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Passenger Trains > Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report

Date: 12/23/12 21:21
Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: Heymon

Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report

Last weekend the family (wife, 6 year old son, and myself) did a spontaneous trip on local Los Angeles rails. We were driving on La Cienega Blvd. on Saturday (12/15/12) and noticed the bridge for the Expo Line up above. On a whim, I suggested we take a ride downtown and back to see what this newest line was all about.

After parking in the structure, I approached the ticket machine. Now, I don’t consider myself dumb and I’ve ridden the Blue Line and Green Line in the past, but I stood in front of this new machine for a little while before I was able to buy a ticket. I had a few options presented, such as one way trip or monthly pass, but since we were just planning to go down and back I only wanted a one way paper ticket for each of us. This appeared to be an option at $1.50 each. However, each time I tried to do this I was only presented with a choice that included a “TAP” Card for an extra $1.00. I tapped the “Help” button instead, and the screen began to scroll up with instructions. This screen scrolled so slowly that it made the opening of “Star Wars” look like it was on fast forward. I mean, I can understand slow readers, but I would miss 3 trains before this “help” had gotten to my category. Screw it, I just bought the 3 TAP cards and paid $2.50 each. Kids 5 and under were free. Missed that by 1 year.

As it turned out, paper tickets don’t exist and you must buy the TAP card and then just refill it with additional funds when you need more trips. Okay, now I had to TAP the card somewhere. I figured it would be on the platform since I saw no turnstiles. We went up the elevator, but I could find no place to tap my newly acquired devices. At this point, instead of tapping something, I wanted to hit something. At least I had not missed any trains so far in the process. I took our 3 Tap cards back downstairs, found the TAP thingy I had walked past, then tapped out the $1.50 I had just put into them. Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment, I felt sort of defeated. But okay, I figured out part of the system. Look, I have done New York and Paris subways, trams and buses in Australia, and even a funicular in Quebec, but I never felt the challenge I did with my local light rail ticketing system. Los Angeles tourists be forewarned.

After that turmoil, we had a pleasantly brief wait for the train. There was a great view from the platform. We could clearly see the Hollywood sign off in the distance, which turned out to be a foreshadowing of our adventure. The train pulled up and we chose a seat. The train was fairly empty, which was not unexpected for a Saturday on a newer rail line. We cruised right along, adding more passengers than we lost the closer we got to downtown. We noticed the route map, and saw that this train could connect with the Red Line subway. I am ashamed to admit I have never ridden this subway before, but I guess it is one of those things where you say, “That’s just right there, I’ll go ride it sometime” and you never seem to get around to doing it. Well today we decided we would check this one off the bucket list.

We got to 7th Street, which was the end of the Expo Line. We then started to look for a bathroom for the wee one, but none to be found. The wife said they don’t have them in the New York subway either, but I could have sworn they did. Anyway, I was rather impressed with this big underground facility I didn’t really know existed until now, but less than impressed with the lack of facilities or human assistance for basic questions. For instance, we could go down to the subway platform without passing through any turnstiles. Did that mean we did not have to buy another ticket? I saw TAP machines but no ticket machines, except outside the turnstiles exiting the platform. We decided to exit the station to find a bathroom, which made our decision for us as far as the ticketing question. My understanding is that one would have to buy a transfer or pay another fare to switch lines, unlike New York where you could transfer within the system once inside.

Above ground, we became customers at a friendly Walgreen’s so we could use their bathroom, which was not actually “out of order” as posted. We then returned to the subway and I again confronted my nemesis--the ticket machine. Now that I had a TAP card I just had to refill it. First, I tapped it against the machine (kinda hard, because it deserved it). Then I selected a 1 day pass for $5, which is what I should have done at the beginning. Put my credit card in and got a read error. Tried it again, and another card, and it seemed at that point pretty clear that the reader was bad. I took out a $20 and it ate that up like it hadn’t been fed in days. Too bad the “help” menu didn’t move that fast. For some reason I thought it would hold the money for me while I added to the other two TAP cards, but that thought was shattered by the sound of 15 one dollar coins dropping out. Vegas, baby! The wife had never seen these coins before and was fascinated by them. (Actually, she’s never seen anything smaller than a $20 either, but that is another story). We used up 10 of them immediately to fill the other 2 TAP cards, then felt free as birds since we could now go anywhere all day without ever seeing another ticket machine.

We moseyed down to the Red Line platform and had to figure out which way to go based on destination. The signs were slightly confusing, but we figured it out. Meanwhile, we saw the police randomly checking TAP cards to see if they had been tapped. They found one guy who had no money on his. He offered some lame excuse and was told to go back up and fill it (some penalty for cheating, eh?). The wife got her card scanned, and they asked how old the kid was. She said he was 6 and they said he was free anyway. They don’t even read their own rules, I guess. Got on the next train and found a seat at the very back. These trains were much older looking, very much like New York subway cars. My son was fascinated by the view out the back window of the lit subway tunnel. I then heard an announcement on board that the next station we could connect with the Red Line. Huh? Weren’t we on the Red Line? Turns out there is a Purple Line too, and that was what we were on according to the announcement.

We exited the next platform at Wilshire and Vermont, which was a large underground vault with a couple of levels. Where to catch the Red Line then? We went to the map, and no real explanation. Another young lady walked up to us asking the same question we were wondering, and I surmised that the next train might be a Red Line. Sure enough it was, and we got on. Barely. This train was packed. Standing room only. We needed those guys from the Japanese subway to push everyone in. Also, bikes were allowed, which took up quite a bit of space.

Next stop: Here comes a chunky middle age white guy with a bike (ethnicity is a needed detail here). The doors open and the man is confronted with a full car. No one budges. He announces, “Make some room ‘cause I’m getting on!” A few people shuffle out of the way--except a middle aged black female who announced that she was not going anywhere. She had enough room to move and allow the biker to get in, but when she drew a line he just pushed his bike in far enough to let the doors close. It did not end there. They chirped back and forth. Then a young white guy who was with his girlfriend, both of whom also had bikes, said, “Would it really hurt you that much to move a little?” She called him a racist. Of course.
We got off 2 stops later and wished the bicyclist luck. The young biking couple got off at the same time, muttering to each other about the lack of civility the black lady showed and miffed at being called racists.

We ended up getting off one stop too soon at Hollywood and Vine. Our destination was Hollywood and Highland where the Kodak Theater and mall were. So we decided to walk the 5 blocks down Hollywood Blvd. Haven’t done that in a while, either, but it turned out to be a good way to get a tourist’s eye view of our city. Every third store there was someone out front hawking a Hollywood tour. Hmmm, I guess we looked like tourists, but I am a third generation Los Angeles native and I could probably give a pretty good tour, so in a way I was offended. But, this was better than being caught up in the race war I was sure was raging underground. I then realized the wife probably looked like she was fresh off the boat or something. Actually, taking one of these tours is on our list too, but we want one that focuses more on historical stuff and not so much where stars live. A friend of mine was working on Ashton Kutcher’s house once, and a tour came by announcing, “This is where Justin Bieber lives.” He did not correct them.

We ate at Hard Rock Cafe (quite good burgers) and saw the super hero characters on the street working over tourists for money after they take photos of them. You get close to some of those costumes and they were pretty raggedy. Should be some sort of trademark violation shouldn’t it? I felt bad when I saw Spiderman and Green Lantern helping a Korean family find the right dollar denomination in their wallet. My son happened to be wearing his fire helmet (you know how kids are) and I thought of a potential profit center by getting him to extort tourists for photos. Unfortunately, he is extremely camera shy. After lunch we took in some of the Christmas decorations at the mall, then made our way back to the subway. We passed a guy playing drums on a 5 gallon bucket, and I instantly thought that would be a great gift for the kid. Maybe not, said the wife.

The Hollywood and Highland station was fairly interesting, with some architectural detailing that we began to notice as the sounds of street drumming faded during our descent underground. The train was again crowded, standing room only, and yet more bikes. The wife and kid sat together, while I hung an arm up high. At the next door down, I could see and hear another confrontation, again based on being too close and again being a middle aged white guy and a young black guy. With the train so crowded that people were getting angry at the close proximity they were to one another, one would hope this rail line was not in need of any sort of financial subsidy, right? But sadly, at this point all I could really say to myself was that I was thankful for having a private automobile to get me around to avoid this kind of discomfort.

We made it back to 7th Street and back onto the Expo Line. The crowd had dissipated and the train was fairly empty. No more drama. The train emerged from underground by Staples Center and by now it was dark. Finally back to our private passenger automobile and back home. It was interesting to see a new side of Los Angeles, but slightly disappointing that people were not better behaved. This has been typical of most of my rail trips in L.A. Most people were nice enough, but public transportation seems to have a long way to go before people will want to get out of their cars. Not even $10 a gallon gas will do it for me. A good bucket drummer, though? That might do it.


PS The wife had those 5 remaining $1 coins burning a hole in her pocket. Bought some food for the boy at a drive thru later on and paid with the coins with the wife thinking they’d be stumped. Turns out she is the only one who has never seen them.

Photo 1: View from Expo Line station La Cienega and Jefferson with "Hollywood" sign dead center
Photo 2: Expo Train arriving.
Photo 3: Hollywood and Highland Red Line subway station architecture.

Date: 12/23/12 21:43
Re: Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: trainjunkie

You are not alone in your frustrations with the ticket machines. More on the idiotic TAP card system here...


Date: 12/23/12 22:40
Re: Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: mario_puzo

Sounds like a typical day in a city where negotiating and sharing space is part of the daily narrative.

Date: 12/24/12 01:10
Re: Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: ken15

Hi Heymon:

I am a lifetime rider of METRO and predecessors and I am METRO literate and more or less TAP literate.

I am in contact with various METRO personnel including the temporary head of TAP.

I will make sure that the appropriate METRO personnel see the info posted herein.


Posted from Android

Date: 12/24/12 03:22
Re: Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: andersonb109

A really simple solution would be to have someone from the company at the ticket machines to help. At least for a few weeks until people become familiar with he system. In Johannesburg for the new Gautrain, there were ample staff available to help with the equally confusing machines.

Date: 12/24/12 04:57
Re: Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: milkcow

I was attacked by an older local lady in the near west area of Memphis for being an "rich old white b_________ in a rental car", which I was and still am.

I do not find drivers to be civil. And they are also mostly stupid and brandishing 4000 lb dangerous weapons.

I did find Los Angeles drivers a little more civil than some of the rest of the USA during 1000 miles of costumer calls last September. I assume because most everyone assumes everyone has a smaller weapon handy also.

Except for girls taking their kids to the first day of school and getting very irate at the old white guy who insisted on obeying the school speed limit signs.

People are the most friendly and helpful the New York subway system. All kinds of people and even back in the bad old days when none of the trains had destination signs.


Date: 12/24/12 10:01
Re: Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: CPRR

Great story, and the same thing happened to us concerning TAP....

Ken15: please tell them at Metro that these problems need to be worked out soon. Also, are long trains possible during rush hour?

Posted from iPhone

Date: 12/24/12 10:21
Re: Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: TomPlatten

I had a similar experience when I went into to LA to ride the recently opened EXPO line. I couldn't make any sense out of the instructions. My 25 cent non-rush hour fare would have actually been $1.25. I couldn't tell if that covered the brief Red Line to 7th St-Metro Center and then another $1.25 to board the Expo Line. I went downstairs and found an employee and told him I wasn't sure how to purchase my ticket. I showed him my Metrolink ticket. He told me just to get on the train! No one checked for ticket all the way to Culver city and back to Union Station. Union Station is starting to resemble a mall with all the concessions!

Date: 12/24/12 12:59
Re: Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: Heymon

Thanks for all the responses. Some thoughts of mine:

I am glad in a way to hear it was not just me with the problems getting a ticket, that other thread was an eye opener. Thanks for sending my experience to the higher ups ken15, hopefully they will get something done.

Besides the ticketing "fun", I also wanted to show my experiences with other people while using mass transit. The people extolling the virtues of mass transit (virtues which I agree do exist) are trying to get people out of their cars and onto buses and trains. If nearly every trip I have taken (which is only occasional) included the experience of a rude passenger disrupting my ride then I feel little inclination to leave my car. My family spent $22.50 to get from La Cienega and Jefferson to Hollywood and Highland and back. I didn't time the trip, but it took much longer than in a car, and probably cost more than the gas (the Metro website said gas would have cost an average of $8 something for the trip). I would have paid less, taken less time, and only had to fight with my wife instead of total strangers (!)

I don't fault Metro for the lack of decorum among my fellow humans, but I felt pretty lonely amongst all those people due to the lack of official personnel in the system. It was that way on Metro Link and Metro Rail. No one in charge, no one to ask for help, no protection from police or guards, just a train driver locked in a booth at the front of the train and for obvious reasons no way to directly talk to that person. They really need some human presence on these trains that will keep people on good behavior and offer information and assistance. Milkcow above mentioned Memphis. We used their small trolley system extensively when we were there, and the drivers were mostly very helpful. They also had docents wandering around Memphis to tell tourists which way to go and how to get there. It made you feel less lost, which I think is important for newcomers to a town, especially one as vast as Los Angeles.

For now, I am thankful I can use my car to get around. I will take occasional trips for fun on the rails, but I would not be able to utilize mass transit to get much accomplished in a given day. It may work for some people, but I still have this feeling that most of the people using light rail are really just being taken out of buses and not out of their cars. The subways of New York and Paris would certainly convince me no car was needed, but the compact design of those cities lends itself better to subways. Los Angeles not so much. Is it really a bad thing?


PS Merry Christmas to everyone, even the TAP machine programmer!

Date: 12/24/12 14:42
Re: Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: BobP

Never knew how daunting the systems requiring a TAP card are to visitors and part time users.
Being a local, and being informed ahead of time what Metro was up to, I got the senior TAP card with my picture on it. No problems.

My biggest gripe is when you get locked in between stations with a screaming preacher person.

Date: 12/24/12 17:31
Re: Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: PHall

I've used the Gold Line a number of times and have had very little trouble with the ticket machines.
You just have to read the instructions.
They're no worse them Muni's machines in San Francisco or Max's machines in Portland.

Date: 12/25/12 06:06
Re: Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: colehour

It's been a long time since I rode on Metro Rail and back then it was the "honor system" at least on the Blue Line and, I think, on the Green Line also. There would be occasional checks for tickets. I understand that this has changed on the system.

I lived in Rome for six years and got quite familiar with its transportation system, but it could be quite a challenge for those traveling for the first time. You had to have a valid ticket or pass in your possession when you rode on a bus, streetcar, the subway or a rail line, but you could not purchase a ticket on a bus. There were machines in the subway system and local rail stations, but you could not buy tickets on the buses. You had to buy them at a subway/train station or more commonly at a tobacco store (they have standard black signs with a white "T" on them), and sometimes, of course, they would be closed or there just was none nearby. I had a pass but often carried an extra ticket or two to help out the bewildered tourists who were trying to get around on a bus.

The tickets had to be validated in a machine (called an "obliterator") either at the station (in the case of rail transportation) or on the bus. This was quite a feat when a bus was jammed with people, which happened frequently. The validation machines were sometimes easy to miss since there was generally not very good signage. Rather than being based on distance, the tickets were good for a certain length of time which, in the case of the system in Rome, was 75 minutes.

There are inspectors who check for valid tickets or passes and the fine is pretty steep for violators: it was 100 euros. I ran into a very nice English couple on the bus who had been riding on buses for a week without tickets. They thought the system was free since they never saw anyone collecting or checking tickets. Fortunately they did not get caught and I advised them to buy some tickets.

Date: 12/25/12 07:43
Re: Hitting the Red Line--Metro Rail Los Angeles report
Author: milkcow

Thanks for the honorable mention, Heymon. Sounds like we both agree that for now the only way to get around fast is by auto.

My customers and my Incident in Memphis was a little east of the main downtown trolley area. I walked from Amtrak to the Peabody and then to all the restaurants covered by the nifty trolleys drove to 15 customers a day in Memphis, Olive Branch, Tupelo, Little Rock, and Osceola.

We rode the local trolleys in Vienna in the 70's for free, but since then if I can not figure out the fare machine, I just punch until a large number in the local comes up and slide my credit or debit card. So I have Peach, MTA, Metro, Bart, Oyster, and TAP cards worth hundreds of dollars in my desk drawer.

Unless my wife is standing next and figures out a more economical fare more quickly and screams. I have learned take a little more time to pace myself and try to understand the machines since I left my credit card in the machine as a Tri-Rail train approached. My wife says she never saw me looking so panicked as when the inspector came by and all I could produce was a receipt, no ticket and no credit card.

She was very kind and stayed quiet as we took the aforementioned faster but expensive and less fun transit method, a taxi, back to find my credit card still in the machine!

Gosh! I made a Christmas Story!



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