On the weekend of May 20, the long awaited Expo Line extension from Culver City to Santa Monica opened with great fanfare. There were free rides for all Expo Line riders and parties with food trucks, entertainment, and children’s activities at new stations. Despite there not being an official party at our new station, there was still a very festive feel. So many interested and curious people had come to check out the new light rail service, so many that they all couldn’t get on the train to Santa Monica when it came.
I tested the new line the other day. I had to serve hot lunch at my kids’ school in Santa Monica, an activity which has kind of lost its luster because they’re not as eager to let me hang with them while they eat with their friends. It all became much more alluring when I decided to make a little adventure out of it for myself. I made a pact to take public transit to the school.
I am not a newbie to the light rail system in LA. I have taken the Expo Line from Culver City in the direction of Downtown LA on several occasions, such as for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC and with my bike for CicLAvia events.
My main goal on this adventure was to figure out how to do transfers to and from Big Blue Bus (BBB) in Santa Monica. That was unclear to me. Had I been continuing via Metro bus after getting off the Metro rail in Santa Monica, it wouldn’t have been a problem as you get free 2-hour transfers within the Metro network. However, BBB is another deal, and I learned it’s different depending on whether you start or end your trip via BBB.
However you start your combined Metro/BBB journey, one thing is certain. You have to purchase the transfer on the first leg of your journey. I was able to purchase a “Metro to Muni” transfer for $0.50 at the kiosk at my Expo Line station.
The ride to Santa Monica was surprisingly full. More than 50% of the seats were occupied. It was interesting to get a glimpse of the artwork at each of the stations along the way, and it was fun to see the views of the city and mountains when the train went on the raised levels. I also discovered that Santa Monica has a museum of antique dollhouses, miniatures, dolls and toys tucked away in a very unique building, Angels Attic at 516 Colorado Avenue. Who knew!? (Update 9/2018: Angels Attic is unfortunately no longer open.)
Arriving in Santa Monica was exciting. We’ve seen the station being built from scratch. We’ve had to stop and watch trains approach the station for months during the testing phase. Our route to school goes right past it every day. I’ve been curious about the station and admired artwork from afar, and now I had a chance to see it up close.
The glass mosaic panels at Downtown Santa Monica Station – 24 of them by artist Judithe Hernández – are fabulous. They are so colorful and show such a diverse range of subjects. It’s worth a visit to the station just to see the art panels. From Metro’s Metro Expo Line to Santa Monica Art Guide, “A composite of global mythologies are layered within the mosaic artworks at this terminus station located at the edge of the continent. Various cultural identifiers and allusions to the passage of time create a sense of shared place and historical significance that honors the heritage of the local, the immigrant and the tourist alike.”
A lesson I learned quickly is to check timetables of bus routes. They don’t always go as frequently as you’d think. Because I dilly dallied just a little too long after getting off the train (admiring the station and trying to get information about how to handle the transfer on the way home), I just missed the bus that I needed to get to school. I turns out it only comes every 30 minutes.
I considered getting an Uber but decided that would have really defeated the purpose of my adventure. Luckily, it was a popular stop and I discovered another bus could take me to the stop I needed. It was a slightly shorter wait. In the meantime, I learned how to text to find out when the next bus would arrive – a nifty feature of the BBB system. My journey from home to school took 58 minutes. By car, it would have taken 20 minutes.
For the journey home, my trip began with Big Blue Bus. Since I now knew the importance of knowing the bus schedule and I had learned how to text to find out when the next bus would arrive, I was able to plan my arrival at the bus stop perfectly. I was on the bus within five minutes of leaving the school. I told the bus driver I needed a transfer to Metro and all I had to do was tap my TAP card for the base fare and then pay 50 cents cash (yes, it had to be cash) for the transfer and I received a one-time use TAP card to use when getting on the Expo line. The journey home went much more smoothly, but it still took 48 minutes from school to home.
I am thrilled to have a station within walking/biking distance from our home and to be able to take the line to Santa Monica. I’m glad to have figured out how transfers outside the Metro system work. I don’t know how often I will use public transit to and from school, but it’s nice to know the option is there. I think my next adventure will be to take it to Santa Monica for a Wednesday Farmer’s Market. And apparently, it’s an easy Metro trip via Expo Line and bus to both the Getty Center and Getty Villa (and cheaper since parking is $15). Those could be nice excursions, too.