Everything You Need to Know To Ride the Expo Line

Written by

Rail to the Beach Returns After 60+ Year Break What’s old is new again. Not since the demise of the Pacific Air Line in the early 1950s have Angelenos had the option…

Expo Santa Monica
It’s here! The Expo Line extends all the way to downtown Santa Monica; photo courtesy Infrastructures.org(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Rail to the Beach Returns After 60+ Year Break

What’s old is new again. Not since the demise of the Pacific Air Line in the early 1950s have Angelenos had the option of taking the train to the beach in Santa Monica.

This Friday that changes — with the long-awaited opening of the Expo Line extension.

This is the culmination of 20 years of work by activists (specifically Friends 4 Expo), legislators and transportation planners and engineers.

The 46-minute ride between downtown Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles will “open up doors for people who want to travel in the whole region, explains the city’s Mobility Manager Francie Stefan on this DnA. “It’s going to be wonderful to just get off the train in your flip flops and walk down the beautiful new Colorado Esplanade and straight to the pier.”

Where Does it Go?

The route includes seven stations in West Los Angeles and Santa Monica, culminating at 5th and Colorado, adjacent to the 3rd Street Shopping District and a short walk to the Santa Monica Pier.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 3.37.33 PM
Expo Line stations stops, map courtesy Metro.net(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

First Rides are Free!

The one way fare will be $1.75 and includes free transfers to other Metro rail and bus lines for up to two hours on a oneway trip.

But to mark the launch Metro will offer free rides starting at noon on Friday at all Expo Line stations from 7th Street Metro Downtown to Santa Monica. On Saturday, free rides will begin at 4:42 am.

Party Like it’s May 21st!

Station celebrations — featuring entertainment, children’s activities, food trucks, bike valet and bike-pit stops and information booths — will take place on Saturday May 21st from 10 am to 4 pm at Downtown Santa Monica, 17th St/SMC, 26th St/Bergamot, Expo/Bundy and Palms, and Culver City Station.

Expo First Ride
From left: Suja Lowenthal, of Big Blue Bus; Rick Cole, Santa Monica City Manager; Francie Stefan, Mobility Manager for the City of Santa Monica (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

But What if I Don’t Live or Work Near a Stop?

The key to effective public transit is the “First-Last Mile,” namely, the journey that has to be made by a transit user from home or work to the station or stop. So Santa Monica has developed a full network of connections, integrating Expo Light Rail stations with Big Blue Bus routes, Breeze Bike Share stations, bikeways, Zipcar additions and private ride-sharing companies.

It is also trying to improve pedestrian safety with 12 new all-way crosswalks.

“It was our goal to make integration between our existing transportation networks seamless with the arrival of Expo,” said Mayor Tony Vazquez in a release sent out by the City.

“To really address mobility, it had to be about so much more than Expo. We want to make Santa Monica the leading example of pedestrian and transit-oriented lifestyles in Southern California.”

App It, Map It and Tap It

At the cheerfully designed GoSaMo site you can learn about Santa Monica’s multi-modal mobility system. It explains how to navigate the systems via Apps, Maps and Tap cards and lists events designed to entice people to Santa Monica destinations as well as engage them in a lifestyle freed from the car.

What About Parking?

One of the goals of regional transit is to get people out of their cars altogether. And City of Santa Monica parking resources are limited near the stations, with most parking constructed by private property owners for their primary onsite activities.

But if you need to drive, there is a 70-space Metro “Park & Ride” lot available at the SMC/17th Street station on Colorado Boulevard (between 16th & 17th Streets) that is open to the public and provides a daily, flat rate.  The Bundy Station in West LA (Bundy Drive and Exposition Blvd) also has 250 parking spaces available for use.  Existing Santa Monica parking options for visitors —including several near the Downtown Santa Monica Expo Station—can also be found here.

For more information on monthly permits, daily parking or the paid parking pilot, visit LAMetroParking.net.

Find out how to reach the new Expo Line stations without having to drive.

I’ve Always Driven Here, Why Should I Change to Public Transit?

The rail line is new to many people, especially native Angelenos who might use transit in other cities but are reluctant to do so here. So Santa Monica is embarking on a process of public engagement to educate people about how to use the Expo line. Find all the basics in their newsletter Seascape.

In collaboration with GOOD magazine, the City has launched GoSaMo, an online marketing campaign to educate people about the new transportation choices available to them as part of the City’s strategic goal to enhance mobility, reduce congestion, and combat climate change.

Will I be Safe?

Safety concerns regarding Metro and the Expo Line Extension range from fear of being hit by a passing train at a street crossing to being harassed while traveling or waiting at a station or stop. Check out safety recommendations here and learn about Metro’s anti-harassment campaign here.

GoSaMo Tap Map App icons
GoSaMo.gov provides catchy icons and slogans to help explain Santa Monica mobility to newcomers.(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

“Coast” Party and Colorado Esplanade Opening — June 5, 2016, 9 am – 3 pm

On June 5th residents and visitors are invited to enjoy Coast, an open-streets event located on a two-mile stretch of Ocean Avenue and Main Street around the Downtown Santa Monica Expo station; there will be plenty of art, music, food, and activities along the route. 

That coincides with the opening of the downtown Colorado Esplanade, the newly designed promenade that will, explains the City, “connect the Expo Light Rail station to Ocean Avenue, the Pier, and the Palisades Garden Walk park. The reconfigured roadway will expand bicycle and pedestrian facilities and increase landscaping and public art to create a visual and functional focal point between the Downtown and Civic Center.”

Esplanade with crowds
Crowds descend from the Expo Line station onto the new Esplanade at the Colorado and 4th station on Saturday, May 21st, the opening weekend for the line. Photo: Frances Anderton (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The new Esplanade exemplifies the consideration shown by the City of Santa Monica to “the urbanism of the station and how these stations meet the city,” said Christopher Hawthorne on this DnA. He adds that Santa Monica is ahead of other cities in this regard, having “really invested in pedestrian connections, they’ve widened the sidewalks along Colorado . . . there’s really a sense that they are thinking of bus lines and pedestrian connections and Expo Line as part of the same urban design problem.”

What You Won’t Find on the Expo Line — Coffee, Full-access Wifi

Coffee or newspaper stands. Those staples of public transit the world over do not exist at Metro stations, on grounds of maintaining system cleanliness. Lowering maintenance is understandable, but if a fledgling transit system wants to attract customers, good coffee would be an attraction. Ditto for Wifi. Citywide wifi is available in these Santa Monica Hotzones but it is unclear if it extends to all the Expo Line station stops.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 3.41.26 PM
Map of the car-free streets at Coast, a public event on June 5 hosted by GOOD magazine and the City of Santa Monica.(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)


The following information comes from Santa Monica’s newsletter Seascape:

How Often Does Expo Run?

Trains will run every 12 minutes at most times of the day, with service beginning at about 4 a.m. on weekdays and ending at approximately 1 a.m. On Friday and Saturday nights, Expo—like all Metro Light Rail trains—runs until approximately 2 a.m.

How Much Does it Cost?

The one way fare is $1.75 and includes free transfers to other Metro rail and bus lines for up to two hours on a oneway trip. Seniors and disabled travelers pay only $0.75 per ride, with additional discounts for off-peak times, weekends and holidays. Day and monthly passes offer significant savings, depending on how often you use Expo. There are also discounted passes for students.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 3.44.48 PM
Commemorative Tap Cards designed by Santa Monica artists Cindy Bendat Cindy Bendat, Thomas Eatherton, Mimi Haddon. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Buying a Ticket (Tap Card) 

All passengers are required to have a valid TAP card to board the train—no paper passes are available. A TAP card costs $1 at TAP vending machines, and $2 on buses and at retail locations, including Santa Monica’s Blue: The Transit Store and the City Hall Mobility Center. (See page 15 for location addresses and information on Santa Monica’s special commemorative TAP cards.) TAP cards are only sold together with fare products; unloaded cards are not available. Self-service TAP vending machines with step-by-step instructions are located at every station; they accept cash, credit or debit cards. You can add Stored Value, a single one-way fare, or a day, weekly or monthly pass to your TAP card at any TAP vending machine, or at Santa Monica’s Transit Store and Mobility Center. For more information on fares and how to get a TAP card, visit taptogo.net.

Using Your Card

Once you’ve added value to your TAP card you are ready to ride. Tap your card on the blue TAP dial at the turnstile before you board. You’ll hear a “beep” that tells you the card is valid. As long as you have Stored Value or a valid pass loaded on your card you can use it to board any Metro train or bus!


Do you need to transfer from the Metro Expo Line to a Big Blue Bus (BBB) to reach your final destination? Lucky for you, BBB issues interagency transfers! These transfers allow you to board one additional Metro bus or train and/or most other regional bus lines. Transfers can be purchased when boarding and are valid for two hours after purchase. The BBB accepts transfers from virtually any route that intersects with a BBB route, but not Culver City Bus local transfers.

Bikes Welcome 

All of Santa Monica’s Expo Light Rail stations have bike racks and Breeze Bike Share stations nearby. The Expo stations at 17th/Colorado and 26th/Olympic also have bike lockers for rent. Racks are free to use; lockers may be rented by calling Metro at 213.922.2660. For more information about cycling in Santa Monica, visit bikesantamonica.org (for LA County, visit la-bike.org).



More about Coast.

Get more details about the history of the Expo Line and how to use it from The Source.

Ten Things to Know About Expo.

Above: Santa Monica’s Mobility Manager Francie Stefan talks about the arrival of Expo Line in Santa Monica on this broadcast.

DnA’s Frances Anderton and Avishay Artsy participated in a test-ride of the Expo Line on Monday, May 9, joining a group of elected officials, Metro boardmembers and press. Here’s a video about our trip:

DnA spoke with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA City Councilman Mike Bonin, former Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority CEO Rick Thorpe, LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, writer David Ulin and pedestrian advocate and Gizmodo’s Urbanism editor Alissa Walker. Listen to the DnA segment here:

There’s one group in LA that’s been anticipating the Expo Line extension for years: cyclists. The route features a bike lane that runs alongside it.

“I think the bike path is going to change the city, maybe as much as the train,” Alissa Walker said. “I’ll be able to jump on this bike freeway to get from one part of the city to another, and being able to jump on the train if you get tired, that’s going to make the most difference in my commuting.”

Another excited cyclist is Meghan Sahli-Wells, the mayor of Culver City and a board member of the Expo Construction Authority. She told DnA she takes the train and bikes to all the Expo board meetings.

“I live within, probably a little less than a mile from the Expo station, as do a great number of Culver City and Palms residents. So I’m particularly excited to not have to look for parking, fit in my exercise within my commute, and really have great transit access for myself, my kids and my community,”Sahli-Wells said.

When she’s on the train, Sahli-Wells puts her bike in the articulation between the train cars, and uses a bungee cord to secure it to a hand rail during the ride. If she has several meetings or one that’s far away, she’ll take the bike with her. If she just has one meeting and it’s near the train station, she’ll lock it up at the station.

Here’s one helpful tip she has for cyclists: “If I can see the security camera where my bike is, that means the security camera can see my bike.”