First, this caution: there are zero proposals on the table at the moment to change fares or the fare structure at Metro.
That said, Metro staff have released a new report looking at different fare structures at other transit agencies and how they may work or not work for Metro. The report mostly deals with hypotheticals of time- and distance-based fare structures; a more detailed look will be provided to the Board of Directors of Metro soon.
Time-based systems usually allow a passenger to ride the system for a set amount of time, including a free transfer or transfers. Distance-based systems charge higher fares for rides that cover greater distances.
At this time, Metro charges a base fare of $1.50 that is good for a single ride on one line. If you transfer, then you pay another base fare. Different types of passes help put a dent in the cost — a $6 day pass, for example, allows for unlimited daily rides and transfers — but the bottom line is that those without passes who must transfer have to pay $3 to reach their destination.
The gist of it is that both systems would have their challenges with Metro, although it appears both types of fare structures could be implemented with the fare equipment Metro currently has. Staff also indicated that time-based fares would likely require a higher base fare to protect the revenues the agency needs to keep running its buses and trains. Other agencies that have free transfers typically have higher base fares than Metro.
We did our own poll on this in May and 45 percent of those responded said they would be willing to pay a higher fare in order to receive a free transfer. This is consistent with results Metro has received with its own customer surveys.
It will be interesting to see if this goes anywhere. I am personally not crazy about the current system because I think it penalizes someone who has to take a relatively short ride on one line to reach another line. That said, I think the most critical part of this debate is going to be protecting agency revenues. Metro currently subsidizes 71 percent of the cost of each ride on its system and wants to reduce that number to 67 percent so the agency has the funds to run the projects funded by Measure R.
Anything that gets in the way of that, I suspect, will be a non-starter. For other viewpoints outside the agency, I recommend checking out this post at L.A. Streetsblog.