the Metro map. It’s easy to miss the arrival screens if you don’t know where to look. Particularly on the Red/Purple line, which share some tracks, it can be easy to confuse which train is which because the only marker on the train is a faint ticker sign. If it says Wilshire/Western you are on the purple line to K-town. North Hollywood is the Red Line (remember the stop at the end of each line).

5. Wear walking shoes: You’ll be walking, standing, and climbing stairs, so wear running or walking shoes. If you need nicer shoes for work, put them in your bag. The more you take transit, the more your bag becomes your trunk. Make sure it’s big enough to fit whatever you need for that day.

6. Where to sit and stand: First, let passengers deboard from the center, then board from other side. Head to the back of the bus or beyond the doors of a train car. Resist the urge to put your bag on the seat next to you, it’s just bad transit manners. Everyone wants a seat. Above all, keep to the right on the stairs or escalator (how this universal tip has managed to evade LA is beyond me).

7. Ask your work for B-TAP: If $100 a month feels too steep for an unlimited pass, ask your work if they offer B-TAP cards. The program doesn’t get enough publicity, but it can save you a lot of money. Subsidies depend on the company, but the remainder is usually tax exempt so that helps as well. That pass is good 24/7, not just while commuting to work.

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