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.

Metro Board adopts fiscal year budget for 2014-2015

The Board unanimously approved a $5.5-billion budget for the fiscal year running from this July 1 through June 30, 2015.

Here is the updated news release from Metro to reflect the fare changes the Board also adopted today:

The Board of Directors of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) today approved a balanced $5.508 billion Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) budget, set to begin July 1, 2014. The budget includes continued commitment to the largest highway and rail building program in America, bus headway improvements and $283.4 million in maintenance expenditures to keep the system in top form.

The FY15 budget enhances many services while keeping fares at low levels, however, a base fare increase of 25 cents, from $1.50 to $1.75, goes into effect as early as September 1, 2014 to help offset a projected Fiscal Year 2017 operations budget deficit of $36.9 million. Fares for students will be frozen at current levels and the Board next month also will consider keeping fares for seniors and disabled persons at current levels. Free transfers in a two hour period also will be offered.

As part of the $283.4 million targeted at maintenance, Metro will spend $192.7 million on bus service including the purchase of 550 new clean-burning CNG buses and about $50 million for rail improvements on the Blue Line and the Red Line subway in the next fiscal year.

Safety is critical to Metro passengers and the FY15 budget contains $48.7 million to keep the system as safe as possible. Enhancements include improvements to cameras and video monitoring, security kiosks at various rail stations, signal system rehabilitation on the Metro Blue and Green lines and pedestrian safety improvements on the Metro Red Line with an underpass and overpass bridge planned for Universal City and North Hollywood stations.

Metro continues construction on the most comprehensive public works program in America with Measure R and other funding sources. In FY15, Metro will have five major rail projects either under construction or prepared to begin including the Metro Gold Line extension to Azusa, the Metro Expo Line extension to Santa Monica, the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the Regional Connector. The Metro Purple Line extension to Westwood has received a $1.25 billion Federal Full Funding Grant Agreement and $856 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan.

In terms of highway projects, the mammoth undertaking of modernizing and expanding capacity of the I-405 will be completed in FY15 and other projects are moving forward including I-5 widening from Orange County to the I-605, the I-710 South Corridor, the North SR-710 study and a variety of other improvements including continuation of countywide sound wall construction and the Freeway Beautification Pilot Project designed maintain landscape and remove graffiti and debris.

The Metro ExpressLanes Project continues to provide travel options on the I-10 and I-110 freeways with future expansion of ExpressLanes to be studied. The Kenneth Hahn Countywide Callbox System continues operation along with development of the Motorist Aid and Travel Information System (MATIS).

Metro will continue to contribute both operations and capital funding to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority with FY15 capital projects including the Bob Hope Airport/Hollywood Way station, Van Nuys Second Platform, Vincent Grade/Acton and Lancaster Stations, Doran Street Crossing design, Raymer to Bernson Double Track and Southern California Regional Interconnectivity Program (SCRIP), which will increase Union Station Capacity.

Stay informed by following Metro on The Source and El Pasajero at metro.net, facebook.com/losangelesmetro, twitter.com/metrolosangeles and twitter.com/metroLAalerts and instagram.com/metrolosangeles.

Here is the Metro staff report on the budget:

Metro Board of Directors meeting set to begin at 9:30 a.m.; fare increases to be considered

UPDATE: The meeting began at 9:50 a.m.

Here is today’s agenda, but let’s face it: the issue on the agenda that looms over others (which includes consideration of Metro’s 2015 budget) is the Metro Board of Director’s consideration of fare increases and changes proposed by Metro staff.

As for the order of the meeting, the Board will likely tackle consent items, then the budget and then the fare change proposal.

Those who want to listen to the meeting can do so at 213-922-6045, although the capacity of the phone line is limited. I will also provide a link once I have it for an audio stream of the meeting that should work on most computers (UPDATE: try this link to listen to the meeting on your computer). I’ll be covering the Board meeting throughout the day on The Source and on Metro’s main Twitter feed.

Here is the fare change option recommended by Metro staff:

option1

Click above to view a larger version of the chart.

Below is a Metro staff report explaining the need for the fare changes, financial statistics, a summary of public responses to the changes and Metro staff’s response to them:

There is a change from the original staff proposal issued earlier this year: staff is now recommending that fares include two hours of free transfers, not 90 minutes.

Also on the agenda is this motion by three Board Members — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky (UPDATE) and Don Knabe – to postpone the fare changes that would go into effect in 2017 and 2020 until more study can be done. The motion as updated Thursday morning:

Both the staff fare proposal and the motion require two-thirds approval — i.e. nine of the 13-member Board of Directors.

Here is a Metro staff handout that summarizes the fare change proposal and includes a summary of the public responses:

What are they saying about the fare increases outside of Metro? Here are editorials in the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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.

 

Purple Line Extension secures $1.25-billion federal New Starts grant and $856-million federally-backed loan

Click above to see larger.

Click above to see larger.

IMG_20140521_105020_591 (1)

The signing of the funding documents this morning. From left, Metro Board Member Ara Najarian, Board Member Pam O’Connor, Metro CEO Art Leahy, Rep. Janice Hahn, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Board Chair Diane DuBois, Rep. Grace Napolitano, Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky and Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter.

Officials from Metro and the Federal Transit Administration signed a pair of agreements this morning in Washington D.C. for a $1.25-billion federal grant and a $856-million federally-backed loan to build the first phase of the Purple Line Extension subway under Wilshire Boulevard. We’ll post video of this morning’s event later.

The agreements clear the way for construction activities to begin later this year on the 3.9-mile addition to the Purple Line, which currently terminates at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue. The first phase of the project will extend the line to the intersection of Wilshire and La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Three new stations will be included in the first phase: at Wilshire and La Brea Avenue, Wilshire and Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire and La Cienega.

The first phase of the project is scheduled for completion in 2023 with a project budget of $2.821 billion. The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled this summer to select a contractor to build the first phase. The subway is one of 12 transit projects funded in part by the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase approved by more than two million voters in Los Angeles County in 2008 (the measure passed with 67.93 percent approval).

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaking at the signing this morning in Washington D.C.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaking at the signing this morning in Washington D.C.

Utility relocations are already underway on the first phase and a 75-foot-deep exploratory shaft has already been dug across the street from LACMA in order to validate and learn more about soil conditions in that area. A number of fossils were found, identified and preserved during the excavation of the shaft.

The second phase of the project will extend the line to Century City in 2026 and the third phase to Westwood in 2036. Metro continues to explore ways that the second and third phase of the subway project and other road and transit projects may be accelerated from their original Measure R timelines.

The federal New Starts program is providing the $1.25-billion grant; the money will be appropriated to Metro on a year-by-year basis by Congress. The New Starts program helps local transit agencies build large and expensive transit projects.

The $856-million loan is coming from the TIFIA program that helps provide low-interest loans backed by the federal government to build new infrastructure; TIFIA helps reduce interest costs. The TIFIA program was expanded by Congress in 2012 to include transportation projects and is part of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative to expand federal funding for transportation projects.

Metro also secured a $670-million New Starts grant and $160-million TIFIA loan earlier this year to help fund construction of the Regional Connector, a 1.9-mile underground light rail line that will connect the Blue Line, Expo Line and Gold Line in downtown Los Angeles to speed trips throughout the county and to downtown.

Here’s video of Metro CEO Art Leahy talking about the significance of today’s announcement:

The news release from Metro is below:

Delivering on the Promise of Measure R

L.A. METRO RECEIVES  AGREEMENTS FOR NEARLY $2 BILLION IN FEDERAL GRANTS AND LOW-INTEREST LOANS FOR PURPLE LINE EXTENSION PROJECT

Los Angeles, Calif. – Marking an historic vote of confidence in Metro Rail subway construction in Los Angeles, The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) today joined federal, state and local elected officials to announce the receipt of a $1.25 billion Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) from the Federal Transit Administration to help pay for the first nearly four-mile, $2.821-billion segment of the long-awaited Metro Purple Line Extension Project toward West Los Angeles.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation simultaneously granted Metro a low-interest loan of $856 million from a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Loan to complete the funding package for the first phase of the project. Combined, the nearly $2 billion in project commitments represent the single biggest federal transportation investment in the history of Los Angeles County.  The remaining $821 million in project funding includes Measure R, City of Los Angeles, and other existing local and federal funds.  

Continue reading

Community meeting on June 5 for Union Station Master Plan update

Special Briefing – LA Union Station Master Plan Update

Work continues to chug along on the Los Angeles Union Station Master Plan; please see the above flier for the upcoming meeting on June 5.

The Metro Board last year approved a plan concept that would construct a greatly expanded east-west passenger concourse while relocating the bus plaza to a north-south configuration closer to Alameda Street, allowing the many bus stops around Union Station to be consolidated. 

RELATED:

Union Station Master Plan home page

Master Plan Facebook page

Master Plan Twitter feed

 

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

option1

option2

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.