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5 Myths About Los Angeles' Metro System

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LAist is starting a new series on transportation, working to both provide some significant coverage of L.A.'s development into a train town, as well as giving some tips and guides for our readers on how to best get around the city (whether it be by car, bus, bike, train, or even foot). In the "Ask A Transit Nerd" column, we will tackle some common misconceptions and answer your pressing questions. If you have a question, drop us a line with the subject line: "Ask A Transit Nerd."

A funny thing happened when we asked our readers to explain why they don't use public transportation. We received hundreds of responses, many giving a salient reasons why Angelenos often skip the bus or train in lieu of their car. But we also heard a lot of answers that were just flat-out wrong.

It turns out there's a gap between what some Angelenos think L.A.'s transit system does, and what it actually does. Here are some of the biggest myths, debunked.

Myth: Metro Doesn't Go Anywhere

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Would you believe it if we said Los Angeles has, technically, one of the best public transportation systems in the United States? Probably not, but according a 2014 University of Minnesota study, L.A.'s transit system is the third most comprehensive system in the entire country, following New York and San Francisco. Let's give Metro some credit here, especially considering Los Angeles is bigger than both those cities combined (with room to spare for, say, both Boston and Minneapolis).

Part of the justification behind the study's findings is Los Angeles' incredibly extensive bus system. I know, I read your emails and know you don't want to ride the bus because it's slow and unreliable, but you have to at least acknowledge that, if you're willing to put some time into learning the ropes of which bus goes where, and when, you can practically get anywhere in the Greater Los Angeles region on public transit alone.

Take a serious look at Metro's total system map. While it's probably overwhelming at first, if you pay attention you'll notice that there's hardly a single major thoroughfare in Los Angeles that lacks transit service. Want to go to the Getty, Zuma Beach, or Griffith Observatory without a car? You can do that!

The key to understanding the map is to know what the different types of service each line represents. Orange lines signify "Metro Local" service—those orange buses you see almost everywhere—which will provide service along practically every single major street in L.A. Red lines note where "Metro Rapid" service exists. These buses are intended to operate like rail lines, running at regular frequencies (often every 4 or 5 minutes during peak times on the busiest routes) with stops roughly every quarter to half mile. The map also includes light gray lines—for lines operated by a transit agency other than L.A. County Metro—as well as an overlay for Metro Rail and Bus Rapid Transit, like the Orange Line in the Valley.

There is certainly a little bit of a learning curve, but considering more than one million people in Los Angeles do it every day, it certainly isn't very steep. Tools like Google Maps' Transit Planner can really help you out here, figuring out which buses and trains go where and with what frequency.

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Myth: You Can't Load TAP Cards Online

Metro has technically had online TAP fare loading for a years now, but only recently did it become usable. For the longest time, the TAP loading website was absolutely impossible to use. Even this writer, who was born in the 1990s, couldn't figure out how to link a TAP card to the site.

Last year, however, Metro unveiled, and his since made it painlessly simple for transit users to top-off their TAP card from their computers or smartphones. The hardest part is entering in the long TAP number from the back of the TAP card.

A word of warning: fares are not available instantly. The length of time varies based on the mode, but generally expect it will take about 24 hours for money added online to show up on your card. On the flip side, you no longer have to find a TAP terminal to load your card. You can load your card on the weekend, and use it all week.

TAP cards are also usable on every single transit agency in Los Angeles County, meaning you can forget about carrying spare change and worrying that your card might not be accepted if you transfer between agencies on your travels. You can also purchase passes for those respective agencies online as well.

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Myth: There Is No Real-Time Arrival Information

The most frustrating thing about standing at a corner waiting for the bus to come is not knowing how much longer you're going to have to wait.

Lucky for us, Metro provides real time information with GPS tracking for both buses and trains. Metro recommends that you use a web-app called Nextrip, which can use your smartphone's GPS information to automatically pull up real time arrival information for buses and trains you're geographically close to. The option to view a live map is also available if you tap the right options.

Aside from Nextrip, there are actually several other third party apps that source real time info. One of my personal favorites is the "Transit" app, which syncs real-time data from nearly every transit agency in both L.A. and Orange counties. Along with route-building across multiple agencies, Transit has a clean, easy-to-use interface that shows when the next bus or train will arrive, and gives you the option to pull up a GPS map showing the real-time location of your coming ride.

Transit is (amazingly) free, and available for both iPhone and Android.

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Most Metro Red, Purple, Orange, and Gold Line stations also have real time arrival information. This service is also extended to a some of the stops along Wilshire boulevard served by the 720 Rapid bus.

Metro even makes real time information available to you if you don't have a smartphone. Check our their site for instructions on how to receive real time arrival information via SMS message.

Myth: You Can't Take Your Bike With You

This one is 100 percent myth. You can absolutely load your bicycle aboard any Metro bus or train, as well virtually any other transit carrier's bus as well. All Metro trains have designated spaces for people moving large, wheeled loads. If you're riding the Red or Purple Line subways, that space is at the very end of the subway cars. Board through the doors closest to the yellow bollards on the station platforms.

Aboard Metro's light rail trains, board through the doors closest to the center of the train, and then move into the train car's vestibule like-center area where there's plenty of room for your bike (or wheelchair, stroller, or luggage).

For buses, you can load your bike onto the rack at the front of the bus. It's an easy process that, like riding a bike, once you do once you'll never forget how. Take a look at the video above showing how to load the bike on to a bus' front rack.

It's quick and easy, and once you know how to do it the process takes less than ten seconds. Just make sure to signal the bus operator what you're doing, especially when it the time comes to take the bike off.

Myth: TAP Cards Only Work On Metro Buses And Trains

While this myth was at one point true, Metro announced last September that TAP cards are now accepted on every single one of L.A. County's 26 different transit agencies. Money loaded on your card online or from stations is good for trips all over, whether you're on a bus operated by Metro, Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus, Culver City Bus, Foothill Transit, or any other agency.

One caveat, however, is that just because the card is accepted everywhere, day, weekly, or monthly passes for specific agencies are not. For example, if you purchase a day-pass at the 7th/Metro station downtown, ride the Expo Line to Culver City and transfer to a Culver City Bus, the day-pass will not be valid on the Culver City Bus.

This won't usually be an issue for those traveling around in the City of Los Angeles as Metro offers service throughout most parts of the city. For those who will be transferring to a bus operated by a different agency, you're likely better off just loading your TAP with money.

Transfers within the Metro system are totally free for two hours from the first TAP. Transfers from Metro to another agency cost 50 cents, added to the initial $1.75 Metro fee. The 50 cent transfer fee is consistent across all L.A. County Agencies. For example, if you board a Santa Monica Big Blue Bus and transfer to a Metro bus or train, the transfer will still cost you just 50 cents, even though the BBB's initial fee is $1.25.