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KPCC races from DTLA to Santa Monica: Why #TeamPublicTransport lost




KPCC's Leo Duran rides the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus from downtown LA to Santa Monica.
KPCC's Leo Duran rides the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus from downtown LA to Santa Monica.
Leo Duran/KPCC

My win was guaranteed in this race.

From the starting line? I was going to catch a bus and its first stop was coincidentally across the street from Union Station.

The start time of 8:30 a.m.? I knew that the bus was going to pick up at 8:36 a.m.

The finish line? The bus's last stop is just two blocks from the foot of the Santa Monica Pier.

That said, those were probably the only advantages I had. So here's why I lost.

The tools I used

First, I'm not surprised. If I was going to win, it would take some major parking snarls in Santa Monica to slow down Sue Carpenter in her car.

I also underestimated Jacob Margolis's powerful, powerful legs. (He was also going downhill, so he got some help from gravity)

However, I had experience and technology on my side.

I am pretty familiar with the transit options in downtown L.A., having moved from NYC in 2012 and still car-less after all this time.

Southern California also make mass transit easier with a wealth of apps to help minimize the time spent waiting for the next bus or train.

Personally, Google Maps is my co-pilot to help plan my trips. The app now includes real-time data on buses, too, to make suggested trips more accurate.

I've also taken a liking to the app Transit which shows the routes closest to my current location and how many minutes away they are. The brand new app Go LA sounds perfect, too, but it was released just a few days after this race.

Google Maps told me taking the R10 route of the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus was my best option – unlike the L.A. Metro buses which only travel local streets, this is an express bus that goes directly from Union Station to the Santa Monica Pier.

Everything's looking good, except...

Here's one part where I got tripped up: how do you pay the fare?!

The Big Blue Bus costs $2.50, which I can pay in cash. People boarding also had monthly passes which they swiped while boarding.

But I have a TAP card, a plastic card with a chip in it that you hold in front of a sensor while boarding a train or bus.

I had at least $20 loaded on my TAP card (my regular monthly pass from Metro doesn't work on the Big Blue Bus since it's run by a different network).

Then it got confusing. I learned that on the Big Blue Bus, the card reader can only take out $1.25 at a time.

"You need to deposit $1.25 more in cash, now," the bus driver told me.

Uh, I wasn't carrying any cash.

He sighed and said I could just come back in 10 minutes when the card was scannable, again, to put it front of the sensor to deduct the rest.

It was a minor setback and I still got to board.

The lesson in this is that Southern California's network of buses and trains sometimes don't talk to each other well.

If you'll be hopping aboard your first trip, be prepared.

I recommend you carry extra cash in case you are surprised by unexpected fares. It helps to ask bus drivers or even other passengers for advice, too.

If you can, try calling the customer hotlines for the networks you'll be riding to ask what you might need to know.

And we're off!

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Really. While Jacob was dodging traffic and Sue was stuck in traffic, I was chilling out on the bus.

I knew there was little I can do as a passenger to make it go faster. That is one of the benefits to mass transportation: you can accomplish a lot since you don't have to keep your eyes on the road.

So I checked my email. Took some selfies. Posted to Facebook. Sang Justin Bieber to myself (I swear, his new album is actually good!)

To help our riders, too, there will be free WiFi for people aboard the LA DOT's Commuter Express buses by the end of 2016.

L.A. Metro also tells KPCC they plan to have cell service in the subway between the Union Station and 7th/Metro stations by the end of this month.

Aside from keeping myself entertained, all I could do was wait.

One piece of comfort came from my seatmate Jennifer, a student at Santa Monica College.

She told me the Big Blue Bus reliably takes about 60-75 minutes between downtown L.A. and Santa Monica. Google Maps told me Sue's drive could take up to 70 minutes.

So if she got caught up trying to find parking, I could be running to the finish line first.

On the final stretch...

I realize I need more cardio in my life.

The bus's last stop and the finish line were amazingly close to each other. Since I'm a fast walker, it would be about 7 minutes.

But this was a race, so I dashed instead. For a while.

I was completely out of breath trying to run with a bag over my shoulder and a mic in my hand.

By the time I arrived at the foot of the ferris wheel, it was official: I got the bronze medal!

Yes, I know, third place is also last.

It took me 94 minutes to reach the finish line. Jacob Margolis biked there in 65 minutes, while Sue Carpenter drove and parked in the span of 70.

It is not surprising that mass transit can take longer, a reality that millions deal with on a daily basis in Southern California.

The takeaway is that it is getting better: if you have access to a smartphone, apps can help minimize the time spent waiting at the curb.

This race will completely change in May, too, when Metro's Expo line opens between downtown L.A. and the Santa Monica Pier (not by much, though; the bus was a straight shot while I would need to make a transfer on the trains if I started from Union Station).

Got a recommendation on what I could have done differently? Or maybe your strategies if you take mass transit yourself?

Tweet me @duran_l_duran or post 'em here.