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October 15, 2003 -- As if getting around LA wasn't hard enough for the poor, car-less tourist: now a strike by the local transit agency's mechanics is stranding buses and subways around the Los Angeles metro area.

Our immediate solution: rent a car for your upcoming trip to LA, even if you weren't planning to. We expect car rental firms will be under even more pressure than usual during this strike, so reserve a vehicle now if you're traveling any time in the next 45 days or so.

If you can't get a car, strategize to see LA by sectors. Get a hotel in Santa Monica and see that town and Venice, for instance, or focus on Hollywood and the Fairfax district by getting a Hollywood hotel. Transportation within individual neighborhoods is still OK; it's the long-distance routes that have suffered.

Los Angeles' MTA runs the third-largest fleet of buses in the country, behind the New York and New Jersey transit systems. Each day, a little under 1.4 million people ride Metro's four rail lines and dozens of bus lines, and while they're not considered the mainstream way to get around LA, they're usually a decent system for those who can't or won't drive -- and have plenty of patience.

The strike, which began Tuesday morning, may last for weeks; a similar strike in 2000 lasted 32 days. Fortunately for tourists, though, the chaotic jumble of governments in the LA area is keeping it possible (though difficult) to get to LA tourist sites without a car.

Most buses in LA, including the Rapid line down Wilshire Boulevard, the subway and the light rail trains, are run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). These are the guys on strike. According to an MTA press release (www.mta.net/press/2003/10_october/mta_153.htm), a new bus line is shadowing the Red Line subway, and 22 other bus lines are covering fragments of the usual system.

But a slew of non-MTA bus systems covers LA, and they're still running. The two most relevant to tourists are the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus (www.bigbluebus.com) and the Los Angeles City DASH (www.ladottransit.com), and they can fill in to help get you to a lot of LA's sites. Amtrak and Metrolink trains are also still running to San Diego, San Francisco and the LA suburbs.

Airport Access, Without the Train

The usual cheapskate way to get to and from LAX airport (www.lawa.org/lax) is the Metro Green Line train, which is not running. Travelers aiming for Santa Monica should instead take the Santa Monica Line 3, which brings you from the airport to downtown Santa Monica for a mere 75¢. Buses run frequently, seven days a week.

Santa Monica's a great place to base yourself during this strike, because all of that coastal city's buses are still running. It's also a terrific part of town, with a fun beachfront, great restaurants and shopping, and a walkable downtown.

If you're staying elsewhere in LA, shy away from using public transit from the airport right now. Instead, ask your hotel if they have a shuttle or use a bus shuttle such as SuperShuttle (www.supershuttle.com/htm/cities/lax.htm), which serves both LA and Long Beach Airports.

Riding The Bus Without Striking Out

The bus lines still running can bring you to most LA sights, with a few exceptions.

As always, if you're impatient, rent a car. We're assuming you can't or won't rent one for some reason. Public transportation in LA is slow at the best of times, and this isn't the best of times.

We've already mentioned Santa Monica's Line 3 to the airport. Santa Monica's Line 2 will take you to Venice Beach for 75¢. Line 10 shuttles between Santa Monica and downtown LA up until about 7 pm, seven days a week; the speedy, $1.75 ride uses the freeway to cover distance quickly.

Unfortunately, if you want to get between Santa Monica and Hollywood or other hip west LA districts, you'll have to take a cab. That's the bad news. The good news is that once you're in an LA neighborhood, you can take LA City DASH buses to save you the walking. A slew of interlocking DASH lines connects the Hollywood, West Hollywood, Fairfax, Mid-Wilshire, Koreatown and Los Feliz neighborhoods. Another set of DASH routes connects downtown LA, Chinatown and Echo Park neighborhoods.

The tremendously useful DASH Fairfax line, for instance, connects to the bus from Hollywood and loops around to the La Brea Tar Pits, LA County Museum of Art, Farmer's Market, The Grove shopping mall, and several other museums. It runs every 15 minutes until 6pm, every day but Sunday. Riding DASH isn't quite as convenient as taking MTA buses, but at least you're not stranded. Rides cost a mere 25¢ -- can't beat that.

The down side to DASH is that none of their buses run later than around 6 PM, and buses on Sundays can be infrequent, if they run at all. Make sure to plan out your itinerary in detail using the DASH Web site before embarking on this kind of expedition.

A few emergency MTA lines can also help you get around. Line 96 (www.mta.net) links downtown, Burbank and Universal Studios. That bus runs until around 9 pm, and costs $1.35. Line 218 links up with the Fairfax DASH to take you as far as the Beverly Center, seven days a week for $1.35. Unfortunately, right now there's no bus between downtown and Hollywood, but MTA officials told us they're working on starting up a bus line which would shadow the former Red Line subway, linking downtown, Hollywood, the Mid-Wilshire neighborhood and Universal Studios. Stay informed by checking out www.mta.net.

Do you live in the Los Angeles area or are you traveling there soon? How are you planning on dealing with the strike? Let's hear from you on our California Boards.