Metro staff report looks at issues involving potential ballot measure to accelerate and fund transportation projects

First, the caveat: The Metro Board has not — emphasis on the HAS NOT part — decided to take a ballot measure to Los Angeles County voters.

That said, in recent months, both the Board as a whole and individual members have said they want to explore the idea of taking a ballot measure to voters in 2014 or 2016. Furthermore, the Board has instructed Metro to ask local cities what kind of transportation projects that may want funded in such a measure.

As the above Metro staff report explains, there are still many decisions to be made.

Perhaps the most significant: should a ballot measure seek an extension of Measure R to accelerate projects? Or should it perhaps be a new sales tax to provide more money for some Measure R projects and perhaps pay for some new ones?

Some quick background. The Measure R half-cent sales tax increase was approved by 68 percent of county voters in Nov. 2008. The Measure R expenditure plan spread money around to many transit and road projects across the county.

In some cases, Measure R provides most of the money needed to build a project — a good example is the second phase of the Expo Line. In other cases, Measure R only provides partial funding and not enough money for more expensive project alternatives and segments.

As for timing, the California gubernatorial election is on the Nov. 2014 ballot while the U.S. presidency will be decided in Nov. 2016. At present, a county transit ballot measure requires two-thirds approval for passage, which in turn usually requires high turnout to achieve. More people participated in the Measure R vote in ’08 than the Measure J vote in ’12 (Measure J would have extended Measure R another 30 years — i.e. to mid-2069).

There was an effort in the state Legislature to lower that threshold to 55 percent. But it didn’t get anywhere and was tabled for future discussion. Lowering the threshold so that it applies to a Nov. 2014 election therefore becomes a big challenge.

Please read the report — there are a lot of different aspects to this; the report is scheduled to be discussed in the Board’s Planning Committee on Wednesday afternoon.

We’ll see where the conversation goes. In my view, the narrow loss of Measure J last year, with 66.1 percent approval, indicates there is still pretty strong support around the area for the Measure R.

24 replies

  1. I think Metro is overly addicted to taxes as a solution to their problems!

    There is a better way: make public transit profitable.

    Sadly, Metro inherently believes that this is impossible to do because there are no transit systems in the US that makes profit. And they stop thinking right there when all they have to do is look outside the US for profitable mass transit systems.

  2. Sales taxes in LA county are already among the highest in the country. What we really need–both for revenue and also for traffic mitigation–are tolls on the major area freeways (405, 10, 110) with congestion-based prices.

    I’m willing to bet that if we had tolls on the 405 for the past five years we’d already have enough for a rail tunnel through the Sepulveda pass.

  3. Although I’m not an Angeleno, if given the opportunity to vote to raise taxes for better mass transit, I would vote yes. Having said that, though, LA29298 has a good idea for raising much needed cash for transit–congestion-based pricing into DTLA, as well as making motorists pay tolls to drive freeways. I think that would do two things: (1) encourage more people to use riding Metro buses and trains and (2) force motorists to pay to ride on LA’s freeways. In both cases, it would result in more money being raised to fund transit without using tax dollars.

  4. Like good roads, public transit is a loss leader for the economy. our goal shouldn’t be to make it profitable, rather to make it functional so it is used and eases congestion. Our local economy suffers due to congestion.
    I won’t vote for this tax measure if it is used to expand the freeways or impose/extend congestion pricing on more highway miles near/into the city core. That would only add to the roadway congestion we already suffer from.
    Also, to another commenter’s point, I live along the 10 and dislike the express lanes. It only gives an extra lane to people wealthy enough to pay, and just as bad penalizes casual users of the diamond lanes who may have 3 people in the car. We all pay gas taxes and should have equal rights to the lanes without being forced to pay extra. Otherwise, we should turn the entire system into toll roads like in some eastern states.
    If Metro is serious about resolving congestion along the 10, it would double track metrolink to increase its ability to operate more efficiently and give commuters a better option than metrolink provides today. similarly, metro should find a way to bring light rail up the 405 from long beach to van nuys or Woodland Hills with a stop in LAX (mayor garcetti controls the airport and had a significant voice on the metro board to get an airport station done – if he wants).

  5. Voting no if it comes up.

    We already pay the highest taxes in the nation and all it does is driving more businesses away from our state. And what’s it doing? Roads are pothole ridden as ever and only ones getting richer are the greedy public employee unions who ask for more to fund their pensions and benefits.

    We need to be lowering taxes to bring back jobs to CA, not raising them so that it drives them away!

    Taxes are not the answer. If Metro did their job to actually go after fare evasion, to collect money from riders for all these years instead of relying on the honor system, we wouldn’t be in this mess!

  6. I agree we should make transit profitable.

    The loss leader idea has been tried for years without any significant results. It’s time we start looking at other ideas that work.

    If public transit can be made for profit like they do in Asia, then it can help pay for it’s own infrastructure developments.

    Toll the freeways. Increase parking fees. Move to distance based fares. Let Metro become property developers themselves. A lot of things can be done without resorting to more taxes.

    Besides, all this talk about raising taxes is going to do jack today. More people will just buy more things off the internet. Why buy from a local BestBuy when you can go online and buy something out of state that ships free and without sales taxes?

  7. It’s technically not a tax hike, rather and extension of an already existing tax. Measure R has been extremely beneficial to the extension of our regional train system. It has helped pay for several new train routes (Westside, Crenshaw, Expo, Gold Line, and regional connector) by having a stable source of revenue (visa-vis the tax) brilliantly set up to accelerate the program 20+ years (by borrwoing against the fixed revenue stream). It’s actually a really smart way to fund projects.

    The only significant Measure R use for a freeway has been the widening of the 405 which is a complete waste of resources – most Angelenos agree.

    But we need to take steps to ensure building trains routes continue as it IS working and ridership has continued to increase as more options open. This program needs to be extended.

  8. I agree that raising taxes is not the cure all solution. Whenever they have a problem, they keep coming back to taxpayers over and over again. It’s become an addiction to borrowed money that is plagued by the Baby Boomer generation currently in power. They need to look at cutting costs first.

    I’m sure with the way so many things that government runs inefficiently there’s all sorts of ways to reduce costs.

    Has Metro considered changing all their lights to more environmentally friendly and energy efficient LED lighting? Think of the savings Metro will get from lower electricity costs!

  9. A lot of misinformation in the comments. The 405 project is paid for by the federal government almost completely. It is part of the interstate system and funded by fuel taxes not Measure R.

    The comments about going after fare evasion would result in not needing taxes to build new Metro Lines is way off the mark. Since the faregates have been installed you are looking at a few extra million in revenues less the cost of the faregates. You can’t build a billion dollar rail line on that.

    Finally, the comment on we need double tracking on the San Bernardino Metrolink line but not Toll or Hot Lanes. Well, you can use the Hot Lane revenue to fund some of the double tracking. Without that, it is probably a long shot as there is little revenue for Metrolink improvements, although Measure R had a little.

  10. Matt,

    Latching up all the gates makes us prepared to ensure revenues are collected as ridership increases and as more stations and lines get built. You have to look at the ridership numbers in the future of LA instead of just looking at the picture today.

    Furthermore, there’s always the possibility of moving to variable fare structures. Variable fare structures are proven to be more profitable than flat rate fare structures.

    We have the gates already in place to do that. More fare revenues can be collected once we move to distance or time based fares which are more proven to be more profitable for transit agencies than flat rate fares.

  11. The tax should be a new sales tax to provide more money for some Measure R projects and pay for some new ones that are already being studied but, not funded yet.

  12. Metro recently ran an article on Google’s driverless technology which is just around the corner.

    Has Metro considered the significant labor cost savings by making their own Metro buses run on Google driverless technology?

    Think about it: no more bus drivers, no more union strikes, no more pension demands, no more benefits, the cost savings will be huge!

    That alone would save Metro millions in overhead costs each year that can be used for other important things like renovating the old Blue Line stations, grade separating lines, adding more fare gates to stations that are ungateable today, etc.

    With so much going on with technology just over the horizon, taxes won’t be needed because everything will be more convenient and cheaper, not only for individuals, but for corporations and government agencies alike.

  13. Any future measure should include a stable funding source for Metrolink. The region needs a usable Regional Rail system with at least hourly service all day, nights and weekends.

  14. I think all options have to be explored before considering a tax hike.

    First we need to see the full financial results of latching the gates. This has not been done yet. In fact, not all the stations that are to be gated has been gated yet. Is there a significant revenue increase from latching up the gates?

    We also have yet to see the full extent of how successful the Metro ExpressLanes project was as well. We’re still in a pilot phase until end of February 2014. Are there big revenue increases that outweighs the maintenance fee waiver? If so, can some of that money be redirected to Metro projects?

    Metro is also looking at distance or time based fares to boost up their revenues. We have not done this yet so that’s another reason why it’s too early to talk about raising taxes. But if revenues does increase, then wouldn’t there be no need for taxes?

    One poster above also provided a great idea – Metro should look into talking with Google to test out driverless buses. That’s a significant cost savings to free up precious cash right there too.

    Or how about freeing up cash from other local government sources? Like one poster said, there’s bound to be wasteful spending here and there that could be put to better use to fund mass transit projects.

    All these alone surely won’t be much to fund transit. But add them all up, who knows, we might end up with billions saved up to fund transit too. A drop of water by itself is a drop of water, but place a bucket underneath and soon you’ll have a bucket full of water!

  15. Is there a reason transportation is constantly funded with sales taxes? Can’t some of it be through property taxes, or possibly even an income tax? I suppose the downtown streetcar had a proposed property tax – perhaps Metro could propose something similar on property within a mile of new rail stations (graduated so that there’s very little tax increase on distant properties, and more so on ones right by the station) so that it’s actually taking funding from places where it is creating value.

  16. Also, driverless buses would be a huge cost savings (and more importantly, they would allow buses to run all night at decent frequencies) but it’ll be at least several years before driverless technology is allowed as more than just an experiment, and it will take a while for the public to start allowing big buses to run it rather than just cars.

  17. Google driverless buses is a great idea. And LA is a great place to test out that idea too.

    Yesterday, Mayor Eric Garcetti said that LA’s the best place to test out Google’s driverless technology and that he wishes to have not only bus only lanes but also driverless car lanes.

    Why not put the two together and have Google driverless buses?

    The cost savings will be huge if we can get rid of all those rude bus drivers. They can’t even figure out how to turn down the volume of Transit TV or deduct day passes from stored value for Pete’s sake! And all they do is threaten the public with union strikes to increase their costly pension demands. Just let Google technology do the bus driving and all these problems will be gone! If it can work for cars, it can work for buses too.

    Can’t Metro test this out by working together with Google?

  18. The idea that latching the gates are going to generate mega-millions or even somehow Billions of Dollars for Metro are not examining the facts very well because it won’t; just do some research or look at past blogs at the Source.

    The simplest thing that the Metro Board could do is extend Measure R indefinitely with no sunset provision and figure out a way to bond against future tax receipts, which is what Mayor Villaraigosa wanted to do with the “Fast Forward” concept he was advocating and is something that Metro is still looking at.

    The politics of which lines to build or extend could then be sorted out later by the usual wheeling and dealing.