Help with a Helpline

A few weeks ago, I was poking around on the MTA website and I noticed that in addition to the online trip planner, there’s an 800 number to call if you need help while you’re out and about. I programmed it into my cell phone, figuring it would come in handy. Later in the week, I was sitting on a bench, waiting what seemed like ages for the bus to come, and I decided to call to double check the schedule. Instead of an operator, I got a computerized voice: “The number you have dialed cannot be reached from your calling area.”

At first I figured that’s just what I get for keeping my NYC phone number, but then I realized if they’re blocking out of town numbers from calling the helpline, they’re also blocking most tourists from getting transportation advice on their cell phones. So I decided to complain.

When I first wrote in asking the MTA about their policy, they responded that the helpline is only available within their service area. So I wrote back, and pointed out the whole not-helping-tourists angle. And what do you know, it worked! Their reply:

When calling from Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties, you may reach the Telephone Information Center at 1-800-COMMUTE. When calling from other areas and other area codes, you may reach the Center at 213-626-4455.

I just tested it out, and sure enough, this number works on my cell phone. Woohoo! The helpline hours are pretty limited (Monday-Friday 6:30am-7pm, Saturday & Sunday 8am – 4:30pm), but I usually avoid public transportation at night anyway for safety reasons. The MTA doesn’t promote the alternate helpline # on their website (at least, not that I saw), so if you have a non-LA area code and you ride the Metro, you might want to write it down.

3 Replies to “Help with a Helpline”

  1. This is classic. I was just in New York and ran into the same problem with an information hotline for the transit system. Maybe I should write to the NYC Transit Authority…

  2. Go for it! It seems like public transportation groups usually pride themselves on being tourist friendly, so it’s fun to point out when they’re doing the opposite.

  3. The MTA hotline is great! I fondly remember using it in my pre-car (and pre-web) days. You just give your starting point and your destination, and it gives you all the right buses to take, including times, fares, etc. A friend of mine, years ago, claimed to have gotten a route from L.A. to S.F. using only local bus lines! It supposedly took like 2-3 days and included some overnight bus-bench layovers, but it only cost $16! I’ve never confirmed this, but it always did make a good story.

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