Metro staff looks at different fare structures in new report

First, this caution: there are zero proposals on the table at the moment to change fares or the fare structure at Metro.

That said, Metro staff have released a new report looking at different fare structures at other transit agencies and how they may work or not work for Metro. The report mostly deals with hypotheticals of time- and distance-based fare structures; a more detailed look will be provided to the Board of Directors of Metro soon.

Time-based systems usually allow a passenger to ride the system for a set amount of time, including a free transfer or transfers. Distance-based systems charge higher fares for rides that cover greater distances.

At this time, Metro charges a base fare of $1.50 that is good for a single ride on one line. If you transfer, then you pay another base fare. Different types of passes help put a dent in the cost — a $6 day pass, for example, allows for unlimited daily rides and transfers — but the bottom line is that those without passes who must transfer have to pay $3 to reach their destination.

The gist of it is that both systems would have their challenges with Metro, although it appears both types of fare structures could be implemented with the fare equipment Metro currently has. Staff also indicated that time-based fares would likely require a higher base fare to protect the revenues the agency needs to keep running its buses and trains. Other agencies that have free transfers typically have higher base fares than Metro.

We did our own poll on this in May and 45 percent of those responded said they would be willing to pay a higher fare in order to receive a free transfer. This is consistent with results Metro has received with its own customer surveys.

It will be interesting to see if this goes anywhere. I am personally not crazy about the current system because I think it penalizes someone who has to take a relatively short ride on one line to reach another line. That said, I think the most critical part of this debate is going to be protecting agency revenues. Metro currently subsidizes 71 percent of the cost of each ride on its system and wants to reduce that number to 67 percent so the agency has the funds to run the projects funded by Measure R.

Anything that gets in the way of that, I suspect, will be a non-starter. For other viewpoints outside the agency, I recommend checking out this post at L.A. Streetsblog.

8 replies

  1. I think that Metro and the municipal transit agencies should work together to have an integrated fare media. I would be sad to see service sacrificed at the cost of transit users. An increase in Fuel Tax to subsidize public transit in Los Angeles County should be seriously considered. Los Angeles County should have a great public transportation system then users would be willing to pay more to use Metro and the municipal transit agencies. Metro needs to fix the paper ticket to a stripe that can be used by the fare gates, otherwise, the fare gates have been an expensive waste of money.

  2. The one ticket one ride makes simple round trip errands either too costly or not worth taking public transit. The added rail system in Los Angeles has been a great addition to the buses that carry passengers all over Los Angeles County. My problems are the short distance commutes that require me to pay for a day pass while only using it for about 2 hours. There must be a better way at providing flexible riding fares.

  3. Talk about false choices. We don’t have to limit ourselves to distance-based fares for rail only, or zones for buses.

    In Hong Kong and Singapore (perhaps London as well), you can use a “TAP” style card to pay for any bus, jitney, train or metro trip. I believe Singapore now uses distance-based fares for buses, as well.

    Here’s how it can work. Everyone taps their card as they walk aboard the bus. Both the front and rear doors will open, to make boarding faster. Occasional fare inspections (like on metro rail) will keep fare evasion down to 5% or so, not that much higher than it is on the buses right now. When you get off the bus, you also tap the card on a reader, on the way out. Alternately, if you transfer, you only have to tap out after the last stop.

    Fares would be based on distance for all bus and rail trips, so a trip from Santa Monica to El Monte by bus, metro rail, metrolink or a combination, would cost the same. The reader can flash the fare when you get off, and you can check your balance online, by app, by text or phone call. Your balance could auto-refill by debit/bank card, if you want, or you can add cash at a rail station or major bus stops. Perhaps some buses could also let you add cash using modifications of the current pay stations.

    My trips from Long Beach to Hollywood might go up in cost to $5 each way, but short trips could go back to $1. And the proof-of-payment system and all-doors boarding would speed up the buses, further saving money. Even a 5% savings in operations (which cost $1 billion per year) would save 10’s of millions of dollars each year, easily paying for a second or third TAP reader on buses, and occasional on-bus fare enforcement.

    Many European and Asian systems run this way, at least in part. Yeah, the fare gates are silly, but TAP could work, if Metro changes the goal.

  4. Honestly, I am more concerned about the QUALITY of service, not as much for fares. I am willing to pay even more (if needed) as long as service is significantly improved. Currently bus service is the worst it has been for the last 7 years, due to budget cuts (and State diverting transit money), forcing continuous service reductions to practically all bus lines. While the Rail service thankfully has not been impacted (the intervals could certainly see an improvement, but at least they’re not getting worse, which is good!), the bus intervals have been increased from 5-10 minutes to 15-30 minutes (!!!) And that’s IN ADDITION to raised fares. Which caused me to switch back to driving and riding my bike; I cannot depend on MTA service for now (unless I’m taking the subway or light-rail). Once again, first MTA needs to improve service, and only then think about fare restructuring and complicating things further. I think current fare structure is farely simple.

  5. My initial impression after reading that report is that the time-based system would be easier to transition to, easier to enforce, easier for riders to understand and utilize, and save money for a large number of Los Angeles riders while not decreasing revenue for Metro. I’d like to read more, but I’m certainly intrigued at this point.

  6. One of the things metro does not mention, and nor does this article, is the “special faires”..In example, I can wait for a 439, which by advert offers great service,but. that costs 70 cents extra. Now not only this, but it usually runs early, and once an hour. So by the time you’ve missed that line, you realise you’ve got to pay an extra 70 cents. This if its your first trip.

    Also, a ticket is issued at the beggining of the ride for this (freeway) express service and then collected before the bus gets on(the freeway). Ive once decided to get off before the freeway, and save the ticket for another ride (on the freeway). They claimed it was invalid since I’d not used the service. Okay. Give me my money back.

    The Silver Line and all of its marketing are also rather deceptive. It does not mention that you will pay $2.45 for a ride. An unknowing daypasser can ride without problem, but a monthly or weekly rider must pay the addition (1.25).

    This seems backwards since many put 75 bucks on their tap cards monthly for quick, easy, and efficient ways to use transit, but this is a frustration.

    So if metro plans on doing this type of zoning, I for one am not for it.

  7. I welcome the investigation into new fare systems. Currently, it would be cost-prohibitive for me to take the bus to work; I have a back injury that limits how much walking I can do, and it’s almost half a mile from the main bus line I take to my office. I can take a fast, efficient, frequent bus from one to the other, but that’s another $3/day for less than a mile of riding.

    The “last mile problem” has plagued transit forever, though. There are probably even better solutions, such as continuing the work that was started with the introduction of Metro Rapid. Having mainline buses and trains that cost, say, $2/boarding, locals that cost $1.50, and circulators that cost less than a dollar would get most people to and from their destinations at a competitive price, while covering costs fairly efficiently. Right now, in some areas, LADOT provides that last level of service at 35 cents, but it doesn’t work everywhere.

  8. I would like to see the base fare stay as it is: one ticket, one ride. It really doesn’t take much to make a day pass pay. It’s only fair: two years ago when I was in New York City it costs $2/ride, and not only don’t they have transfers, they don’t have unlimited day passes. You can buy a multi-ride card but it is only for 8 rides and it gets incremented at each ingress/egress.

    However, I would like to see a low income monthly pass instituted somehow. Perhaps you’d have to qualify people by offering it only for those who receive some other form of public assistance, but it’s only fair to make it easier for low-income people to use buses.

    Also — and this is something that would have to be implemented on a State or Federal basis — there needs to be more incentive for employers to participate in the iPass program to get people out of their cars. Tax breaks would be a likely carrot.