One of the more maddening parts of covering and discussing the mass transit system in Los Angeles is a fare structure that, quite honestly, doesn’t make a lot of sense. Fares vary wildly depending on whether one is riding Metro or a local system. Transfers are rare among agencies, and difficult for new riders to figure out on Metro. If you have to transfer between buses, it can cost you more to go a mile with a couple of transfers than it would to go from North Hollywood to Long Beach via train.
And let’s agree to not even talk about places such as Santa Monica Boulevard, where short line service will force a transfer, and a new fare, even if you’re traveling in a straight line.
“The current system is not equitable,” commented Transit Coalition Executive Director Bart Reed in a phone interview.
So, Metro is trying to create an equitable fare system that also raises more money for the agency.
The Metro Board of Directors has a history of avoiding fare increases. “Fare Hike” headlines make for bad press, on Streetsblog and elsewhere. It’s also never easy or fun to stare down a room with hundreds of angry and desperate yellow-clad protestors and vote to make their lives a little harder.
In addition, Metro’s operations budget is not in line with what the Board has demanded it should be. When it passed a Long Range Transportation Plan in 2010, the Board of Directors set a 33% “farebox recover ratio.” That means one-third of the cost of operating buses and trains should be paid by passengers.
The current farebox recovery ratio is 26%. This means a $37 million deficit in 2017 that would have to be addressed by either a traditional fare hike, cuts to the number of buses run, or something else. Of course, the largest transit advocacy agency in the county, the Bus Riders Union, rejects that argument and instead pushes for operating dollars to come in greater volume from Measure R and other transit taxes. The BRU did not respond to a request for comment
And so, with a gap in the operating budget and fewer and fewer transit lines left to cut, Metro staff prepared a report on a fare restructuring proposal that appears to fix some of the structural problems with Metro’s flat fare, transition to modern fare collection, create a more equitable system, and increase revenue.
As Reed notes, “You can’t keep cutting the service until there’s nothing left. You have to figure out a different model to make things sustainable.”
Maybe a combination of distance and time based fares is the “different model.”
Here’s how it would work. Instead of the $1.50 flat fare, Metro moves to a combination of time-based and distance-based fares. A time based fare would allow limitless transfers between Metro lines during a short period of time, say 90 minutes. This will open up Metro for people who don’t use the bus lines because it can be too expensive with multiple transfers. It also makes round trips to locations such as the grocery store less expensive, assuming one can get in and out of the store in a short period of time. Read more…