Can You Live in LA Without a Car?

Friday, June 16, 2017 / 7:36 PM

When I tell people I'm living in LA without a car, there are two responses I typically get:

1. How??
2. Why???

The latter is easier to respond to and understand: having a car is expensive. By the time you add up car payments and insurance, gas, parking (and parking tickets because, c'mon, it's LA)... it's a hefty monthly cost. And seeing as how my anxiety has only risen with age, putting a stressed and terrible driver on the road (yes, I do have my license but I'm really that bad of a driver) is bound to have terrible results.

The "how" is a bit more of a difficult explanation for some people to wrap their minds around, and seeing as how this is my personal experience and perspective, it will vary for each person who navigates the city without a car, so my opinion isn't even representative of the majority at all.

Is it more convenient to have a car you can just hop into when you want and need to? Absolutely. For instance, the amount of pre-planning it took for me to commit to buying a tower fan the other day was more than I cared for (I still did it).

LA is not a city built for humans to walk around the way New York, DC, and just about any major European or Asian city I've visited is. Pedestrians are not always given the right of way in LA and more often than not, I find myself wondering if today is the day my life ends because the AT&T employee driving his company's van doesn't know what a crosswalk is.

And taking public transportation here can also be annoying, though I'd argue the service is a bit more friendly to its passengers than, say, MTA or WMATA — though people who take the Metro here can be frustrating (stand to the right!!!!).

But it's doable. I've found it doable so far, at least. My one major rule to myself when I moved here was: don't ask people for rides. I stubbornly refuse to do it, because my choice to not have and pay for a car shouldn't come at the cost of other people's resources. If I can get somewhere via Metro or bus, I'll do it (for example: I'm taking a train/bus combo to Disneyland this weekend). The perk of being in a major city is that rideshare services are plentiful, and it's also much cheaper here to take Lyft or Uber than a city like New York — so that's the backup if I'm ever in a bind.

This decision, of course, isn't without flaws. This isn't the safest city to be waffling around on public transit late at night, and I do find myself waiting for long periods for the train sometimes because the Metro lacks the urgency one would hope a major city has. But six months into being here, I've been lucky to only have run into a small handful of incidents that made me wish I was back in New York (though I hear the subway is getting shittier by the day).

Again, having a car is more convenient, yes. But being able to navigate a city's public transportation is a useful skill, I think. Patience and planning are key, and so far it's been alright. I'm also fortunate to live in a central part of the city with a grocery market in reasonable walking distance.

Some tips for my friends who've asked me for advice on moving to and living in LA without a car, here are some of the usual bits of advice:

1. Do the math: in New York, it was a no-brained that, if you were riding the subway twice a day (to and from work, in my case), the 30-day pass was essential. So far that's not been the case for me in LA. I still travel for work, and there are days I'll spend with family that mean I'm on someone's route to be dropped off. The last time I purchased a 30-day pass for the Metro, I didn't use it enough to make it worth it. Also, not all the buses use the tap card for the Metro (the DASH has a different pass, for instance).

2. Have a backup route: this really should be the case for all cities. If/when the trains or buses fail you, what's the alternative? Yes, that means planning ahead, but it's good to know these things. (For every city I live in or visit, I always save a photo of their transit system to the Favorites folder of my phone, for easy reference.)

3. Be realistic: when you're choosing a place to live, make sure you have a reasonable path to a grocery store because I've been on the end of watching my groceries melt/get spoiled because of poor planning.

4. Be prepared: an LA public transportation life can mean a lot of waiting and waffling. I always have podcasts at the ready or a book or something to keep me occupied. Since I don't have to keep an umbrella on me at all times anymore (no summer rain!), I have more room in my bag for things like...books.

Also, keep a bottle of water on you at all times, especially in the summer, but that should just be a general rule no matter how you commute.

Again: this is just my experience and my opinion, so don't take this as gospel. But for anyone worried you can't hack it in LA because you're coming from a city with great public transportation — fear not! I believe in you.

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