Metro Board votes to raise most fares in September but postpones further increases in 2017 and 2020

The Metro Board of Directors voted Thursday to raise Metro bus and train fares no earlier than September 1 but declined to impose the agency’s staff recommendation for additional increases in 2017 and 2020. The Board also decided to freeze fares for students.

Under the new fares, the regular fare will rise from $1.50 to $1.75. The cost of a day pass will increase from $5 to $7, the weekly pass from $20 to $25, the 30-day pass from $75 to $100 and the EZ Pass from $84 to $110.

However, the new fares will include free transfers for two hours for those using TAP cards. This is unlike the current base fare which is only good for a single ride on a bus or train, no matter the length of that ride. For example, a rider who currently rides two buses to reach their destination and pays $3 (the cost of two $1.50 fares) would only pay $1.75 under the new fares as long as the second bus ride begins within two hours.

Metro CEO Art Leahy, who began his job in 2009, and many experts outside the agency have said that encouraging transfers is a far wiser and efficient way to run a transit agency, given that about half of Metro’s riders must transfer to complete their trips. The Metro Board voted to drop transfers in 2007 as a way to reduce fraud and raise revenues.

On Sept. 1, the senior/disabled regular peak-hour fare is scheduled to rise from 55 cents to 75 cents, with the non-peak senior/disabled fare rising from 25 cents to 35 cents. (However, the Board will again consider senior/disabled fares at the June meeting.) The day pass will change from $1.80 to $2.50, the 30-day pass from $14 to $20 and the EZ Pass from $35 to $42.

This is the fourth fare increase since 1993, when Metro began operating as a new agency. The last fare increase was in 2010 when the regular single-ride fare was increased from $1.25 to $1.50. Fares for seniors, disabled riders and students have not changed since 2007; the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008 froze those fares through mid-2013 and they remain at 2007 levels.

There were two key votes on Thursday.

First, the Board voted 12 to 0 with one abstention (by Board Member Gloria Molina) for a motion by Board Members Mark Ridley-Thomas, Eric Garcetti and Zev Yaroslavsky to postpone the 2017 and 2020 round of fare increases pending further analysis that also asks Metro to identify potential revenues that could offset the need for any more fare hikes.

In the second vote, the Board voted 12 to 1 to accept Metro’s staff proposal for fare increases for 2014. The vote against came from Gloria Molina.

Metro staff have said that fare increases were necessary to keep pace with rising operating costs and to avoid a budget deficit of $36.8 million beginning in 2016 and potentially rising to more than $200 million within a decade because of inflation and the increase cost of operating a transit system with more than 2,000 buses, 87 miles of rail (and many more miles on the way), van pools and other services.

Staff also have repeatedly pointed to two statistics: the average Metro fare — when discounts are factored in — is only 70 cents. And each fare only covers 26 percent of the cost of providing service. Metro officials say that they want that number to reach 33 percent to better cover expenses and to ensure that the agency continues to receive needed federal grants.

Metro currently has three rail lines under construction. Both the second phase of the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension are scheduled to open in early 2016 while the Crenshaw/LAX Line is forecast to open in 2019. Two other rail lines — the Regional Connector and the Purple Line Extension of the subway — will soon begin construction and are forecast to open in 2019 and 2023, respectively.

Discussion among members of the Metro Board revealed that many were highly uncomfortable with raising fares given the $16,250 median household income of the agency’s bus riders and $20,770 for rail riders. 

Board Member Eric Garcetti expressed disappointment that many low-income riders do not get discounted fares for low-income riders even though they qualify.

Gloria Molina offered the most pointed criticism of Metro, as she has in the past. Molina said that Metro has far more low-income riders than in other metro areas with vast transit systems. She criticized the agency’s efforts to reduce its subsidies for riders, saying it’s inappropriate in a region with so many low-income riders, many of which are making the minimum wage or less.

Instead, Molina offered a motion asking the agency to trim its operating budget by 1.5 percent, which she said would prevent the need for fare increases. That motion failed to secure a second from other Board Members. However, it was folded into the Ridley-Thomas-Garcetti-Yaroslavsky motion a request for Metro staff to determine what cutting 1.5 percent of the budget would entail and if it could be used to defer any fare increase.

And she said that Metro is not running a bus system effective enough to attract a diverse ridership that would raise more revenues. “You can’t ghettoize our buses,” Molina said.

The Board heard nearly two hours of public testimony before casting their votes. The prevailing sentiment from speakers — many from the Bus Riders Union — ran against raising fares.

One key factor in the fare discussions is a potential ballot measure that Metro is considering taking to Los Angeles County voters in 2016. Such a ballot measure — if approved, which is no easy task — could potentially raise more money for operating buses and trains, which the Ridley-Thomas-Garcetti-Yaroslavsky motion cites as funds that could possibly be used stave off the need for more fare increases.

On the other hand, the same ballot measure could also fund the acceleration and/or construction of more Metro transit projects, which in turn would raise operation costs. And a fare increase in close proximity to a potential ballot measure requiring two-thirds voter approval (under current law) could also be politically tricky.

94 replies

  1. I also have a question for Steve; for those taking advantage of the Silver 2 Silver program (Metro fares recognized on Foothill and vice versa for the Silver Line/Streak), would there still be a free transfer to Metro after getting off the Silver Streak?

    • Hi B. Kuo;

      Adding your question to the list! Best,

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. The only pros of this is saving money on transferring within 2 hours; but all these stupid fare rises are the cons

  3. I have one.

    In most other countries that use contactless card systems, cardholders are able to see their trip history online or at the TVMs so they know which line they took at what time and how much was deducted from the card, same way how people are able to check online how they used their credit or debit card.

    This will be invaluable to TAP card riders to check and see if the system is working in order and the proper amount was deducted and if not, have proof to ask for a refund.

    Will the new TAP website, if and whenever it’s supposed to go online, allow this feature? We don’t want to trust a fully automated system in it’s entireity. We want to make sure that we’re not going to be double charged for transfers within Metro and see that only the proper transfer fares are deducted when going from Metro-Muni and vice-versa.

  4. @Burbox Student fares are not going up. They are staying at $1. Senior fares are pending a motion to keep them frozen as well. This really isn’t a bad “fare increase” at all. It will make Metro ridership much more efficient and economical. It’s a “fair” fare increase. (Pardon the pun!)

  5. Why the large increase for EZ Pass riders? This hits BBB, Culver CityBus, and the other muni riders. Were notices even placed on their bus systems? Shouldn’t those riders be consulted too?

  6. They still need to add 24 hour train service or at least bus service to get late night workers or sports fans able to commute. They are raising the ez pass to same as ny but without 24 hour transportation

  7. I may be slow but if I am reading correctly, you are saying that for example, I ride MTB 10 to METRO 720 and back in the afternoon. So I do purchase a transfer, does this mean I dont have to do that anymore? My $1.10 in the morning and $1.50 in the afternoon will suffice?

    • Hi Dulce;

      I’m not 100 percent sure but I think muni-to-Metro rides still require a transfer. Let me check and we’ll have all the details soon,

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  8. TAP Concern makes a valid point. People are able to see their trip history and value deducted for the ExpressLanes, so TAP should too. I second this idea that TAP must show a balance and trip history functionality to check the valid fares and transfer fares were deducted.

  9. I agree with MEO.
    It’s like all the stuff Metro has been saying about traffic relief, being green/sustainable, and encouraging a more walkable city had been forgotten. I remember the reason why the Day Pass is still $5 is because Metro wanted to encourage ridership through the $5/gallon or $5 day pass campaign, but it’s going to be hard to keep up that campaign since gas won’t be $7.
    Also, with the increase in the base fare and the transfer price, as well as the huge leap in the EZ Transit Pass price, it appears Metro is expecting those who live in one of the many boundary zones where various transit agencies meet to subsidize the free transfers others will be enjoying.
    Finally, I don’t want to be mean to seniors, but isn’t $0.25 a bit too low right now? Metro’s gap between full fare and senior fare is the widest of all the agencies in the area, and will be among the widest in the country among major transit agencies (to use the same language Metro likes to use).

  10. Frank,

    Even if gas is $5 a gallon, it’s not like car drivers are actually paying $5 to travel.

    Fuel pricing on a car is based on:
    1. MPG fuel economy of the vehicle
    2. Travel distance
    3. Number of people per vehicle

    If a Toyota Prius hybrid gets 50 MPG and you travel a 5 miles on it,

    5 miles / 50MPG x $5/gal = $0.50 per mile

    The person driving the Toyota Prius is only paying $0.50 for that 5 miles, or less than $0.10 a mile. If the 50 MPG Toyota Prius is carpooling with 4 people including the driver, then it’s less than 2.5 cents per person per mile.

    Metro cannot compete with the cars or the oil companies. The car is just too convenient and gasoline is, even at $5 a gal, still too cheap than taking the bus, which is now going to cost $1.75 with no disparity between a person traveling one mile on it to one that travels 20 miles on it.

  11. And those who says they can’t afford a car could always buy a bicycle or learn how to ride a motorcycle. The car isn’t the only way to get around this city.

    If it’s a choice between spending $100 a month on a bus pass, one can easily buy or finance a cheap used motorcycle for less than $1,200, the annual cost of a monthly bus pass.

  12. […] The Board projects a $36,000,000 deficit next year. They say that if they don’t raise fares they’ll be forced to lay off 1,000 workers or cut 1,000,000 hours of service. I don’t buy it. These are scare tactics. Gloria Molina, the one member to vote against the fare hike, offered a motion to investigate ways to cut the budget in order to stave off the increase. She couldn’t even get someone to second the motion. For more info on the meeting and the rate hike, you can access the MTA’s newsletter by clicking here. […]

  13. The MTA has one of the lowest fares in the United States. As were seeing right now five hundred new buses are coming on line. Ask yourselves would you rather pay a little more and have reliable service or stick with the older buses which have a higher chance to break down including stuck wheelchair lifts?

  14. mike dunn,

    And is there any absolute guarantee that this will be the last of the fare increase? No, of course not.

    And at what point do we say increasing flat rate fares is not plausible? When we reach $5.00 per ride with transfers whether or not one travels a mile or 20 miles?

    “We have the lowest fares in the United States” is just masking the true problem at hand – flat fare based system are doomed to failure.

  15. I’m sorry if this has been asked and answered but even after reading through the comments I am unclear about outer-agency transfers. If I wanted to transfer to a Culver City or BB Bus, would my fare of $1.75 cover that transfer or are transfers valid for inter-agency only.

    • Hi Krista,

      That hasn’t been answered yet, but we’ve put it on the list given to Metro staff! We’ll have a sort of FAQ posted in the next few weeks, so stay tuned as we try to make sure everyone gets the info they need.

      Thanks,

      Anna Chen
      Writer, The Source

  16. @Jack S.,

    I see three issues with your cost per mile breakdown.

    First, it only accounts for fuel cost, correct? If so, it does not account for maintenance and upkeep, insurance, and annual license/registration fees which would bring the cost per mile much higher.

    Second, It’s also based on the fuel economy of a Toyota Prius which, while the best-selling new car in the state, most motorists do not enjoy that kind of fuel economy.

    Third, commuters that carpool are vastly outnumbered by those who drive solo, therefore for most everyone the cost per mile is not divisible.

    I do think you’re hitting on something important, though. What you infer is that commuters will opt for their automobile over Metro, and from my experience, that’s true, but for a different reason. Metro is, at least at this point, time-inefficient for many commuters.

    Taking the Expo line from Culver City to DTLA clocks in about 30 minutes, which when you figure time spent in traffic and parking, then walk or cab to your destination has been from my experience a wash, Metro comes out on top because of the major price advantage, especially if you figure in a pay lot.

    Transferring through downtown, however, is another story. While looking for a way to take Metro from my house in Culver to my office in Duarte, round trip via car was ~2 hours compared to 6 on the Metro. When I transferred to Burbank, round trip via car was ~1.5 hours compared to 3 on the Metro.

    Compare that to when I lived in Chicago, a 20-minute, six-mile trip from my Lincoln Park apartment to my office in River North amounted to about 30 minutes on the El, accounting for walking to and from the station. The savings on parking, lot fees, and of course the occasional ticket made CTA a no-brainer.

    I love public transportation and prefer it to driving a car, but there are simply not enough hours in the day.

    While a major factor is geography–Los Angeles’ land mass is 65% larger than New York City but with a third of the population, hence farther distances between points A and B. Additionally, cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and D.C. have urban hubs that most all commuters travel toward. In L.A., commuters go every which way.

    Some of this will be eased by the addition of more lines and more trains on the existing lines, but I don’t think we’ll ever see the time gap between driving and Metro close to what other U.S. cities enjoy.

  17. “And she said that Metro is not running a bus system effective enough to attract a diverse ridership that would raise more revenues. “You can’t ghettoize our buses,” Molina said.” I take Metro as a conscious decision not to drive even though I have a car. I live fairly close to Wilshire, but once you are no longer in walking distance of Wilshire or SM Blvd, trying to catch a bus especially going north/south is extremely difficult. But I’m at the point where I am thinking of driving again and contributing to traffic instead of riding Metro. I personally don’t care how new the buses are or whether they install free wifi or tv on the buses. If you don’t want to ghettoize and you want to attract a diverse (or shall we say it), upper middle income riders, your buses not only need to arrive more frequently, but your drivers need to have a better attitude. Because let’s face it, in general, people with more money will complain about arrival times and customers service. People with more money have options. Your Metro trip planning app I’d say is about 70% accurate informing when the next bus will arrive. But Metro also has too many short lines or limited service lines. It’s frustrating having to wait for 720 Santa Monica to show up even though two 720 Westwood has already passed you by. The Rapid buses are not rapid when you have to wait 20min. And again, your bus drivers I swear almost never smile when you board, and if they see someone running towards the bus, they purposely shut the door and take off. I think it makes them happy to see people stranded. You want to cater to a diverse crowd? Good luck with that type of attitude. Metro buses are nicer than SF buses. SF buses are old and seem a bit rundown. But whenever I am in SF, their buses arrive more often, and I am always surprised at how much nicer their drivers are. That’s more important to me.

  18. A compilation of the concerns so far involve this section of the fare hike:

    “However, the new fares will include free transfers for two hours for those using TAP cards.”

    Metro needs to clarify this with what constitutes a “free transfer” very clearly, using plain English and with pictograms for the non-English speaking populace. Metro cannot simply use “oh but it’ll be $1.75 with a free transfer so you get a better deal” when there are bunch of exceptions.

    ISSUE #1:
    A roundtrip is not counted as a free transfer. One cannot use a Metro Bus to go to the supermarket, and use the bus on the return as the “free transfer.” This needs to be spelled out and drawn out specifically. I’m sure this will raise the most vocal opposition from the poor who now will be forced to pay $3.50 just to go buy a gallon of milk to their nearest supermarket. It’s essentially placing a $3.50 tax for the poor just to go buy groceries.

    ISSUE #2:
    The free transfer is based on “one direction.” This needs to be spelled out as well. However, what constitutes “one direction” is up in the air and has yet to be defined. Can one get off the bus, do some grocery shopping, and get back on the bus in the same direction to complete their journey? That is “one direction.” Unless Metro has more exceptions like a transfer does not include riding the same bus in the same direction. Again, something they need to spell out correctly.

    ISSUE #3:
    And the issue with TAP cards. We all know how quirky this TAP system is. Even today it’s incapable of doing interagencies transfers properly with proper transfer fares deducted. The issue of how transfers fares are deducted under a “free transfer but with exceptions” system is going to work under TAP.

    ISSUE #4:
    And how much trust does the riders have in the TAP system? Again, we all know how the roll out and the management of TAP has nothing but a disaster with poor implementation. How can Metro expect the public to trust TAP that it’ll deduct the proper fares without being double charged? Will people be able to view their trip history and fare deductions online? If a double charge occurs, is there a SOP to get a proper refund?

    Metro just opened up a whole bunch of can worms. They asked for a fare hike with a free transfer deal, they got it, now they have to deal with the specifics.

  19. I’ve yet to see how much the zone fares are increasing. In previous fare hikes, the zone fares also increased….which meant, in the last increase, the P5 EZ Pass increased from $160 to $194. Now, with another $26 increase to the EZ Pass, that means the P5 Pass will increase to at least $220 dollars. The zone fares are $22 per zone currently…what will they be as of September 1? Prior to 2007, the P5 EZ pass was $133. I realize fare increases are inevitable, the cost of everything increases eventually, but an increase of nearly $100 in 7 years…that seems a bit steep.

  20. the EZ pass increase is heinous. Did anyone consider that some of us who have to commute the longest distances with transfers between carriers are the ones who are worse off? thank you MTA, you have effectively killed me and I’m sure many others. I might as well shoot myself in the head right now since I won’t be able to survive come September.