Ahhh, Los Angeles and transportation. This requires its own special corner of the sandbox to dig in, so to speak, because Los Angeles is sprawling and public transportation is sadly, a bad joke. Your mode of transportation — and how long you’re condemned to your commute — will affect where you live. It will affect your day-to-day mood, which friends you see, and your overall happiness. So we want to analyze transportation fully and fruitfully — the Fighting Broke way. Let’s get started with the big question:
Do You Need a Car To Start in Los Angeles?
In my opinion, this is a resounding “no.” You don’t.
I can almost hear the screech of Beverly Hills- and Valley-natives and auto purists, all whom were raised sucking from the teat of the auto industry, surrounded by four steel walls atop a set of wheels: “What are you talking about??!!” they’ll whine. “Los Angeles is so spread out! Of course you’ll need a car! How will you get anywhere?”
(For anyone not from or in Los Angeles: to give you a sense of the impact of auto-culture and traffic, this meme was actually on a billboard I saw recently, on National and Overland):
Let’s get a few things straight:
- Yes, a car makes navigating Los Angeles easier.
- Yes, it’d be especially helpful in the beginning, when it’s time to find a place to live, a place to work, someone to keep your bed warm with you at night, etc.
- Yes, I personally moved out to Los Angeles with a car.
My argument is this: there’s a world of a difference between what you need and what you want. I think the convenience-soaked, frou frou Los Angeles and Hollywood community has grown so spoiled by their nannies and house keepers and dishwashers and automatic closing trunks, they no longer differentiate between the two.
I’m going to repeat that: Need. Want. Two different things.
What if you lived in Koreatown, and had a 9 a.m. appointment in Sherman Oaks for the meeting of your life? Let’s say it was an interview for your dream job, an audition, or a coffee with a producer. But you had no car? Would you say, “oops, sorry, I know this could change my life but Mommy and Daddy never bought me a car, so…”
Of course not. This is what you’d do:
- Try to get a ride
- Borrow a car
- See if you could get there via subway
- Look at bus routes. See how many transfers it’d take. Calculate the timing.
- Then you’d get up wicked early, 5 a.m. if necessary, and schlep for 3 and 1/2 hours so you can make it the best 20 minute meeting you’ve ever had.
If something is so important to you, you’ll make it work – car or no car. In that vein, NOT owning a car should NOT hold you back from moving to Los Angeles.
Would having the car when you arrived make things 100x’s easier?
To say “need” when we mean “want,” however, is superfluous.
I need shelter. I need food.
I only want them to hurry up and decide if they’re going to make a damn ENTOURAGE movie or not.
Interchanging “need” and “want” willy-nilly exposes a certain degree of weakness and laziness, the kind you see in privileged children grown spoiled with live-in maids and $6K Christian Louboutin’s. If it’s important, move Heaven and Earth to make it happen.
How to Get Around Los Angeles without a Car
Let’s say you do move here without a car, and contrary to popular belief, you aren’t declared a heretic and burned at the stake by over enthused Los Angelenos. What are your options to haul your body around town?
Yes, the buses keep inane routs, are rarely convenient, and they smell like the business end of a Port-a-Potty. However, they get you from Point A to Point B relatively cheaply, so you can save up any of your hard earned dough to eventually buy a car.
When my friend Jeff moved to Los Angeles, he flew out with limited funds. No car. So he shacked up in a converted hotel room and took the bus to his internship, 3 times a week. What was typically a 20 minute car ride became an hour-long bus ride, but did he complain? Nope — but he made the best use of the time by reading scripts during the commute. He did this for 6-months before he got hired onto a desk. It was another 3 months before he could afford to buy a car.
Three years later, he’s recently transitioned into a new position, at an international television production company with six shows on the air, in the animated, reality, and dramatic space. And that shitty period of time where he relied on public transportation is a distant memory.
Sure, most major cities (NY, San Francisco, Tokyo) have extensive train or subway lines that make Los Angeles’s look like a backwater hick town in comparison. However, if you’re fortunate to live near a train station, there’s no reason not to put it to use. Rumor is they’re building out the train lines as well, and should be completed sometime in 2015. I live in Culver City, at the end of the Expo line, and it’s nice to know if I don’t want to drive, Hollywood or Downtown Los Angeles is a train ride away.
Is it reasonable to expect to use the LA train system for your daily commute? Amy used it get to Cerritos, and then to Orange County. She did it for 9 months, before she was able to get her driver’s license.
Did it suck? Umm… yes. She was up at 5 a.m. to catch the 5:30 a.m. train — this so that she could make it to work by 7:30 a.m. The commute home was worse, sometimes taking two and a half hours, and she’d crawl wearily back into the apartment, wrecked from her four-hour daily commute.
She was starting her career, though. Sometimes, that’s what the start looks like.
SoCal is blessed with beautiful weather nearly all year long. This means we can get out from behind the wheel, out from the steel trap of a car, and enjoy the sunshine. With a climate most would kill to have, we should expose ourselves to the outdoors as much as possible.
Riding a bike allows you to do just that. Coincidentally, it also comes with a host of other benefits that you may not know about, benefits completely alien to those who sit in their cars all day:
- You get healthier and fitter every time bike.
- The upfront cost is anywhere from 10x to 100x cheaper than a car.
- Maintenance costs over the lifetime of a bike are at least 100x cheaper than a car.
- It never needs fuel.
- In the middle of gridlock and rush hour, bike beats car — regardless of how much horsepower you’ve got.
I can imagine all sorts of reservations about bike commuting to work (or anywhere else): it’s dangerous, I’ll get there all sweaty, it takes too long, etc. See the above principle about the difference between needs and wants. If you need to get there, then you’ll figure out a way. And biking is often the perfect solution.
When my friend Topher got his license suspended, one of the first things he did was go and buy himself a bike. He rode that thing to work in the winter, when it rained for a week non-stop. He rode it to his internship in Beverly Hills, where he’d bring a change of clothes to dress in when he got there. He’d ride his bike to auditions, giving himself an extra half hour to cool off and prep in the bathroom if he needed to.
Even with a car, I prefer riding my bike to work. I design my schedule so I can bike commute at a minimum 3x’s a week. On a great week, I’ll bike in all five days. I arrive with a workout already under the belt and sun on my face. My blood is pounding and my mind sharp. It beats the snot out of car commuting, full stop.
Seriously. I envy anyone whose commute involves jumping on their skateboard and pushing their way to the office. Slower than a bike, faster than walking, and overall a much more visceral experience: feeling every bump on the pavement, weaving between pedestrians, hairpin turns and stops. Commuting to work becomes an experience again, not just something you have to endure. There are several more advantages a skateboard has over a bike:
- No need to haul a lock or key with you. You can stow your board just about anywhere.
- Maneuverable and nimble. Rather than having to stop. Take out your lock. Lock up your bike. Find a place for your helmet… you just throw your board under your arm. Boom. Good to hop onto a bus, or quickly step into a store.
- The perfect last-mile vehicle.
My very first job in LA was at Ozumo, a high-end Japanese restaurant on the top floor of the Santa Monica Promenade. I was grateful for the work, but finding free parking in the area was next to impossible. Instead, I’d park 10 blocks out and skate to the Promenade, zipping past tourists and overzealous rent-a-cops telling you to stop skating on 3rd Street. This last-mile commute was the best part of my shift.
Motorcycle or Scooter
Another option is getting a motorcycle or scooter. I can’t speak to that experience (yet) but I’m working on it. Until then you’ll find it covered in Kristen Creager’s post here.
Ok Ok – But Eventually You Should Get a Car, Right?
Sigh. Sure. You don’t need it right away, but eventually, you’ll want the convenience a car provides. Let’s get into that below:
Buying A Car in Los Angeles
The process of buying a car falls out of the scope of this article, but I’ll come back and about it some other time. For now, I want to leave you with this one idea:
Do not lease or finance your first vehicle in Los Angeles. Not when you’re fighting broke.
If you need to get around Los Angeles, look into any of the methods above to get around until you have enough cash to pay for your first car. It’s simple, really: the last thing you need when you’re fighting broke is tying the anchor of monthly car payments around your neck (in addition to insurance, maintenance, gas, etc.)
If financing or leasing seems like the easiest solution, that’s because it is. Which is why, anecdotally speaking, it seems like everyone and their mother is doing it (there are three people in my office ALONE who’ve all financed cars this month).
It’s the same reason why they don’t have their finances under control yet, and go paycheck to paycheck — they chose convenience over control.
Remember your DARE lessons from elementary school? That should be your approach to car financing:
Just say no.
Now, if you paid for your car with cash, or you moved out here with it – I cover the process of getting your California License and Vehicle Registration in the next chapter of the Best Guide for Moving to Los Angeles: Part 7 – Getting a California License and Register Your Vehicle.
Did I miss any other alternative modes of transport in Los Angeles? Do you have any personal anecdotes you’d like to share? Please let me know in the comments!
Photo Credit: Jonathan Kos-Read