Metro fare changes to be considered Thursday by agency’s Board of Directors; new motion seeks to postpone some changes

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The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to consider fare changes at its meeting on Thursday. The meeting, as always, is open to the public and begins at 9:30 a.m. at Metro Headquarters, which is located next to Los Angeles Union Station East (the side on Vignes Street). Those who can’t make it to the meeting can listen over the phone at 213-922-6045.

I’ll be covering the Board meeting throughout the day on The Source and on Metro’s main Twitter feed. More information about the proposed changes can be found by clicking here.

The two proposed alternatives by Metro staff are shown above. Both would raise fares in three phases: in September 2014, Sept. 2017 and Sept. 2020. Both would allow free transfers — Metro riders must currently pay full fare when transferring. The primary differences between Option 1 and Option 2 involve the pricing of fares and Option 2 would include a higher fare for peak-hour travel.

Below is the Metro staff report posted today (Tuesday) on the fare restructuring plan. Most notably, the report includes the Metro staff recommendation that the Board adopt Option 1 and no longer consider Option 2. The report also includes a summary of public comments on the fare proposals, Metro’s response to those comments, Title VI analysis and other financial data.

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 for five years.

The Metro Board of Directors has 13 members, including the five County Supervisors, the Mayor of Los Angeles and his three appointees and four elected officials from different parts of Los Angeles County. The fare changes in Item 54 of the agenda require two-thirds approval from the Metro Board to take effect — i.e. nine of the 13 members.

In addition to the fare changes in Item 54 on the Board’s agenda, three Board Members — Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — have submitted the following motion that would, among other things, postpone implementation:

55. MOTION by Directors Ridley-Thomas, Garcetti and Yaroslavsky that the Board of Directors:

A. Direct the Chief Executive Officer to take the following actions related to the Fare Subsidy Program:

1. Update the eligibility for participation based on the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2014 Poverty Guidelines and adjust eligibility annually based on updates to the guidelines;

2. Report back to the Board in September 2014 with recommendations on how to expand outreach and enhance marketing for the program; and

3. Report back to the Board in January 2015 with assessments regarding whether additional funding should to be allocated to meet growing demand.

B. Direct the Chief Executive Officer to temporarily freeze student fares at their current pricing levels until further evaluation by the Transit Ridership Best Practices Task Force.

C. Direct the Chief Executive Officer to take the following steps in order to decriminalize youth fare evasion on Metro’s system:

1. Report back to the Board in September 2014 on the establishment of a comprehensive diversion program, including the feasibility of requiring all youth that are cited for fare evasion to participate in a mandatory online educational diversion program and/or participate in community service in lieu of fines and court appearances and recommendations on any necessary changes to the California Penal Code.

D. Postpone implementation of the proposed 2017 and 2020 fare increases until after the Chief Executive Officer convenes a Transit Ridership Best Practices Task Force, in coordination with the American Public Transportation Association, to provide guidance on fare structuring strategies that optimize MTA’s financial performance while minimizing the burden on the system’s lowest income riders. The panel should be asked to consider alternative revenue generation strategies as well as provide recommendations on opportunities to expand ridership; and report back to the Board by July 2015 with their recommendations.

E. Direct the Inspector General to immediately establish, within her office, a Rider’s Advocate that would serve as an independent advocate to monitor and assess customer service related issues and evaluate future fare structuring strategies.

The motion will require nine votes to pass.

A fare hearing was held on March 29 at Metro Headquarters. About 165 members of the public testified to the Board of Directors; here is a link to audio from the hearing. Many other riders and stakeholders submitted their views to Metro on the fare changes via the Internet, regular mail and telephone.

Metro has a helpful frequently asked questions section on metro.net about the fare increases. Click here to read the entire FAQ. Below are a few excerpts from the FAQ — questions that I have also been hearing frequently.

Why raise fares?

To help customers more effectively use the transit network and address a quickly growing operating deficit, Metro is proposing adjusting fares over several years.

The current fare system charges customers a full fare for connections, which means base fare customers pay double to transfer. This does not encourage customers to take advantage of the growing transit network that taxpayers fund. Under the new fare proposal, customers could transfer between buses and trains within 90 minutes of boarding—for free!

Metro is expected to cover a portion of its costs with fares, which have only increased three times over the past 19 years.  Metro fares now pay for 26 percent of the buses and rail operating costs; this number is dropping as operating costs rise due to inflation and fares stay the same. Without fare changes, Metro’s deficit will grow to $36.8 million in two years and $225 million in ten years. With the proposed fare changes, Metro will gradually reach a point where fares cover 33 percent of operating costs; this percentage is consistent with rates at other major transit agencies. In addition, Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan* and federal funding agreements assume a 33% farebox recovery* rate.

What about trips when the rider can’t transfer before the 90-minute period is over? 

Based on Metro ridership data, the majority of commuters complete their trip in 90 minutes. The 90 minute window allows for transfers without a more complicated distance-based fare system. For Metro trips longer than 90 minutes, for example to neighboring counties, a second fare will be required.

How will monthly passes change?

Under both proposed fare change options, monthly passes include more features. Both options combine the regular monthly with the EZ Pass* in 2017 to offer transit users more convenient access to municipal operators throughout the region. Customers will only need one pass to board and ride any of the 24 TAP*-enabled systems, including Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus, Foothill Transit, Torrance Transit, Montebello Bus Lines, Santa Clarita Transit and others (note: additional zone charges may apply).

 

 

More pics of recent work on the Expo Line Phase 2

Retired Metro scheduler Alan Weeks was gracious enough to send along the above photos that he has taken recently of construction along the six-mile alignment of the second phase of the Expo Line between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica.

The project is funded by Measure R and at this time is forecast to open in early 2016.

The Expo Line Construction Authority — an independent agency — is building the project. Metro will take ownership of the line when it is complete and operate it. The Authority estimates that it will be a 46-minute ride between downtown Santa Monica and 7th/Metro Center.

Metro currently has three rail projects under construction: the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the second phase of the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension. Utility relocations on two more rail projects, the Regional Connector and Purple Line, are underway and heavy construction is expected to begin later this year on both. All are funded in part by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by L.A. County voters in 2008. In addition, Metro has begun receiving the first of 550 new state-of-the-art buses and is spending $1.2 billion to overhaul the Metro Blue Line, including the purchase of new light rail vehicles.

New light-rail car makes its first public appearance

Here’s a peek at the first Metro P3010 prototype rail car operating under power on the Kinkisharyo test track in Osaka, Japan. Note that it’s decked out in chic new colors that are attractive as well as eminently visible. And those colors will be enhanced, in the final design, with reflective side graphics.

A solo rail car traveling down a track may not seem all that engaging but to those of us counting the minutes until the new Kinkisharyo rail cars arrive, this video is pretty exciting.

The cars are much needed for the second phase of the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension to Azusa. Expo 2 and Foothill are scheduled to open in early 2016; underscoring the need for new cars.

When a previous agreement with AnsaldoBreda — the Italian contractor originally hired to manufacture Metro Rail cars — failed, the car construction process was set back about two years. But Kikisharyo is working aggressively to deliver the cars quickly and to ensure they are of the highest quality.

As the test video indicates, car construction is carefully watched. Testing begins even before the cars are assembled, with progress monitored throughout design and construction. Currently, Metro staff is watching over something called “the floor fire test” (We can pretty much guess what that means) along with operation of the prototype vehicle.

All systems — a car is composed of numerous systems — must be tested and pass before the car can be delivered. But you can’t mess around with a rail car that must safely carry thousands throughout its hopefully long lifetime.

If all goes well in testing, this car and 23 others will arrive in L.A. by the end of 2015. After that, the cars will arrive at a rate of four per month until the contract for 78 new vehicles is complete. Metro has already exercised two of four options to buy an additional 97 vehicles to be used on other projects — the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Regional Connector and fleet replacement. Final assembly of the rail cars will be at a new facility in Palmdale in the Antelope Valley

RELATED

New rail car designs in the works

Metro currently has three rail projects under construction: the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the second phase of the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension. Work on two more rail projects, the Regional Connector and Purple Line, is expected to begin later this year. All are funded in part by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by L.A. County voters in 2008. In addition, Metro has begun receiving the first of 550 new state-of-the-art buses and is spending $1.2 billion to overhaul the Metro Blue Line, including the purchase of new light rail vehicles..

Video and podcast from Zocalo Public Square’s forum last night on the 710 freeway

Above is both video and a podcast from Zocalo Public Square’s forum at MOCA on Wednesday evening that was titled “What does Southern California need from the 710 freeway?”

The forum — which was sponsored by Metro — focused on the 4.5-mile gap in the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena and the ongoing study by Caltrans and Metro that seeks to improve traffic congestion in the area.

The project’s draft environmental document is scheduled for release next February and is considering five alternatives: a freeway tunnel to close the gap, a light rail line between East Los Angeles and Pasadena, bus rapid transit between East L.A. and Pasadena, traffic signal and intersection improvements in the 710 area and the legally-required no-build option. The project is scheduled to receive $780 million in Measure R funding, although additional money would be needed to build some of the more expensive alternatives — if, in fact, the Metro Board of Directors ultimately decides to build anything.

NBC-4’s n moderated the panel that included Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency Linda S. Adams, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) executive director Hasan Ikhrata and UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies director Brian Taylor. I thought Nolan framed the 710 issue well, calling it a “Gordian knot” and that “I’ve never seen a transportation issue as convolutedly complicated as this one.” 

As the panelists pointed out several times, the 710 discussion goes back to the 1950s and original state plans to complete the 710 between Long Beach and Pasadena. Less than half of the state’s original freeway plans for our region was built — the reason, for example, that the 2 freeway ends at Glendale Boulevard and the Marina Freeway only exists west of the 405. As Brian Taylor noted, however, the 710 remains somewhat unique among the unfinished freeways because while there are uncompleted segments, there are very few areas where there is such a pronounced gap.

What to be done about it? Both Toebben and Ikhrata said that closing the gap made the most sense and would take traffic off surface streets in the western San Gabriel Valley, help improve air quality (the freeway would keep traffic moving instead of sitting and idling) and would likely also ease congestion on other freeways that motorists use to skirt the 710 gap, most notably the 110 and 5 freeways. “It’s more expensive to do nothing,” Ikhrata said, adding that billions of dollars were lost in travel delays.

When Toebben was asked if motorists would be willing to pay a toll to use the tunnel, his answer was a simple “yes.” He later noted that he lives near Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena and sees motorists each day use it as a way to close the 710 gap by using Orange Grove, the 110 freeway and the 5 freeway to get back to the 710. “Am I willing to pay three, four bucks — I don’t know what the cost will be — to avoid those other routes and get off those freeways so that others who need to travel those freeways, can? Yes, I’m willing to do that. I’d venture to say that every single person who lives anywhere close to this freeway, and I’m including myself, will see less traffic on their streets if a tunnel was built than they see right now.”

UCLA’s Taylor took the most nuanced and expansive view, first explaining the basic mechanics of freeway traffic congestion when commuters and those running errands compete for too little physical space on roadways (go to the 29 minute mark of the video). The result: throughput of the roads drops dramatically and a traffic jam ensues. He also pointed out that Measure R half-cent sales tax increase spreads the cost of mobility to everyone, whether they are using the mobility or not.

With that in mind, Taylor said that solving traffic congestion on a regional level could be done today if the area so choose with congestion pricing — i.e. tolling roadways so that motorists paid the true cost of driving (air pollution, freeway expansion, travel delays). That would drop demand for road space down to reasonable levels and allow traffic to free-flow instead of idle along. “Let’s argue about whether to close the gap or not, because we want to make sure that we never want to price people’s travel…if we did we would have a free flowing system,” Taylor said. “[But] that’s politically unacceptable.”

There was a brief Q&A session after the main discussion and it was pretty clear that some in the audience felt their view was missing: that closing the gap with a freeway tunnel would ultimately lead to more traffic and air pollution. And some of the questions revealed (yet again) the depth of the disagreements over this issue: when one audience member asked why building a rail line for freight from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach was not being considered, SCAG’s Ikhrata replied that building a freight rail line to Pasadena made little sense as most freight from the ports moves east, not north.

Here’s an article on Zocalo Public Square’s website. And here’s the SR-710 Study home page.

 

U.S. House subcommittee proposes deep cuts to federal funding for transit projects

This is the latest chapter in what has been an annual debate on what the federal government should be spending on helping local areas build and maintain transportation infrastructure. It’s important to Metro because the federal government has been — and hopefully will continue to be — a funding partner on a variety of projects, including the Crenshaw/LAX Line (with a $545.9-million federally backed loan), the Regional Connector (a federal New Starts grant and loan) and the Purple Line Extension (a $1.25-billion New Starts grant for Phase One that is near to being finalized and an $856-million loan).

Here’s the latest update from Metro’s government relations staff:

Earlier today, the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development released the outlines of its Fiscal Year 2015 spending bill in advance of the subcommittee’s markup set for tomorrow.

While the outline of the bill does not list specific projects slated for funding, it does give spending levels for transportation programs which benefit our agency. The bill sets the spending level for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants (New Starts) program at $1.69 billion which is $252 million less than the funding provided last year.

Additionally, the House transportation bill cuts TIGER grant funding from $600 million this year to $100 million in Fiscal Year 2015. Further, the House bill would, if enacted into law, not allow TIGER grants to be used for mass transit and passenger rail projects.

Our Government Relations staff have been and will continue working with members of both the Senate and House Committee on Appropriations to ensure that the $100 million allocated in the President’s Budget for each of our New Starts projects (Downtown Regional Connector and Purple Line Extension) is fully funded when the House and Senate adopt their final transportation spending bill later this year. Our staff will also work to ensure that the TIGER grant program is fully funded and that mass transit and passenger rail projects continue to be eligible for grants under this program.

 

Metro Service Council meetings for May begin Wednesday

This month’s slate of Service Council meetings kicks off tomorrow evening (Wednesday, May 7) in Van Nuys with the San Fernando Valley Council’s meeting. Please note that changes may be made to meeting agendas, including potential new topics, prior to meeting dates. For the latest Service Council meeting agendas check the agenda listings web page at metro.net.

All May Council meetings include a report from Metro Service Council Director Jon Hillmer, providing monthly and year-to-date statistics on ridership, performance and other measures of Metro service. Other topics for Service Council meetings this month include:

San Fernando Valley (6:30 pm, Wednesday, 5/7) – Update on the Bus Stop Usability Study; Update on Orange Line Fare Enforcement.

Gateway Cities (2 pm, Thursday, 5/8) – Update on Eastside Transit Corridor Phase 2 Project; Report on Electronic Messaging of Transit Information.

South Bay (9:30 am, Friday, 5/9) – Update on the Redondo Beach Station Refurbishment; Update on Bus Stop Changes associated with Crenshaw Rail Construction.

San Gabriel Valley (5 pm, Monday, 5/12) – Update on Eastside Transit Corridor Phase 2 Project; Report on El Monte Busway Construction Project.

Westside/Central (5 pm, Wednesday, 5/14) – Update on Bus Stop Changes associated with Crenshaw Rail Construction; Presentation on Metro’s Construction Notification Process.

For a listing of the dates, times and locations of all five Service Council meetings, click here. For more information about each service council, click on the name of the service council listed above.

All service councils welcome and encourage public participation. If you would like to comment at any of the meetings, please fill out a speaker card when you arrive, noting the specific item you are there to address.  General comments on issues that aren’t on the agenda are taken as a part of the “public comment” section of the agenda.

If you would like to provide input to a Council but cannot attend a meeting, you can submit your comments in writing through the Service Council web page or send them to servicecouncils@metro.net.  If your comments are for a specific council, please make sure to indicate which one you are addressing.