Are Free and Low Cost Transfers the Key to Fixing Metro’s Operations Mess?

Without some shocking turn of events, 48% of Metro passengers (seniors and students are exempted…this time) will see a fare increase this July.  For whatever reason, last Saturday’s "Special Board Meeting" held at Metro’s headquarters was sparely attended.  Perhaps because the hikes were viewed as inevitable, perhaps because the hearing was on a Saturday, or maybe because the "Special Board Meeting" was widely derided as a dog and pony show; but for whatever reason there wasn’t as much energy at the Metro Board room to fight a fare increase as there was to celebrate trains a couple of hundred yards away. 

Dana Gabbard reported on the event in the Comments Section for anyone wanting more details on the hearing.

Just because excitement for Metro’s attempt at public outreach was low; doesn’t mean there were a lack of ideas.  After proving that the Times’ business writer doesn’t understand what "farebox recovery ratio" means; David Lazarus went after Metro for not providing free or low cost transfers for one way trips.  While advocates often bemoan this, and other local transit agencies provide transfers, it’s rare for an operations issue to get play in the mainstream media.  However, the lack of transfers means that for many passengers making one way trips, Metro’s low fares aren’t as low as they might appear.

In other words, if I have to take a trip that requires me to switch buses or switch modes of transit, it doubles the cost of my trip.  That my base fare is lower than a base fare in New York doesn’t mean much, since the total cost of my trip is higher than that of a New Yorker who has to take multiple buses.

Apparently, Steve Hymon still reads the Times.  At The Source, he posted a poll asking people what kind of transfer system makes the most sense for Metro to look into.   Nearly three-quarters of respondents suggested some sort of "transfer" plan for single trips.

While it would certainly be a nice gesture to riders; I have to admit I’m skeptical that allowing transfers would make a big change in either ridership or Metro’s budget picture.  After all, the agency is facing a $181 million deficit (or $82 million if the state comes through with the promised $99.8 million in transit operations assistance) and the fare increase is only expected to raise $24 million.  That transfers would allow the agency to attract enough new riders to close the gap, without requiring more service that would in-turn increase the deficit, is about as likely at the Utah Jazz playing in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals.

  • nobody

    Well, they may be able to close some of the gap if they allowed free transfers on the Metro Rail system and charged $2 instead of the current $1.25, and leave bus fares the same. It may irk some people, but I think most agree the fares on Metro’s rail system are low (if you only take one line).

  • Wouldn’t Metro resuming having transfers for its service be caught up in resolving the outstanding TAP and gating issues? And there are faint signs that the agency is finally grappling with the mess. But no timeline for when the tunnel finally has light showing at the end of it.

    Stay tuned.

  • Using the Translink card in San Francisco (a transfer-based system with about a thousand different agencies) made the whole transfer thing a breeze. The card automatically calculated my discount for transferring to and from BART and Muni and AC buses, and automatically handled transfers in the East Bay and the 90-minute ride in the City.

    If Metro wanted to move to a transfer-based system, then they should do it now while they’re fixing TAP.

    I also think that any system with the ridiculous two-station hop between Union Station and the Blue Line should probably consider going to a transfer-based fare model, rather than a pay-per ride.

  • Carter R

    Same thing with the Orca card in Seattle. If you use it on a bus, say at off peak hours, it deducts the $1.75 when you “tap” it, but will give you at least one free transfer in the next 2 hours.

    When you tap it a second time in the two hour window, it just beeps without deducting a fare…unless the second fair costs more (long range trips or rail), in which case it only charges you for the difference between the first and second fairs.

    It’s explained here: http://www.orcacard.com/ERG-Seattle/p2_002.do?m=42&i=kb.transfer

  • Yuri

    The TAP card should function like the Translink card JustinN mentioned and link all the municipal and county transportation agencies. Make a system more convenient and more people will use it. Make it inconvenient and less people will use it. It’s that simple.

  • Fallopia Simms

    Much more than free/low cost transfers are keeping choice drivers off of Metro. You must tackle the classist and racist bias that taking transit in LA implies. Transfers are the least of your worries.

  • Erik G.

    The current fare system, and the TAP follies, and the turnstile debacle, seem to have been designed by persons who never use transit in their everyday life, nor wish for others to do so.

    In a city which has bent over so far, for the automobile, that it could be a shoo-in for a position at Cirque du Soleil, every effort should be made to encourage the use of public transport; not make it confusing.

  • Joseph E

    Transfers should be free, because they are of no benefit for the rider. Everyone prefers to ride one train or bus directly from their home to their destination, if possible. The need to transfer takes time and effort, even if the next train or bus comes right away. Also, having riders take time to pay twice slows down buses and makes long lines at ticket vending machines.

    With free transfers (for 2 hours, for example) a $2.00 ticket would be a good deal.

    Better yet, if TAP is fixed, it should be possible to charge fares based on distance traveled for both buses and trains. Short, 1 mile trips would be only $1.00, while a 40 mile trip from Long Beach to Sylmar could be $10.00, allowing integration with Metrolink as well.

  • Cf2828

    I was super excited to start using the metro.  But, the cost with transfers is ridiculous.  I can’t think of any other city in the world whose transit system doesn’t include tranfers.  BAD IDEA LA.  You want people to pay on the honor system AND use it?  C’mon!

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