Off Peak Episode 3: Riding the Night Owl

Every night, Metro runs 24-hour service on 29 lines from roughly midnight to 5 a.m. It’s called The Owl, and the service is a lifeline for restaurant workers, security guards, club kids and often the last bastion of safety for the city’s homeless.

L.A. was one of the very first cities to run overnight transit service, beginning on September 11th of 1906, making the Owl 110 years old last month. Unlike other cities, LA’s Owl has been running continuously, ever since it started, through the good times and bad.

Besides a small crescent moon icon on the Metro timetable, Owl service is barely publicized – a lot of the people who ride it don’t even know what it’s called. But it’s pretty special. The routes spread from the valley to the west side, long beach and eastside and all meet up in downtown L.A., where they are timed to allow riders to transfer lines without long dark waits at the bus stop.

Off Peak decided to ride two lines on opposite sides of the city to get to know some of the Angelenos who depend on the Owl while everyone else is asleep.

Ruxandra Guidi rode the 81 from Eagle Rock to South LA. This bus runs just once an hour all night and has a community of regulars who know one another and break bread together, literally.

Neille Ilel rode the 4 from Santa Monica to Downtown LA. The 4 runs frequently all night, ferrying every type of restaurant worker to and from their shifts, along with the interesting characters that make staying up all night worth it.

Get your iced coffee ready and take a seat with us!

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12 replies

  1. It seems to me that it would make more sense to gradually move away from having certain Local lines function as Owls, and phase in a system where all the Rapid lines would offer Owl service.

    As two of the core tenets of Rapid services are good frequency and simple service, having all Rapid lines offer 24-hour service rather than varying service hours would certain simplify the service in the public’s eyes, especially for new riders. Plus, using Rapid lines for Owl service would allow the majority of stops to occur at more densely populated intersections with good connections to other Rapid Owls. This would allow riders to wait at locations that would likely be better lit, better served, and safer than the average Local bus stop. (In addition, it’s my understanding that Rapid bus operators are allowed to supplement these preset stops with additional dropoffs at their discretion if requested and if safety permits, so there would still be the possibility that riders could be allowed to exit nearer to their destinations.)

    Anyway, I understand such a change could not happen overnight, but just my two cents.

    • You make good points, but the problem with the rapids at night is that most people would have to walk a mile or more to catch it. With the locals, a person might just have to walk a block or two. Walking (and waiting) are extremely dangerous at night in the LA area. Not even really safe during the day.

      • I think mile-long walks are a valid concern, but with some exceptions, I believe most Rapid stops are spaced between half a mile and one mile apart, meaning that a pedestrian walking along that alignment would usually be no further than 1/4 to 1/2 mile from the nearest stop. But perhaps the best way to address such concerns is to start focusing on Rapids for *new* Owl service while still keeping the existing Local Owls.

        The problem with Metro’s existing Owl setup is that it’s fairly opaque to all but regular users. You basically have to research in advance which lines offer Owl service, whereas upgrading all Rapid lines to Owl service would allow more of Metro’s casual and novice users to know where 24-hour service is offered without consulting a timetable. If we could get to the point where Metro could advertise that Metro Rapid = 24-hour service, that would be awesome.

        “Fast. Frequent. Fabulous. For anytime, day or night.” 🙂

  2. I believe it is the 83 that runs all night, not the 81.
    Also, “interesting characters”? There may be a few. But I don’t consider angry, hostile, stinking, drug addled bums to be interesting characters. Hostile drunks, perverts, felons, and drug-addled club goers (they aren’t actually “kids”. Adults of all ages go to clubs) are also not interesting characters. Too bad the MTA refuses to make their buses and light rails safe for workers and others who have legitimate reasons for riding late at night.
    I remember having to walk a mile from Union Station to catch a late night bus to Highland Park because the Gold Line stops running early. I got to the stop only to be chased into the middle of Broadway by a dirty drugged up bum. Then the bum was allowed to ride the 83 for free while I had to pay. I told the bus driver not to let the bum board because he was violent and tried to attack me, but the driver just yelled at me and let the bum ride for free. Then there was the time I was robbed at gunpoint waiting for the 150 at a poorly lit stop. Then the time I watched an elderly man get laughed at by passengers while the 150 driver mocked him and refused to let him off the bus after the man wasn’t quick enough telling the driver to stop. The poor elderly man begged the driver to stop but he wouldn’t. I hope that guy made it home ok. Makes me sick that the MTA allows this.

    • It seems you walked from Union Station to Broadway & Cesar Chavez (formerly Macy St) to board the 83 northbound to Highland Park. That’s only 0.3 mile.

  3. I live near SF, where the Muni owl lines have surprisingly high patronage. But Im surprised that LA’s owl lines are well patronized, considering the violence. In the 60s I lived on the S (after 3.31.63, 29) line, which ended at Central & Manchester, and it had owl service.