Metro’s Stealth "Short Term" Fare Hike

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog praising many of Metro’s transit expansion plans, but out of today’s City Council Transportation Committee Hearing came news that the administration, not board, of Metro has unilaterally decided to terminate its fare reimbursement agreement with LADOT. This means that starting January 1, commuters who use both DASH and METRO services will no longer see their Metro Monthly passes honored on DASH or other LADOT buses. Metro has decided to end its agreement to refund the city for people using a Metro Monthly pass on city busses, and the city cannot afford to close the created budget hole without charging their joint passengers separately for their trips on LADOT’s buses.

Reaction from the three present City Council Members was both angry and confused. Why would Metro decide to do away with a program that helps 6,000 commuters choose transit over their car every day; and how could this decision be reached without the consent of Metro’s board?

Metro’s sacrificial lamb to the hearing was Terry Matsumoto, Chief Financial Services Officer and Treasurer. Matsumoto described the decision as a way to promote Metro’s upcoming TAP Card program and pointed out that (the far more expensive) "EZ Pass" Cards would still be honored on both lines. He also noted that Metro Passes are updated monthly with new stickers and it is confusing for both riders and Metro drivers when stickers are updated. Amusingly, nobody from LADOT, Metro or the City Council staff had a Metro monthly pass on them, so Matsumoto had to borrow one from a private citizen in the gallery to make his point.

Committee Chairwoman Wendy Gruel posed the question: so the current cards can be confusing and new ones are coming, so why not wait until those cards are available before doing away with discounts associated with the old cards?

Matsumoto explained that Metro has a "seven step process" for unveiling the TAP cards that included ending this reimbursement plan with LADOT. He also mentioned again that the stickers are confusing.

Next up was Councilman Richard Alarcón, a former Metro board member, who hit it out of the park. "This plan will have a greater burden on those that can least afford it, the elderly and students. We’re talking about effecting people’s food decisions. You’re going to take riders out of the system, you’re going to push them out. Then, you expect them to come back in once there’s a new card?" Alarcón went on to express shock that this decision could be made without board approval, despite Matsumoto’s protests that the board was notified just not consulted. The board wasn’t consulted because the decision to enter into an agreement with the city to reimburse them for usage of the Metro Monthly pass was made at the staff, not board, level.

When asked directly what savings Metro would see from this move, Matsumoto calculated the yearly savings to be $758,000. When pressed further by Alarcón if the finances had anything to do with the decision to end the refunds, Matsumoto conceded that "it might be somewhat a fiscal decision."

StreetHeat favorite Bill Rosendahl went a rhetorical step further than Alarcón and called the decision, "an example of the dysfunction at Metro and their relationship with DOT."

The committee voted to direct LADOT to try and work with MTA to solve this problem before the New Year and ask the Metro Board to step in and overrule the staff decision. The full city council will vote on this matter Friday and you can expect it to be a topic of conversation at the November Metro Board Meeting.

(editor’s note: a full report on the council committee meeting will appear sometime tomorrow including coverage of the confirmation of Rita Robinson as General Manager to LADOT, an update on "Safe Streets to School" and a Street Heat apology to the city’s bikes department.)

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