SANTA MONICA (CBSLA.com) — Public transportation to the beach is opening just in time for Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer.

The much-anticipated Metro Expo Line extension between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica opens Friday, making the 6.6-mile line the first rail service to carry passengers to the beach since the 1950s.

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The $1.5 billion extension connects the Expo Line from its current terminus near Venice and Robertson boulevards in Culver City to a station at a Colorado Boulevard and Fourth Street in downtown Santa Monica. The extension includes seven new stations, including stops in Palms, West Los Angeles and the area just north of Santa Monica College.

With the extension, the Expo Line will stretch from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles, ending at Seventh Street/Metro Center Station at Seventh and Flower Streets. Riders at that station can connect with the Blue, Red and Purple lines into Long Beach, Union Station, North Hollywood or the mid-Wilshire area.

Metro officials said the ride from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles is expected to take 46 minutes.

Rides on the new route Friday and Saturday will be free, as an introduction, according to Metro.

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With this new extension, Metro will also introduce paid parking. Three stations on the Expo Line Phase 2 extension will have lots where riders can park for $2 a day as part of a two-year pilot program designed to respond to anticipate high demand for spaces. Monthly parking passes for the lots are being sold at www.lametroparking.net.

Transit riders with monthly parking permits will have access to select spaces on a first-come, first-served basis from 4 to 9 a.m. on weekdays. After 9 a.m., the permit spaces will be available to the general public.

The lots will be available at:
— 17th Street/Santa Monica College station: 67 spaces, of which 13 are reserved for monthly permits;
— Expo/Bundy station: 217 spaces, with 131 reserved for monthly permits; and
— Expo/Sepulveda station: 260 spaces, with 77 reserved for permits.

According to Metro, monthly parking passes for the SMC station sold out within an hour. Passes are still available for the other two stations. People without permits will pay the $2 daily parking rate, with parking attendants on hand to collect money and ensure motorists have Transit Access Pass cards to use the rail line.

When an attendant is not on duty, payments must be made by phone or with a smartphone app that will be available when the extension opens May 20, according to Metro.

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Metro officials said payment kiosks will be installed at the lots later this year, and technology is also being installed that will allow riders to check parking availability online.