After living in downtown Chicago for four years (2000-2004) I became spoiled with cheap, accessible, reliable public transportation. In fact, I upheld the Chicago mentality of lamenting the idea of taking a bus vs. a subway seeing it went everywhere and any place that requires a bus was 'too far.'
Then I moved to Los Angeles in 2006. Unbelievable. This system is not only completely underdeveloped, but the organization and simplicities that should be a given are absent.
1 - METRO PASS
You are not able to buy a rechargeable Metro pass. What is this? Say you buy a pass to go on the subway. You put $10 on it, use it a few times over a month, then, when it is about to run out, you put another $10 on it. Maybe $20 so it lasts longer. Makes sense, right? WRONG! The only pass you can buy is an exact change 1-fare pass or an unlimited weekly or monthly pass (and no free transfers anywhere). A monthly pass for $62 is your amazing alternative. You used to be able to buy an all-day pass for $5 on the buses, but they stopped it, requiring you buy a Metro card online, have it shipped to you, then buy the one day pass in advance online to put on your card. What a crock and waste of everyone's time and money. When I took the bus to work, I was paying approximately $40 a month. I was sick and tried of keeping in line quarters and single dollars at a constant rate. My only other option? Buy a monthly pass for $62! And the funny thing is, they market this card as a rechargeable card, which is a complete lie. Rechargeable just like your 2-year cell phone contract recharges every month - the same price at the same rate no matter what. YOU ARE STUCK AND HAVE NO OPTIONS. Great going.
2 - BEVERLY HILLS
The LA subway system is nice and cute. It's about 1/4 the size it needs to be (and 1/6 the size it should be) and barely covers the 'proper' LA that I like to refer to it as. If you live or work in North Hollywood, Hollywood, or downtown, then this system is for you! If you live anywhere near the ocean, westwood, mid-wilshire, or anywhere else in the valley, you have to rely on a bus. If you know anything about LA, the reason you want to take public transportation is to escape the roads of fucking gridlock and it taking 2 hours to travel 8 miles. Why do you want to get on a bus! (yes there are a couple EXPRESS bus roads that are only for buses, so it's not 100% terrible).
I realize that public transportation isn't a profit system - it's hard to make a profit on something like this - but what we have here is ridiculous. And what makes matters worse is Beverly Hills. Back in the day, or the last 50 years, Beverly Hills has made it difficult for the advancing city of Los Angeles to develop. Sure, they have lots of money and want to keep their reclusive, grassy and spacey (yet still righteous and above all) feeling and attitude, but it's a little beyond ridiculous. Beverly Hills stands directly between Hollywood (major area for the subway) and the ocean and Santa Monica. They have blocked permits and requests to dig under and create a better Subway. WTF! They are also going ape shit with parking, wanting more and more streets to be permit only. You can have one, but not both! Live up to living in a major city or move to Carbondale, IL.
3 - THE INTERNET
You think that a system as important as public transportation would have a top-notch website. WRONG! Since there are few options for taking the subway, most likely you will be taking a bus (to only sit in awful LA traffic).
I can't believe this site, it's so GOD AWFUL. The maps suck. If you think mapquest is a nuisance instead of google maps, you should try this place. Remember way back when and you visited first webpages? How awesome it was? All GIF filled crappy layouts with rainbow MS Word 3D text? That's the Metro's MAP system. My God, it could only be worse if you asked a 5 year old to duplicate a map with grey crayons and give you directions.
And to make matters worse, there is Trip Planner. This is terrible. Just an example of looking for a ride today: I type in centenella and pico to my apartment and it gives me 4 options, all of which are about the same: take 2 buses, transferring in century city. The FUNNY thing is, if i put in centenella and pico to pico and la brea (which is two blocks from my apartment) it says take 1 rapid (express) bus. WTF is this? It's an 8 mile ride and if I enter in specific addresses, it tells me to take 2 slow buses, transferring in the middle of the 8 miles, otherwise I can take one FAST bus if my end destination is 2 blocks different? So to know what my best option is, I need to put in several permutations! (Of which, I don't know which ones will generate further options).
And this isn't the only option. I've been screwed over by the trip planner before. I was traveling from mid-wilshire to west Pasadena and had a connection downtown. It told me to get off an a specific intersection and pick up a specific bus at that very same intersection. Did the bus I needed to get on stop there? NOPE! Luckily I asked a driver of a different bus (who was not familiar with the bus I was catching) and he was overly nice and gave me a ride about half a mile north to where I needed to be. WTF! On the good note, all Metro personnel (drivers) have always been super nice to say the least - these guys deal with a lot of crap all day long from crazy people to angry jerks, so being nice and them being able to accomplish something positive goes a long way. Lastly was an incident last week, traveling from Mid-wilshire to Santa Monica. It was a pretty simple trip - walk to wilshire and take a bus to Santa monica. The trip planner told me to take either one slow bus, or one Rapid (express) bus. I walked to wilshire and decided to take whatever bus came first, knowing the waiting time would equal out the slowness of the ride should I get on the regular bus, which is what I did. And what happened? The bus took me to Westwood and I was told it was the last stop! (not what the internet said). Luckily again, the driver was very nice and gave me a free transfer for the rapid, but it did mean waiting 15 minutes for the new bus to arrive and continue down Wilshire.
I now am completely skeptical of the trip planner. What can I trust with reliable times and location? And furthermore, how do I know that the bus they are telling me to take is the best option?
4 - THE FUTURE
I love following advancements and improvements. I need to create a website or business based on the fact people will want to track the progress of businesses, cities, buildings, construction, etc. So needless to say, I am always interested in the development of LA's Metro. They even have their own website talking about the next 20 years! Exciting, right? WRONG. To be fair, this section of the site isn't that bad, but it is lacking great strides. This is the site to get the youth and those who don't take public transpo in LA interested! But they don't. It's just links with text and a lot of boring details. Interactive forums? Nope. Awesome artistic renderings of things to come? Nope. Current, up to date info? Nope. Hell - I got more out of the wikipedia page than the metro page when it comes to progress and the future. Seriously - who markets this?
I am a strong believer in public transportation and am GODLY SHOCKED at the amount of people in Los Angeles who not only don't use it, but have NEVER used it. When I first moved here, I was told by several people to NOT TO USE IT because it is dirty, gross, and unsafe. From my experiences, it's cleaner than Chicago, fewer crazies than Chicago, and safe? I never had an incident in Chicago. So far, nothing in LA either. Both good things. I've heard horror stories about public transpo in both cities, which is scary and somewhat expected, not to say a good thing. Either way, I hope Metro gets their act together and capitalizes on making their system easier and more accessible.