Opposition and Confrontation at Metro Fare Increase Hearing

Citing "disruptive behavior" for prolonged public comment, uniformed officers removed two people from Metro's fare increase hearing.  photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA
Citing “disruptive behavior,” uniformed officers removed two people from last Saturday’s Metro fare increase hearing. photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA

On Saturday, Metro held a public hearing on proposed changes to its fare policy. Metro is proposing to raise its $1.50 base transit fare to $1.75 starting September 2014. From there, it would be raised again to $2.00 in 2017, and to $2.25 in 2020. This would include a 90-minute free transfer, but only when the fare is paid using a TAP card.

Metro’s passes would go up similarly. Day passes, currently $5, would cost $7/$8/$9. , Weekly passes, currently $20, would cost $25/$30/$32. Monthly passes, currently $75, would cost $100, then, combined with EZ pass, $120/$135. The Metro proposal includes two options: a straight-up increase, or an increase that splits the increase into two categories: a more expensive peak-commuter-hour fare and a cheaper off-peak fare. More fare increase proposal details at the Metro website.

As one might expect, the hearing was a heated one.

Security was higher than usual. In addition to uniformed armed officers and police dogs, attendees had to pass through a metal detector and allow officers to search bags. The board room was full by the time the 9:30 a.m. meeting started, with late arrivals shunted to the Metro cafeteria to watch proceedings on screens. 

For the most part, public commenters, from youth to seniors, urged Metro not to raise fares, primarily for personal economic reasons. One student’s summed it up the feelings of many commenters: “I count on the buses, please don’t gouge us.”

Many groups expressed opposition, but the most prominent among them was the Bus Riders Union. BRU head Eric Mann called on Metro directors to reject the proposed increase, and to enact an immediate 10 percent reduction in fares. Mann also called for an independent audit of Metro finances to determine where past bond measure funding may have been inappropriately redirected to rail construction.

A few individuals and organizations, primarily those interested in seeing expanding Metro rail service, testified in favor of reasonable fare increases, but requested some modifications to the staff’s proposal. These modifications included increasing the transfer window to two hours, making TAP cards more useful, and increasing other Metro revenue from advertising, parking, etc to offset the fare increase.

Throughout the proceedings, Metro Board Chair Diane DuBois was very curt, admonishing the crowd not to applaud, frequently cutting off speakers in mid-sentence and speaking over them until they relented.

As the meeting wore on, a handful of speakers rebuffed the chair and finished their statements. When one speaker ignored the chair and spoke at length, DuBois threatened to have him removed for disruptive behavior. As multiple uniformed guards approached the speaker, he retreated to a seat. Other attendees surrounded the speaker to block approaching guards. The ensuing confrontation resulted in the speaker and another individual being removed from the meeting. See video of the incident here. The L.A. Times reported that the two were arrested “on suspicion of disturbing the peace.”

After public comment ended, a number of Metro board members questioned Metro staff. Supervisor Gloria Molina questioned some of the staff report statistics, and asked whether the fare increase proposal might be “discriminatory.” She concluded requesting further analysis.

Los Angeles city councilmembers Mike Bonin and Paul Krekorian, both appointed to the Board by Mayor Eric Garcetti, expressed the need for Metro to more fully explore other measures to cut costs and raise revenues. Two other Metro Board Members, County Supervisors Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich were not present at the hearing.

The fare increase proposal is expected to be voted on at the May 22, 2014, Metro board meeting. If approved, new fares would go into effect September 1st, 2014.

  • brianmojo

    They were obviously being rowdy, but ‘suspicion of disturbing the peace?’ Is that even a real charge?

  • Fakey McFakename

    Real crime, almost never prosecuted. Exists basically so police can arrest someone who’s being disruptive/rowdy. Long series of court cases dealing with misuse against protesters, but this one strikes me as probably just the right side of legal. You can protest all you like outside a meeting, but during a meeting, you need to abide by meeting rules and if you break them in a disruptive way, you can expect to be arrested (and then quickly released, although if this sort of thing led to an ICE detainer there would be an uproar).

  • Fakey McFakename

    To be honest, as long as there’s Prop 13 and state and federal underfunding of transit, fare hikes are going to be necessary. Does that mean they’re good? Of course not. Metro’s hands are pretty much tied. But it would be great if they include in the inevitable resolution approving the hike a statement of policy that fares should be as cheap as possible and that they will lobby for greater transit subsidies where possible.

    I hope they’ll also look at monetizing their assets more. They should sell more ads – not pretty, but better than a fare hike – and develop some of their absurd number of surface park and ride lots. The North Hollywood and Culver City parking craters are particularly egregious, and multistory parking structures plus mixed use developments would do wonders both for the neighborhoods and Metro’s bottom line. I guess they’re waiting for a better time or better partners, but it’s a big asset. The reason Hong Kong’s transit system is profitable (!) is its massive real estate holdings.

  • calwatch

    People already gripe about Transit TV. There is one solution to keep low fares, which no one ever talks about any more (not even John Fasana, who champions this) and that is contracting, a la Foothill Transit. Too many board members are in the pocket of the County Federation of Labor to ever allow this. Foothill Transit runs a LOT more service in the San Gabriel Valley, much of it poorly utilized, than Metro service in the San Fernando Valley, as evidenced by passengers per hour. Make the on time performance data open so people can judge reliability data (as the most common complaint of contracted service has been poor supervision and unclear chains of command when issues need to be resolved in the field).

    If the BRU wants low fares then ask them to support contracting out half of the system to a private company. In the past I’ve supported contracting out Rapid buses as there is a clear demarcation of service and baseline local routes remain. Of course, no one wants to touch that with a ten foot pole, not in labor friendly LA – but then you should expect to pay Bay Area type prices, not those more akin to places like Houston and Phoenix.

  • Foothill is I think nearing a size and complexity where contracting just can’t be sustained. It has already modified the original model by acquiring infrastructure (yards) and now gone in-house with management. Maybe we should see how the new contracting experiments in San Diego County and New York state play out and after a few years evaluate if they show it is viable.There are some real risks to contracting that the zealots who promote it often gloss over.

  • ubrayj02

    To call these fare hikes inevitable is absurd. Metro’s incompetent management of the real estate holdings it controls, its large (and I think unauthorized) use of Proposition C and A money to fund car-only infrastructure, and lots of financial fiasco’s like the TAP card system and the 710 freeway studies, are what need to be immediately look to for operating capital.

    Metro’s spending the fare increase on free freeway towing and $400 van pool subsidies every year (something like $20 million each year according to their published budget)/financial reports).

    There is nothing “inevitable” about fare increases when you see that kind of stupid car-only subsidy being maintained in the face of large transportation cost increases for LA’s working poor and downwardly mobile middle class.

  • DMalcolmCarson

    Why don’t they put the question to the voters as part of Measure “R2”? Include enough operating funds in the measures to keep avoid fare increases and inform voters that if the measure fails, the fare increases will go into effect.

  • Joe Linton

    Josef / @ubrayj02:disqus – Can u post links to the source documents for the costs for Vanpool and Freeway towing? I’d like to look into these.

  • Denny Zane is shopping equity and fare relief as an aspect of Measure R++. There was extensive discussion at the Conference last Friday.

  • The Board doesn’t vote until May. Eric Mann on Saturday demanded an audit with allegations much in line with your thoughts. Maybe you should call him and join common cause?

  • RTD in Denver has done extensive contracting, due to mandates by contracting proponents in the legislature. Has there been any analysis of cost/benefit versus in house operations?

  • Roadblock

    the BRU… cats paw for the auto industry…. I wish they would get their heads our of their….

  • DMalcolmCarson

    And thus my comment. Most of the fare increases are slated for after 2016 anyways. Why not hold out until at least November 2015, and then make the call from there?

  • A delay in the hopes of being rescued by uncertain funding doesn’t seem prudent. If relief occurs a fare rollback can always occur. I would imagine that projections of how expensive it would be to subsidize the current fare structure (much less lower or no fares as the BRU demands) may make R++ proponents leery of it gobbling too much of the possible new tax proceeds. From what I hear that RTD fifty cent fare for two years from Prop A in the early eighties consumed a huge amount of revenue that delayed the funding to construct the Blue Line. As it is a lot of stakeholders are hoping to get a piece of the R++ pie and there are limits to what it can fund.

  • DMalcolmCarson

    You’re getting more into the politics/policy of it, whereas I was really just trying to suggest a process that would potentially result in a better solution for everyone. I don’t know what you’ve “heard” about Prop A, but from what I’ve read, RTD ridership grew by 40% as a result of the reduction in transit fare from 85 to 50 cents. If it delayed construction of the Blue Line, it seems warranted in that I don’t believe that the Blue Line increased RTD/MTA ridership by anything close to 40%. But yeah, the particular amount of Measure R2 that should go towards holding down fares is something that I would think should be discussed (I don’t think anyone things zero, and few think 100%). My only point, however, is rather than establish this new fare structure that will govern the next nearly 10 years, and set off a wave of protests, civil disobedience, bad press, disrupted Metro meetings, bus riders organizing against Measure R2, why not just tweak a few things here and there to get to November 2016, and then put a proposal on the ballot that would in essence let the voters decide?

  • DarrellClarke

    I believe the Freeway Service Patrol was specifically funded in 1990’s Proposition C. Metro’s website makes general reference to it at http://www.metro.net/projects/measurer/proposition-c/ ; a quick search for the actual ballot text didn’t find anything that old online.

  • I think disruption for various reason is likely to happen whatever Metro does or does not do given certain priorities of the folks who live off bashing Metro. And an open ended subsidy to keep the fare as is could quickly become a fiscal nightmare. But since this is on the net maybe the Board members have seen it and will decide the wisdom of your counsel has convinced them this is the way to go. We’ll see when they consider the restructuring in May.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    How would contracting be cheaper? Contracting out services makes sense when there’s a service that private organizations are used to providing and government isn’t going to provide enough by itself to maintain a dedicated workforce. But bus driving isn’t like that. If contracting is going to save money, the only way I can imagine that is by just paying workers less, or cutting their benefits, or something else. There’s no obvious way a single monopoly provider of bus driving services would be any more efficient if it’s privately run than if it’s publicly run.

    If you really want to just cut wages of bus drivers, suggest that directly, rather than asking for a private company to do it and pocket half the difference for shareholders.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Why keep calling it a fare increase? It’s a fare cut for anyone who transfers on at least 1/8 of their rides.

  • calwatch

    What I could see happening is a fare freeze similar to Measure R should Measure R2 pass. So the 2014 fare increase would be implemented but the 2017 fare increase would be delayed for a year or two to use up the revenue. The problem with Measure R was that they froze senior/disabled/student fares for longer than they froze general fares. Thus this leads to greater increases on that population from an artificially lower starting point.

  • calwatch

    There is a cost savings through reduced wages, but NCTD found that even if they cut wages by a 30% amount they couldn’t maintain service. While NCTD has plenty of other issues going on with other aspects of the operation, the bus contracting has generally been successful. Sure many drivers chose to retire since they stopped earning pension credit, but many drivers continue to receive similar pay and pay was not cut for maintenance staff. http://www.apta.com/mc/annual/previous/2011/Presentations/Transition_to_Private_Contracting_MatthewTucker.pdf

    Other aspects of contracting include flexibility to add or subtract service as needed, innovative contractor-wide programs (i.e. DriveCam, standardized safety best practices) and company-wide training programs that can incorporate best practices from other properties in the country.

    Contracting out a selected part of the MTA system, like the rapid bus network (because it is operationally much simpler than the current piecemeal contracting) also can engender competition and innovation within the directly operated part of MTA. That is what is happening in San Diego, Orange County, and Denver.

  • andrelot

    The way most American transit agencies deal with regular fare increases that, in the long term, only keep in pace with cost inflation on the industry is absurd and byzantine.

    While major fare restructuring should be subject to lengthy proceedings and discussions, regular fare increases that keep up with costs should be just a normal part of business. At the very least, fare increases that keep up with general inflation should be an administrative pro-forma decision not needing to be politicized.

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