New semester reinvents student travel

Locale, locale, locale. In addition to flaunting successful alumni and numerous research opportunities, USC advertises a campus “located in the heart of Los Angeles” as a clear incentive to attend one of the most expensive private universities in the country.

With Hollywood, Downtown and boroughs like Chinatown and the Fashion District beckoning, many freshmen are more excited about getting off campus than attending their first classes. But as several students soon discover, attending college in one of the most iconic cities in the world doesn’t necessarily mean that one has the means to explore it.

Students fortunate enough to own cars often find themselves trapped in the relentless L.A. traffic, and even renting a Zipcar can push back plans to visit Venice Beach if there are no cars available on the designated getaway weekend. Nevertheless, for 2012, students can find a host of options — new and old — for learning Los Angeles as well as their studies.

For those who don’t mind a 30-minute bike ride or $15 cab fare, a trip to LA Live is a great way to escape campus for a few hours. With the Staples Center, Regal Cinemas and restaurants such as Yardhouse or The Farm of Beverly Hills dotting the area, an evening date or night out with friends becomes simple and well within reach. For those tired of LA Live, heading a few extra blocks north toward Seventh Street puts students at South Flower Street, where stores such as Victoria’s Secret, Express and Bath and Body Works provide comfortable shopping at Macy’s Plaza.

Getting to LA Live without a bike or money for a cab, however, provides a bit more of a challenge. Fortunately, a new development in public transportation has provided a cost-efficient and timely method of getting off campus outside of shuttle hours.

With the partial completion of the Expo rail line on June 20, the Metro has taken a major step toward remedying the major lack of public transportation in a city that rivals the subway-accessible New York City in terms of popularity. Students now have the option of boarding the train at Expo Park-USC, Jefferson-USC and Expo-Vermont by paying $5 for a day pass or $1.50 at each boarding to ride as far west as Culver City, which boasts a moderate array of small shops, as well as museums and art galleries.

Heading east on the rail puts students at the urban Wilshire District, where Koreatown, the Wiltern Theatre Concert Hall and the delectable Farmers Market attract Angelenos familiar with the area, as well as tourists eager to get outside Downtown. Though this area has been accessible by rail for quite some time, the Expo Line connects East L.A. with USC, saving students a bus trip to the Red Line entrance at Seventh Street and providing access to popular points, such as the Fashion District, Grand Park and Union Station, where students can catch a train to Anaheim for a day trip to Disneyland and California Adventure.

Phase 2 of the Expo Rail has not fully reached completion, so students looking to journey directly to Santa Monica, Beverly Hills or Westwood will have to find another mode of transportation. Metro, however, has set plans to complete a full route to the coast by 2015.

While Metro polishes up its plans for more expansive travel, renting a Zipcar is an ideal option for escaping to Santa Monica Pier or Venice Beach for a few hours. With a discounted USC membership of $25, students can easily plan a day trip and escape from Trousdale for a few hours — provided they reserve a car far enough in advance. Gas and insurance are automatically included in membership fees, and since the cars are parked and ready to go, there is very little hassle regarding pickup on the day of the trip.

The one downside? The company only offers a moderate selection of cars, so traveling with a large group might require more than one vehicle. Also, Zipcar’s driving record check is pretty extensive, so even a minor traffic violation can put chances of obtaining a membership in jeopardy. But considering the high alternative cost of catching a taxi, Zipcar’s pros far outweigh the cons. Other alternate transportation options include Wheelz, a new company that uses students’ personal vehicles as fleet cars, and Zimride, a ride-share program that allows members of the USC community to offer or accept rides from other students.

With CA Taxi, the Expo Line and alternate carpool and car-sharing options providing several options for transportation, students can find an appropriate way of escaping the quad and enjoying a daylong study break in Los Angeles.

[Correction: A previous version of this article stated that USC Transportation was sponsoring a weekend shuttle to LA Live. The shuttle service was cancelled in April. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.]