Metro Approves 25 Cent Base Fare Increase To $1.75 In September 2014

Fight For the Soul of the Cities demonstrators circle in front, before today's Metro board meeting. photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Fight For the Soul of the Cities demonstrators circle in front, before today’s Metro board meeting. photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Just over four hours into its marathon monthly board meeting, the Metro Board of Directors approved its much debated fare increase. Metro’s base transit fare will increase from $1.50 to $1.75 in September 2014. Weekly and monthly passes, and senior and disabled fares will also undergo similar increases. The fare increase motion passed with twelve in favor. County Supervisor Gloria Molina was the only board member voting opposed.

A few of the most painful impacts of the fare increase were mitigated by the Garcetti-Yaroslavsky-Ridley-Thomas amendment motion, which also passed in an amended form.

As has been the case during past fare increase debates, there was a long series of public speakers against increasing fares. Roughly one hundred speakers – students, seniors, parents, workers – urged the board not to balance its budget on the backs of the poor. Opposition was organized by the Bus Riders Union (BRU) and Fight For the Soul of the Cities (FFSC.) These groups made it clear that they did not support the small improvements in the amendment motion, but saw these as an attempt, in the words of BRU’s Barbara Lott-Holland, to  “create a wedge” splitting the opposition.

County Supervisor Molina was the lone board member to ally herself with the public opposition the fare increase. Molina proposed that the fare increase be deferred, and that Metro staff instead be tasked with finding a “one and one-half percent” cut to the operations budget. Molina’s motion failed, unable to secure support from a second board member. Mayor Garcetti offered to incorporate direction to staff to report back on operations budget trimming, but that report back ultimately was not included.

Board member and Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin shepherded a number of amendments that strengthened the Garcetti-Yaroslavsky-Ridley-Thomas amendment motion. These included:

  • Clarifying that student fares would remain frozen until the Metro board takes action to raise them. Bonin proposed also freezing senior fares; this was not adopted outright, but will come back for discussion at a future meeting. Metro staff reported that freezing student fares would cost the agency roughly $1.5 million annually, and senior fares, roughly $6 million annually.
  • Clarifying that planned 2017 and 2020 fare increases, postponed in the motion, would also come back to the Metro board for a decision prior to implementation.
  • Clarifying that base fare increases would only take place at the same time as implementation of the 90-minute 2-hour free transfer window. Though this seems implicit in Metro’s fare increase proposal, there’s apparently some rumor as to technical difficulties with TAP cards’ ability to facilitate the new free transfer window. This reporter was unable to confirm details, but there have apparently been Metro proposals floated internally that would implement the base fare increase promptly, and follow later with the free transfer window. With Bonin’s amendment, this will not be the case.

Streestblog will continue to follow and report on the fare increase implementation, and the outcomes of the Transit Ridership Best Practices Task Force formed by the amending motion.

  • I fully support the 25 cent increase tied to the new, much improved transfer policy. This is a win for quality transit at still-very-low cost to the user.

    Further increases are a different matter entirely, and they’ll have to justify those when the time comes. Given the extreme class divide among transit and non-transit users in LA (compared to most other cities I’ve used transit in) I think there’s a stronger case here for restraining price increases than many other transit-dependent cities. That said, inflation is a real thing so I think it’s unrealistic that people expect fares to never increase.

  • Juan Matute

    Joe – are transfers free for 90 minutes (your article) or 2 hours (Laura Nelson’s LAT piece & The Source). I’m inclined to trust SBLA over other sources, but I’m biased.

  • Joe Linton

    I will find out – the original Metro staff proposal was 90 minutes, but I’ve heard 2 hours batted around too.

  • Another factor is wage increases to prevent strikes. The ATU (representing mechanics and service attendants) just agreed to a deal that includes 3% for each of three years. UTU (bus and rail operators) is in the midst of talks and likely will expect comparable raises. So one can argue one benefit of the fare increase is labor peace and no strikes.

  • Dan Berez

    According to the document circulated at the hearing today, Metro changed the maximum transfer time to 120 minutes in response to public comment.

    12% of riders by cash and transfer. According to the Title VI report, and contrary to some of the comments made today at the hearing, cash paying riders are slightly more likely to be white and slightly less likely to how low-incomes compared to overall ridership.

  • It should be noted Bus Riders Union and Fight For the Soul of the Cities are simply two campaigns of the Labor Community Strategy Center, not separate organizations per se.

    Metro has been trimming administrative fat the past few years, at least according to the budget briefing I saw at the Metro Citizens’ Advisory Council meeting last night which belies Molina’s talk of consultants etc. General administration in FY2010 was $104 million and is budgeted in FY2015 at $61 million (p.2 of the handout I have included a link to below). Molina appears to have grabbed 1 1/2% out of the air and seemingly had no substance to back up her claim that such a cut can be done without consequences. She speaks of the need for service to be appealing to draw choice riders and increase revenue yet would cut operating funds as a means of keeping fares and passes low? No wonder she couldn’t even get a second for her motion. She says farebox recovery doesn’t matter, but one thing it helps make stark is the level of subsidy that service users enjoy.

    http://media.metro.net/board/Items/2014/05_may/20140522rbmitem53ahandout.pdf

    I think Pam O’Connor’s comment “Whether we raise the fares or keep them as are, that won’t address the core problem” of low wages makes me wonder why Fight for the Soul of the City has been AWOL amidst the debates about minimum wage.

    https://twitter.com/metrolosangeles/status/469539325634289664

  • John

    I found this comment on the article on the board hearing on Metro’s TheSource:

    Steve Hymon on May 22, 2014 at 5:22 PM said:

    Hi Alex;

    Yes, that’s my understanding of how they currently want to do it. Keep in mind, too, that the original proposal for the transfer period was 90 minutes and staff then changed to two hours after consideration of public comment.

    Steve Hymon
    Editor, The Source

  • Joe Linton

    2 hours it is (which is good news I was unaware of) – I’ve updated the story.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    That’s good to know – I was worried that people without access to TAP cards, and thus unable to take advantage of free transfers, would be disproportionately low income.

  • rickrise

    It seems to me that if Los Angeles can afford to rebate $500 million in taxes to private developers so they’ll build gaudy hotels downtown, it can afford to continue Metro’s current subsidy. To quote D J. Waldie’s recent article for KCET:

    “Los Angeles has a history of giving away tax revenue to build hotels so that larger trade shows will come to the convention center (justifying the construction of the hotel rooms). According to the Los Angeles Times, the city has already promised to return more than $500 million to downtown hotel developers. Naturally, they have come to depend on tax rebates — many lasting up to 25 years — to make their projects profitable.

    Tax subsidies to build 4,000 hotel rooms could mean another $200 million lost to the city’s general fund, not counting another $300 million in debt to expand the convention center. This is the irony of a downtown economy based on hotels, a convention center, and an entertainment complex (that might include a football stadium), every element of which requires giving away city revenues for decades to come.”

    Public transport probably should be thought of as a service in the same way that fire and police protection are. No one is billed for reporting a burglary at their home and initiating an expensive investigation. It’s part of what supports civilization. Some European cities have made transit free, at least in some parts of town, and seen city coffers fill up as the increased access to business drove up sales tax receipts.

    LA doesn’t, as far as I know, even use value-capture to allocate verified sales and property tax receipts created by development around Metro stations to the system that generated them. These should be seen as part of Metro’s balance sheet, along with the money saved by the spatial efficiency of buses and especially trains, which preclude the need for more vastly-expensive road-building in an era when we can’t even afford to repair the roads we have.

    Anyone who’s seen the crowds on the 710 or the Red Line at rush hour can imagine what the city would look like if all those folks were in cars….

  • Collin1000

    Asked this over on The Souce but figured I’d ask here too – I seem to recall a number floated around a while back about the percentage of people who would save money with the addition of free transfers. Anyone know what that amount is, and how much it’ll increase now that there’s a two hour window (in response to public comment)? I’m not sure how many people will be able to switch to cash fare instead of day/month pass now and save money since, for example, I can now do round-trip San Fernando Valley -> Long Beach for $3.50. I assume there are people on multi-transfer trips currently buying passes that will no longer need to do so with the new transfer policy.

  • calwatch

    50% of riders transfer. http://media.metro.net/projects_studies/research/images/annual_survey_results/system_results_winter_2013.pdf I think you will get a lot of day pass users shift to the stored value single fare. It’s a fare cut for thousands of people, and a fare freeze for the many Silver Line riders. Ironically it may encourage a more diverse ridership including more working and middle class people, because they aren’t turned off by the transfer penalty.

  • calwatch

    Indeed, Molina’s 1.5% cut means a loss of about 100,000 revenue service hours in bus and 16,000 RSH in rail. That 1.5% basically means less service in suburban areas (which already have been severely slashed in the last 10 years, as the graveyards of lines 119, 168, 170, 225, 226, and 626 can attest) or less recovery time for buses, making them even more unreliable. On the rail side, it would likely result in elimination of weekend and night-time service improvements of the last three years. While some of those improvements, like the every 10 minutes after 8 pm program, have been of dubious merit, it has broadened Metro ridership and, on the nights when the trains actually do run every 10 minutes, makes going Metro to late night events a lot easier.

  • Two things:

    1. The idea behind those tax rebates is that without them, the hotels don’t get built at all, and therefore don’t generate any new hotel tax revenue at all. 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing, in other words. It’s misleading to imply that without these tax rebates we would just keep that money in the city, because the starting point is zero new income at all.

    2. The city provides the hotel tax rebates, but Metro, a county organization, runs and funds the bus and rail service. Increased city revenue wouldn’t, and doesn’t, affect Metro’s budget.

  • rickrise

    My point is that city revenue that is generated by Metro infrastructure should in part be allocated to Metro. Metro’s rail infrastructure serves primarily (not only) City of Los Angeles neighborhoods at the moment, though that is fortunately changing.

  • I’m totally on board with value capture, but it’s an extremely uncommon practice in the US (and likely illegal in most jurisdictions) due in part to our nation’s values regarding the ownership and use of property. We’re a very, VERY long distance from a Hong Kong/MTR style system anywhere in this country.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Sounds like this could have been a reply to one of my comments on The Source. Do you have a link I can follow to view it? :-)

  • Collin1000

    Not only are 50% of riders transferring, but roughly 3/4ths of them (72%) make their connection within 15 minutes. I suspect a significant number of riders will end up saving money by shifting to stored value. This looks like a win for many.

  • SRK

    So in other words, I have no idea how the transfer works, so can we take the 68, 704, and the gold line during those 2 hours? Just curious.