San Clemente
Photograph: Courtesy Unsplash/Christopher Sardegna

The 6 cheapest ways to get around Los Angeles

There are way more options than you think.

Michael Juliano
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If the price of gas has finally worn you down (along with the monthly cost of auto loans and insurance plus occasional repairs and parking tickets), it might be time to (at least occasionally) break up with your car and opt for something more reasonably priced.

Yes, your own car will always be the most convenient transit option in L.A., but it’s certainly not the most affordable one—and not necessarily always the quickest either. So we’ve decided to help you out and highlight the best cheap transportation alternatives for getting around L.A.

Not too long ago, Uber and Lyft absolutely would’ve been on this list, and likely our go-to pick. But with prices and often wait times way up in recent years, we can’t recommend them as a “cheap” option anymore.

We have, however, found six other options (most of them car-free) to make your way around L.A. while staying within budget, whether for everyday errands or a fun day trip.

The 6 cheapest ways to get around L.A.

Metro

You can get from one side of the county to the other via Metro for only $1.75, and that’s kind of remarkable. But your time is valuable, too, so the key to making the most of L.A. County’s network of subways, light rail and buses is knowing exactly where and when it’s worthwhile.

In our experience, taking the B Line between Downtown L.A. and Hollywood (or North Hollywood) is almost always quicker than putting up with traffic on the 101. The E Line can be a bit slow leaving DTLA, but we’d still suggest it for rush hour treks to and from Santa Monica over driving on the 10.

Under Metro’s revised fare capping system, you’ll never need to pay more than $5 in a day or $18 a week as long as you use a TAP card (the transit agency ditched its fixed-price single and multi-day passes in favor of this fare structure).

Local bus networks

Santa Monica, Culver City, Burbank, Glendale and the Beach Cities, to name a few, operate their own local lines that cost about a dollar to board. If you’re coming from a Metro bus or rail line, it’ll only cost you an extra 50 cents on your TAP Card for a non-Metro bus transfer.

These local lines are sometimes remarkably useful for some of the city’s major attractions, too: Most notably, a DASH bus can get you from Los Feliz to the Griffith Observatory for only 35 cents.

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Metrolink (specifically the $10 Weekend Pass)

For only a Hamilton, you can take unlimited trips to the edges of the county on a Saturday or Sunday with Metrolink’s $10 Weekend Day Pass. The regional train system’s pass is a steal compared to the regular cost of a trip to some of its farthest destinations like Oceanside, Pomona or Ventura—with free transfers to and from Metro and most local bus systems, too.

We’re particular fans of the DTLA-originating Orange County line, which is seldom crowded and remarkably convenient for Angels games (and just slightly less so for Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center, which both require a bus or rideshare transfer). It’ll drop you off right in the middle of things in Fullerton, next to the darling Old Towne Orange and directly across from the pier in San Clemente, without ever having to worry about traffic on the 5.

The only word of warning here: Pay attention to the schedule, because service is infrequent, especially on weekends. It’s a potential dealbreaker for trips that’ll have you out and about into the evening as service often ceases around rush hour. You can fall back on Amtrak for some destinations, but it’ll cost you (a one-way trip to San Juan Capistrano, for example, is $12.50 on Metrolink but $21 on Amtrak).

Metro Micro

Imagine being able to summon a shared Uber to nearly anywhere within your neighborhood for only a dollar. Well, that’s basically the premise behind Metro Micro, and it’s kind of magical.

Using the Metro Micro app (or calling 323-GO-METRO) you can hail a shared ride in a 10-person van as long as you’re within one of its eight operating zones (we’ve found the one that covers most of Northeast L.A. to be particularly useful). No matter how far you go within that zone, the trip is only $1.

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LAX FlyAway Bus

The different routes on offer have been pared down over time, but the FlyAway Bus to and from LAX is still one of the best travel-centric transit deals in town. A $9.75 ticket will secure you a seat on a comfortable charter bus that leaves roughly every half hour from Union Station and Van Nuys and stops between each terminal at the airport. After a flight, even if it won’t get you to your final destination it’s often easier and cheaper to hop on a FlyAway bus at LAX and then book an Uber for the rest of the trip compared to riding Uber the entire way (and having to take a shuttle to the off-site pickup area at the airport).

There’s one caveat here: If you’re arriving at LAX during a particularly busy period, you may see a few full buses pass you by before one with any room pulls up. Consider walking to a lower-number terminal on the arrivals level for a better chance at boarding.

Short-term bike and scooter rentals

Remember when the scooter menace seemed to grip L.A.? The pick up anywhere, leave anywhere electric scooters seemed to suddenly take over sidewalks across the city. But since then, things have settled down—and truth be told, they can actually be pretty useful.

Though the number of service providers has dwindled, Bird still has scooters available to rent on the Westside, Central L.A., Downtown L.A. and Northeast L.A. for 39 cents a minute plus a $1 fee to start.

Metro operates the region’s most far-reaching bike rental system, with docks for both traditional and electric bikes in Downtown L.A., Hollywood, North Hollywood and parts of the Westside. Though the pricing was initially pretty confusing for a first-timer, it’s since been streamlined a bit: For a single ride, it’s $1.75 per half hour. If you plan on picking up bikes to use throughout the day, it’s a little more complicated: There’s a flat $5 fee for 24 hours of access, but that’ll get you free rides up to a half hour, with a $1.75 charge per 30 minutes beyond that (it’s a similar system for the monthly and annual passes).

In all cases, you’ll get the best bargain with short trips; about a half hour on a scooter will already tally up over $10. Just remember that you’ll need to keep all electric bikes and scooters off of the sidewalks and either on the road or in bike lanes (and wear a helmet!).

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What about car rentals?

We wish we could recommend a go-to option for driving yourself, but we haven’t found a single clear winner. Zipcar availability is often limited unless you book at least a few days in advance, and its pickup spots are pretty spaced apart depending on the area (the cost quickly climbs for anything more than a couple of hours, too). Similarly BlueLA is restricted to too small of an area of the city (for now). You can try a user-rented service like Turo or Getaround, but your mileage may vary.

We’ve actually found that reserving a compact car at your nearest mom-and-pop rental spot to often be the cheapest option when you absolutely need a vehicle for the day (especially if you decline the additional coverages that are likely covered by your credit card already). And when in doubt, you can always opt for a U-Haul for more utilitarian needs ($19.95 per day, plus 79 cents per mile).

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