Register now for tonight’s Zocalo Forum talk with Metro CEO Phil Washington

phil washington - Luis photo 2 - DSC_6289Look into the future at 7 p.m. tonight,  Aug. 19, as Metro CEO Phil Washington joins moderator Conan Nolan of NBC4 TV News on the Plaza of el Pueblo de Los Angeles in downtown L.A. for a special one-man, one-hour Zocalo Public Square Forum.

It’s nearing 100 days since Washington arrived at Metro. Prior to his arrival he was CEO of the Regional Transportation District which serves the Greater Denver metro area. But his roots are on the south side of Chicago, where he grew up riding transit before embarking on a 24-year career in the U.S. Army. There he earned the highest non-commissioned officer rank an enlisted person can achieve.

At Metro, Washington presides over projects that aim to change the face of mobility for our region, including five new rail lines under construction, the widening of the I-5 Freeway and a countywide bikeshare program.

What does Washington think L.A. County’s transit priorities should be and how on earth can we pay for them? What’s his vision for the future?

Find out tonight, Aug. 19, 7 to 8 p.m. in the Plaza on Olvera Street, just across the street from Union Station in downtown L.A.

13 replies

  1. Hello, We have reservations but cannot attend. Please give them to someone else. Thanks, Tom Savio

  2. “Our fares are the cheapest in the country”

    Of course, the alternative view is that it’s not so cheap if you consider the vast majority of the riders on Metro are low income and do not travel far. A buck-seventy five sounds cheap if you’re taking a long one-way trip from East LA to Santa Monica, but $3.50 for a roundtrip fare just to go to the neighborhood supermarket, not so much.

    And do you think the vast majority of low income riders on Metro have a need to go to the beach everyday or to the supermarket?

    • $1.75 is still not very much at all. In a city where Min. wage is headed to $15 a hour it is almost nothing. When I was earning Min. wage in the late 80’s of $4.25 an hour, the bus fare was $1.00. It would have to go to around $3.00 now to be equal to those days so we have a long way to go, but people love to complain and whine about unfair everything is now.

      • “When I was earning Min. wage in the late 80’s of $4.25 an hour, the bus fare was $1.00.”

        Of course, if you state that you somehow managed to survive in the 1980s with $4.25 with a bus fare of $1.00 so that people today should quit complaining, I can offer these changes that happened since then:

        1. LA is a lot more populous and denser today than the 1980s
        2. People are living a lot more closer to the city
        3. People are living more closer to their jobs
        4. People want everything close by than being spread out all over the place
        5. A large majority of Angelenos are renters
        6. Home ownership is out of reach for many Angelenos due to the ridiculous housing prices and lack of supply
        7. A large portion of Angelenos’ incomes today disappear to paying rent
        8. Rent keeps increasing higher and higher
        9. What little is left has to be used to make ends meet

        Furthermore, your statement is rather vague. You could’ve been earning $4.25 an hour when a bus fare was $1.00, doesn’t really provide any proof that you actually used RTD frequently. We’re you a choice rider or a regular rider? Did you ride RTD using a bus pass (approx $50 back then)? How far away was your commute? What was your monthly income back then? How much of your monthly income went to paying the rent and other basic life necessities? What were your monthly expenses back then?

    • You make some good points, and I personally feel that a distance based fare could work quite well in Los Angeles. However, the $3.50 being too much for short trips argument only affects riders that are using TAP stored value, cash, or tokens.

      60% of Metro’s Local Bus riders who have annual household incomes under 15k use a pass of some kind, so they incur no marginal cost from taking a short trip. 31% of riders in this demographic also receive a discounted fare.

      Again, I agree with many of your points, but thought you would be interested in this information.

      Matthew Kridler
      Metro Research

      • “60% of Metro’s Local Bus riders who have annual household incomes under 15k use a pass of some kind, so they incur no marginal cost from taking a short trip. 31% of riders in this demographic also receive a discounted fare.”

        Alternative view being what is the purpose of needing pre-purchasing passes altogether in this day and age of technological capabilities, with arcane bureaucratic requirements and the wait time whether you fit the particular demographic or not.

        If I may provide a different perspective is that senior passes have a 4-6 week backlog to have them issued and the problem will get only worse as the Baby Boomer generation goes into retirement in massive numbers. Do you have the human labor capital to get through all the processed applications? Quite a big expense for taxpayers if you ask me just to process all those applications.

        Your student passes are based on school attendance which require more heavier scrutiny rather than a simple age-based youth fares which is the more easier and cheaper route from a bureaucratic standpoint. Currently, the system is flawed where an at-risk child may not qualify for student fares because he/she is not enrolled in school and is rather, having a job to help out their family. If it were simply age based, such as “any child under the age of 18” youth fares, then many of your complications and bureaucratic application process will be negated.

        Furthermore, your assessment actually contradicts the statements made on public record by former Metro CEO Art Leahy, many Metro Board members, UCLA and APTA researchers in APTA fare review panel earlier this year:

        What was said on public record in March was:

        1. Reduced fare programs are highly underutilized and not very effective
        2. Majority of the poor have a hard time even coming up with the $100 30 day fares and have to stick to paying the $1.75 flat rate fare
        3. The people who actually can afford the 30 day unlimited ride passes are more well off who have the extra capital to do so

        You can hear very interesting things made by expert commentators starting from the 1 hour 25 minute mark:

        Furthermore, you provide no absolute guarantee the 30 day pass will remain $100 either, was previously $75, no guarantee it would become $125, $200 in future years, most likely even more out of reach for those trying to make ends meet.

        Now if I can offer an alternative view is that why then can you not get rid of pre-purchased passes altogether and move toward distance based fares along with a cap system in place?

        Why can’t you also at the same time, offer cheaper per-mile rates for those who need extra help, such as the elderly, youth, and the disabled?

        For example:

        Regular adults rates: a fare anywhere between 50 cents to $5.00 depending on how far you travel, so a short trip to a supermarket will only cost 50 cents but going from Santa Monica to Azusa will cost five bucks. A cap system will be in place where it won’t deduct any further once you hit $100 in a month.

        Concessionary rates (youth, elderly, disabled): a special TAP card is issued where their fares will range between 25 cents to $2.50 depending on how far they travel, so a short trip to the supermarket will only cost a quarter, but a long trip in the range of say Long Beach to Venice Beach will cost $2.50. A cap system will be in place where it won’t deduct any further once it hits $50 in a month.

        There is no reason to say that technology allows us to do this today.

  3. Matthew Kridler,

    Your information however, seems to be in direct conflict to UCLA Professor Brian Taylor who gave this eye-opening report to the Metro fare review panel in March.

    Councilman Mike Bonin asking questions to Prof. Brian Taylor, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Institute of Transportation Studies (3:45 into the audio)

    “There’s a recent study done in New York, in general, who purchases the passes, the longer the time period the higher the discount, but the higher the income of the person purchasing it. So to come up with a hundred dollars for a thirty day pass is a big outlay for the low income household. That’s one of the reasons why Metro eventually added a 1 day and 7 day pass, but the discounts you enjoy tend to be the greatest so that the lowest average fare per boarding is the lowest the month pass that requires the highest income to purchase it. This became an issue in New York where they tried to adjust the prices somewhat but did not provide bigger discount for the 30 day pass, even though the transaction cost maybe higher of buying it, the benefits tend to accrue toward higher income people.”

    Please explain why or why not you agree/disagree with this UCLA professor.

    Without a new fare system, we could very much end up like New York. The cost to purchase those passes themselves always go up in conjunction with fare increases. Would you then agree with Professor Taylor’s studies that “longer the passes, the higher the discount, but also the higher the income level of the person purchasing it.”

    • I do not disagree with Professor Taylor’s inference that people with higher incomes tend to reap the benefits of bulk purchases at a higher rate than those with lower incomes. This is true for the consumption of many goods, not just transit. In a city like New York where the income distribution of riders is more evenly spread out, the cost of operating/storing a car is quite high, and the convenience of using a car is quite low, it makes sense that more wealthy riders would be purchasing monthly passes.

      However, in Los Angeles this is not quite the case. When comparing riders with household incomes of more than $50k to those with household incomes of less than $15k, higher earning riders are more likely to have a car (57% vs. 11%), less likely to take transit 5+ times a week (62% vs. 70%), and less likely to use a loaded pass of some kind (53% vs 62%). While it is true that higher earning riders use cash and token at a less frequent rate (14% vs. 24%), they use TAP stored value at a much higher rate (33% vs. 14%). This is most likely due to the fact that they use their automobile some days, and transit other days (Hence the lower rate of riding 5+ times a week and the lower usage of passes).

      Professor Taylor’s overall assertions are correct, and you do see that the discrepancy between 30-day passes purchased by high income vs low income riders is much smaller than the discrepancy between 7-day passes and day passes for those demographics.

      I merely tried to inform “a different perspective” that the majority of Metro’s low income, local bus users face no marginal cost for taking a small trip to their local grocery store. And as I tried to make clear to him/her, I totally understand and support the rationale that a distance based fare system, coupled with a sizable (and convenient to access) fare discount for low income riders would be quite practical and efficient in Los Angeles County.

      Matthew Kridler
      Metro Research

      • I’d like to add one thing here — and something I’ve mentioned before. I think it’s a steep hill to climb before there is distance-based fares on the bus system. I also think that given the financial realities at Metro — and virtually every other large transit agency — I think the likelihood of dropping single fares for short rides is unlikely. You would need to gain an awful lot of riders to make up for that, plus the issue of getting people to tap in and tap out on the bus. I know there are people here who can’t talk about distance-based fares enough, but I just don’t see it as a panacea for issues facing transit in this region. Nor do I think it’s necessarily one of the top issues when it comes to transit here.

        Steve Hymon
        Editor, The Source

  4. In the Zocalo Forum, CEO Phil Washington even mentioned that technology is moving so fast that it’s getting harder to keep up.

    In the past, distance based fares were too difficult to do. That I can understand. Everything had to be done manually and that it causes so much confusion and backlog. But what we now have today are all these high tech stuff that weren’t available back then that makes distance based fares very possible (and being used elsewhere in the world so you can’t say that it’s unproven to work) more faster and efficient with uses of technology.

    What’s the point of a contactless transit card? It allows you to open the doors to more quicker and faster payments, with full automation. Quick and fast and fully automated sounds like the perfect solution to distance based fares. Tap in and Tap out, deduct fares by the mile. Simple as that. There’s really nothing complicated or slow about it.

    The technology is so readily available that many years ago this would be considered Star Trek realm. In other countries around the world, the concept of distance based fares has been in use for decades with no problems. The cost of implementing this has gone down to cheap levels that it is worth exploring. Practically we really don’t even need to be using TAP cards anymore because our own smartphones have NFC capabilities in them to act as contactless cards themselves.

    It is very true why we are still clinging to an ancient model of flat rate fares and forcing people to “plan ahead” to purchases passes when by today, distance based fares and a cap system can be done pretty easily though uses of technology. The fare model used today is so outdated, so incomprehensible, so illogical, and so complicated that it fails every logical reasoning or rationale why it has to be done today.

    Yes, this current system is complicated. You think this flat rate and pre-purchase passes thing is simple, guess again. In the bigger scale it’s so overly complex in that you have one fare for Metro, another fare for Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, different transfer rules among different agencies (35 cents, 45 cents, free transfers, no automated transfers, aaarg), different passes (Metro pass cannot be used on Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, you need an EZ transit pass for that), different fares for qualified people, inoperability between one agency to another (Metrolink to Metro OK, Metro to Metrolink, you can’t) I mean like seriously, it’s way more complex than it should be.

    Seriously, I don’t see any other form of transportation running a flat rate fare whether you go 1 mile or 20 mile other than public transit, with so much complication. When I take Uber or Lyft, they charge by the mile. It’s obvious that an Uber ride for 1 mile is cheaper than a Uber ride 20 miles. Doesn’t matter if I am in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Irvine, or in New York. One mile is cheaper than 20 miles. It’s logical and simple. I surely am not going to expect the fare to be the same when I take Amtrak to Irvine as opposed to San Diego. Surely a plane ticket to Vegas is going to be a lot cheaper than a plane ticket to Sydney. Why should public transit fares be any different?

  5. From an observational standpoint, I see many people still paying in cash than taking advantage of reduced fare passes.

    Part of the reason why they don’t use TAP cards is because that they don’t have a bank account, hence don’t have a debit or credit card to load money to these cards online and that it’s a big hassle for them to find a TAP card vendor, light rail or subway station near by just to load up their cards.

    Many of the low income do not rely on banks, do not have direct deposit setup, hence do not have debit or credit cards, and instead rely on predatory check cashing services, lending services and loan sharks. They are mainly cash centric users and what is known as the “unbanked” which 28% of Americans are today, many of them below the poverty line.

    One way Metro could do is to start offering basic banking services attached to these TAP cards to help the unbanked. If I recall correctly, these TAP cards do have the ability to act like debit cards in itself. Each card has its own unique number and it does have an expiration date, the money stored into the TAP cards can be used like a debit card that pays out directly from one’s checking account.

    Perhaps Metro should look into operating its own Metro credit union as a side business, in which the criteria to join the credit union is anyone who rides Metro. Who says government agencies can’t start their own credit union?

    NASA, State of CA, UCLA, and LAPD all have their own credit unions

    The cost to join this credit union will be $1 and once you join, you get a TAP card with all the benefits of having a free checking account (basically the same price to get a TAP card anyway).

    If Metro started it’s own credit union, I’d join.