On Transportation column, May 10 edition

Next stop, Culver City: Some good news this week with Expo Line test trains running all the way to the end of phase 1 of the project in Culver City. No opening date to Culver City has yet been announced, but the start of testing is a good sign.

A couple thoughts:

•As readers pointed out, having a giant parking lot next to the Venice/Robertson station may not be the highest ideal when it comes to urban planning. But it’s a very short walk to both downtown Culver City and the Helms Bakery complex and I think it’s overall good for the project to have some parking near Expo stations for those who don’t live near the line. I’d rather have someone drive to transit than not take transit at all.

•The Helms complex is home to Father’s Office, which in my view remains home of the best burger in the Southland. They also have an outstanding beer menu. Good burgers + good beer + good transit = win.

In 2008, the political debate over Measure R largely concerned which transit and road projects would get funding. In 2012, the current proposal seeks to limit that debate. Will it? Stay tuned.

Heads up to extremely cool event: The eighth and final stage of the Amgen Tour of California bike race is Sunday, May 20. The 42.6-mile stage begins in downtown Beverly Hills, travels through Hollywood and ends with five laps of a five-mile circuit in downtown Los Angeles with the finish line at L.A. Live.

In addition, from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. that morning, cyclists are free to ride the downtown L.A. part of the circuit. All abilities are welcome — more details here.

With many street closures for the race, it will be a good day to either ride your bike downtown or take Metro Rail there. Take your pick: the Expo Line, Gold Line, Blue Line, Red/Purple Line subway, Metrolink and Amtrak all serve downtown.

Revising Metro fares: For many moons now, some Source readers have been clamoring for Metro to revise its fares and charge riders based on the distance they travel. Some readers even suggest that by lowering fares for short trips, Metro will pick up many new riders who currently shun riding, resulting in greater revenues for the agency.

Sorry, but I don’t see it happening here in Los Angeles County or any other major metro area. As far as I know, there isn’t a major transit agency in the U.S. that in recent times — which is synonomous with hard economic times — that has dropped its base fare to lure more short haul riders.

Why not? Probably because it doesn’t pencil out very well: Metro would have to gain an awful lot of new riders to offset the loss of revenue that, with a 28 percent fare recovery ratio, it can’t afford to do.

That’s not to say that distance-based fares will never happen. As the rail system expands, it’s likely that Metro staff and the Board will look at the economics of the current system because in a few years it will be possible (under current operating plans) to ride a single train from Santa Monica to East L.A. or the same train from Long Beach to Azusa.

In the meantime, the best solution for Metro riders who make many frequent short trips is to purchase a monthly pass for $75. If you take 20 short single bus or train rides each week, that breaks down to less than a dollar per ride.

17 replies

  1. “When you start asking around, you’ll likely get the answer “the bus isn’t all that cheap,” so they still stick to driving cars, riding bicycles…”

    Bingo. That’s exactly why I mainly ride my bike.


  2. “Metro would have to gain an awful lot of new riders to offset the loss of revenue that, with a 28 percent fare recovery ratio, it can’t afford to do.”

    Speaking from my experiences alone from riding public transit in many Asian transit cities that uses a distance based fares, is that there tends to be higher number of ons and offs the buses and rails. A lot more people are willing to get on the bus, ride it for a few short kilometers, and then get off. As such, cheaper distance based fares encourages lots of quick, short trips, which overall increases ridership numbers.

    Ridership numbers can’t be measured by how full the buses or trains are visually, they have to be measured by how many people get on and off at each bus station or bus stop.

    Having one bus full of 100 passengers over the course of longer distances only brings in $150 in revenue to Metro.

    Having one bus that has 500 on and offs over its course under a distance fare system which encourages short runs and more ons and offs brings in a lot more revenue.

    In other words, the potential loss of revenue, is offset substantially with the increase in transit riders that ride it for shorter, quicker trips which has a higher ons and offs.

    On the other hand, in many flat rate systems like here in LA, more riders tend to use the system for longer trips with very few people getting off over the course of the whole line. Flat rate fares don’t really encourage short, quick trips so more riders tend to use the system over longer distances. That’s why the buses always look full, yet Metro still cannot recuperate their costs; there’s not as many people that get on and off. And when the buses are full because it discourages people from getting off to do short runs, it ends up discouraging people from taking the bus, or even the bus driver having no choice but to skip a bus stop even when there’s a person waiting there because the bus is so full.

    In the end, having a bus full of 100 passengers that ride it over a longer course of distance with very few people getting off until towards the end of the ride, only brings in very few revenue to Metro.


  3. After listening to both side of the arguments, I think it’s worth testing out distance based fares.

    If there are no other American cities that have done it, we could be the first one to prove or disprove the concept with hard data. There’s no reason why we have to follow the failing examples of other American cities just because everyone else is doing it.

    If LA is different, then we shouldn’t be scared of trying out new ideas. Using excuses and not even trying make us no different than the deadbeat politicians in Washington.

    Try it out on the Red Line for the trains since they already have gates that can do tap-in and tap-outs. The Red Line is just the right length to test it out. If distance based fares on the Red Line did increase revenues for Metro, then start implementing that to all of our light rails. If not, then abandon it. That’ll be the end of it.

    But if it works, then next try it out on the Orange or Silver Line buses because they’re BRTs that are similar to light rails. If it works out on the BRTs as well, then there would be good cause to roll that out to all of our bus services.

    It’s far better to test it out now on the Red Line as a starting point to gather test data, than spending billions more trying to test and implement it years later when the rail system has expanded.


  4. Count me in as a person who has gave up on Metro except for when traveling longer distances as my short commute to the Beverly Center isn’t worth the cost of buying a Metro Pass.

    When it comes to transit planning, I’d give more credibility to someone who has a Ph.D. in Urban Transit Development and written a college level textbook about it than just simple tossing the suggestion out with a simple “no one else is doing it the America, that’s why we won’t either.”

    If the professor who wrote the book in public transit says that flat rate fares only hurts short distance riders and with complaints here saying that realistically they are, wouldn’t that be a probable cause for Metro to study this matter seriously?

    Besides, Metro is paid with tax dollars and short distance commuters in Los Angeles are tax payers too. Listening to our concerns is part of Metro’s responsibility as a public agency.


  5. Im not sure Metro is going to be doing any trial fare changes on any part of they system any time soon given the recent FTA investigation Metro received regarding it’s deficiencies in fully analyzing its fare changes since 2010

    “The Compliance Review found that Metro was deficient in preparing fare equity studies for fare changes approved and implemented since 2010. Metro prepared and submitted to the FTA a proposed methodology for conducting the required fare equity analysis in the CAP. An updated methodology incorporating input from the BRU (Bus Riders Union) with the Updated CAP on February 29 2012.”



  6. Here we go with “been there; done that”:
    Back in the 1980’s the SCRTD changed the fare system wide. For one full fare price for all, you could request a transfer for NO EXTRA CHARGE. That transfer was good for a number of hours after issue, and it could be used UNLIMITED number of times (unlimited number of transfers to other lines), even for opposite direction of travel on the same line (the transfers did not have any info identifying what line issued it nor any other directional info, JUST the time of expiration that day). Essentially, a lot like a day pass. WOW, it really was in incredible value, I taking great advantage of it because of the savings. I can’t remember clearly, but I seem to remember no additional charge for subsequent use, but it was a long time ago, so at worst maybe a 25 cent fare for each use until expiration.

    Alas, that didn’t last long. I’m not certain if lasted only a year or so, but I do remember it was a mighty short time before we back to the OLD and still used transfer with its limitations designed to have you pay full fare TWICE. However, today’s day pass provides a good value and benefits (for multiple transfers, anyway) , so we do have something like that.

    Once again, there are hardly any “new” ideas or innovations that LA transit agencies haven’t tried, but too many newbies to LA don’t know that.


  7. @Bobby McGee
    When Metro did away with transfers and went to its current fare system, all they did was apply what NY was doing because “anything that NY does, it has to be good,” neverminding the fact that LA is very different from NY.