What huge transit issue isn’t getting the attention it should?


Marnie O'Brien Primmer, Mobility 21 executive director

In advance of the 900-person Mobility 21 Summit next week, we asked M21 executive director Marnie O’Brien Primmer to speak to us about transportation and traffic in Southern California. The Summit is a gathering of Southern California leaders who meet annually to create solutions to our mobility problems. Primmer’s responses follow.

Though most transit riders have not heard of Marnie O’Brien Primmer, she is among the folks on the front line, working with legislators in Washington and Sacramento to keep Southern California transportation issues at the forefront of legislative and fiscal consideration.

Primmer is executive director of Mobility 21, a below-the-horizon group of transportation providers, elected officials and local business leaders that work as a team to determine key issues and keep them on the radar of lawmakers and the public. Founded in 2002 by Metro and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California, Mobility 21 has grown during the past 10 years to represent seven counties: L.A., Imperial, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura.

Primmer was appointed executive director in July 2008 and brings with her experience in public affairs and transportation infrastructure planning and development. As a part of her responsibilities, she coordinates the annual Mobility 21 Summit, California’s largest single day transportation conference. This year’s summit will be next Tuesday, Sept. 6 at the J.W. Marriott at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles.

How is Mobility 21 making a difference and what do you see as the priority issue facing Southern California today?

Mobility 21’s strength is bringing together the public and private sectors, with their diverse interests and priorities, and unifying them so that they speak with one voice in the fight for smart investments in Southern California’s transportation system. I think at the end of the day we all want to spend less time in traffic or waiting for a bus and get home to our families sooner.

A strong long-term federal transportation bill that includes adequate funding for transit, highway and goods movement infrastructure tops our priority list. We also strongly support efforts like America Fast Forward and Breaking Down Barriers that are designed to provide much needed flexibility from the state and federal governments to expedite project delivery and give Southern California the ability to leverage the local sales tax dollars our voters have approved for transportation.

What huge transportation challenge should be getting a lot of public attention but isn’t?

The 18-cent federal gas tax you have been paying since 1993 to fund transportation improvements is set to expire Sept. 30, 2011. I think most people think higher gas prices translate to more taxes, but that’s not true. It’s a flat tax, and it hasn’t been modified since big hair, acid wash jeans and “grunge rock” were hip.

The federal gas tax is the primary source for transportation funding California receives from Washington, D.C. Without it, there is no Federal Highway Trust Fund to supplement increasingly scarce state and local dollars for traffic relief. California state law will partially supplement these lost transportation funding dollars by increasing the state gas tax by up to 9.3 cents, but there is no guarantee the increased state tax would be used to fund much-needed transportation system improvements and not get siphoned off to pay for general fund relief.

What are three things everyone in Southern California can do to help ease traffic?

1) Join Mobility 21’s action alert e-list at mobility21.com. We notify our members when their voice is urgently needed for transportation. It takes less than a minute for you to make a difference.

2) Speak Up for Transportation. Let your legislators know that transportation matters. Lawmakers want to represent their constituents and if they don’t hear from us, transportation won’t see the investment it deserves. Check out the Take Action tab on our website for a sample phone call script.

3) Start the conversation. If you’re reading this we know you already care about improving mobility in Southern California. Take the next step and get your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to think about making it easier to move around the region.

43 replies

  1. @Wanderer

    “So wonk on about fares, but realize that you’re dealing with 1/4 of the pie.”

    I’d rather have a system where 3/4 of the pie is covered with fares and 1/4 run with taxes than the other way around, moreso with all these projects are being built and infrastructure expands.

    Under the current situation, the more rail lines, rail stations, rail cars and bus fleets LA Metro adds, that means more money needs to be spent in the upkeep of these infrastructure which doesn’t bring any revenue.

    Without making any changes to the fare system, LA will inevitably have to deal with higher taxes or higher fares.

    Sale tax here in LA is 8.75% now and LA is already seeing businesses moving away. So you want to see an increase to 15%? 20% sales tax? Yeah, let’s drive more people and businesses away from LA.

    Or higher fares to $5 per ride? Maybe $10 per ride? Who’s gonna ride that for the bus? People are already switching to bikes, scooters, and motorcycles for short rides. Let’s push off mid to long distance riders to motorcycles and cars too.

    The only logical way to handle this is to charge people by distance. Better off doing it now than later when infrastructure is still being built and cost of making the switch is still low. You seriously do not want the PT mess they have back where I used to live.

  2. @Wanderer

    “bus transit agencies in this country almost never charge distance based fares.”

    “fares cover only 25% of Metro’s operating expenses”

    “Three dollars in every four come from other sources, mostly sales and property taxes.”

    And you don’t see this as a problem?

    Those are the problems why flat rate doesn’t work and why people are getting upset here.

    The more public transit gets bigger, it means higher cost to maintain and run them, which leads to higher fares and higher taxes like the mess they have in New York. We don’t want that here. Just because no other transit agency in the US doesn’t do it doesn’t mean LA has to follow their death spiral as everybody else. We can do something different.

  3. Folks, it’s all very well to devise different fare schemes, even if bus transit agencies in this country almost never charge distance based fares.

    But the bigger picture is that fares cover only 25% of Metro’s operating expenses. Three dollars in every four come from other sources, mostly sales and property taxes. It’s possible that ratio could be raised somewhat with a combination of fare increases and service decreases (and we know how happy that makes passengers, not to mention elected officials!). But the bulk of funds will have to continue to come from other sources. So wonk on about fares, but realize that you’re dealing with 1/4 of the pie.

  4. “If you want to continue to discuss at that level, please do so among yourselves by trading email addresses or whatnot.”

    How might one “trad[e] email adrdesses on this form?

  5. @Steve

    I think this issue won’t stop until Metro relieves the anxiety of Metro riders these days.

    We’re really happy to see all these 30/10 projects updates like the Crenshaw Corridor, Expo Line, and Gold Line extensions are moving along, but there are increasing number of riders who are becoming nervous how Metro will pay for all this with huge funding cuts. We don’t want higher taxes and we don’t want higher fares.

    When editors on The Source write articles about funding cuts, it just makes us more nervous on what lies ahead. Higher fares? Higher taxes? Bus route cuts? Poorer service?

    Rather, we want Metro and the editors of this blog to be more proactive and positive in the light of funding cuts. We want you to take a “what’s done is done, let’s look to alternatives to find other sources of revenue and let’s ask Angelinos for great ideas” stance. We want you to utilize The Source, El Pasajero, Twitter and Facebook to ask Angelinos for advice on how to keep Metro running without resorting to higher fares and higher taxes.

    Mospeada and IT Guy have made a great job of pointing out the flaws of Metro’s fare system that it relieves some of the anxiety of the readers of this blog: that there is another method we can try to efficiently manage fares before resorting to higher fares or higher taxes.

    Can we ask The Source to be more proactive? We get it, we have funding cuts, but it’s not the end of the world. We can seek alternative sources of revenue. In that light, testing out distance fares sounds like a good idea.

    • Hi Angry Middle Class;

      I’m not asking the issue to stop. I am asking that comments about it be succinct and accessible to the vast majority of our readers. As for me being proactive, I’m glad to raise or have issues raised on the Source and talk to agency officials about issues of interest to our readers. But I am not a policymaker at the agency, nor do I pretend to be.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  6. Looking into providing transit riders with cheaper fares based on distance is a great way to increase ridership numbers.

    It’ll convince more riders to take public transit for shorter distances and Metro would earn extra revenue to solve Metro’s budget problems.

    If not 10 cents per mile, there are many ways it can be done by mixing both Mospeada’s and IT Guy’s points.

    How about 50 cents for the first five miles and 10 cents every mile thereafter? The first-five-miles 50 cent ride can be considered as the base fare. If a person gets on the bus and travels one to five miles, he/she pays 50 cents, which is 1/3rd the cost of paying $1.50 as it is now.

    There’s a lot of creative ways Metro could do with distance fares rather than kick every transit rider in the groins by continuously raising flat rate fares across the board.

  7. I agree with Frank M. Both Mospeada and IT Guy has made great suggestions on how to implement distance based fares without causing a backlash.

    The idea should be presented to the Metro board and the city council to avoid the budget death spiral like New York. They should give these ideas a serious thought to test it on certain bus routes and rail lines to see if lower fares based on distance increases ridership numbers and see if it actually earns more revenue than $1.50 pay-per-ride flat rate.

    They both make a good case that public transit is not cost efficient for shorter distances and it’s rather pushing more people away from transit to bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles. As it stands now, Metro is earning nothing when they could be earning something if they charged fares based on distance.

    Zero short distance transit riders who opt out of using public transit due to the existing system means zero revenue to Metro. With less riders, Metro’s per passenger operating expense just rises.

    But if Metro can convince 100 additional people to ride the bus for a short mile ride at a cheaper rate like $0.10/mi or whatever, Metro would be earning $1000 more in extra revenue. Do this throughout the system and sooner or later, Metro will see substantial revenue income that can solve our budget woes in the face of funding cuts.

  8. @Mospeada & @IT Guy in Irvine

    Both sounds like great ideas. I hope Metro is reading these suggestions to try to make a case to start moving our fare system to distance fares because the more I read, the more I agree that low flat rate fares needs cannot hold out much longer. I don’t want to see a fare hike mess like they have in New York.

  9. @Mospeada

    Rather than re-commenting on all other parts, I decided to focus on the part where you and I disagree on the most:

    4) Whatever “boarding fees” or “base fares” there are, those can just as easily be disguised under direct distance fares; there’s no difference this from a software coding standpoint.

    Programming wise, the conceptual formula is the same darn thing:

    X = base fare
    Y = fare increments
    D = distance
    Z = total to deduct from TAP
    R = restrictor variable (can be switched off)

    Formula: X + (Y x D) = Z; but if Z > R, deduct R

    In my idea ($0.00) + ($0.10 x D) = Z; but if Z > $1.50, deduct $1.50

    Your idea it’s ($1.00) + ($0.XX x D) = Z

    For all I care, it can become ($200) + ($100 x D) = Z; but if Z > $1500, charge only $1500 when our dollar devalues to Zimbabwe levels.

    It’s just a simple software change of changing the variables with no change to the formula itself.

    Whatever Metro wants to call X and Y whatever amount they want it to set to, or whatever they want to set R is all up to them.

    The formula doesn’t change. All it is to set a number that nods politicians head up and down.

    • Hey readers —

      Thanks for the comments on your ideas for distance-based fares. At this point, I feel like your conversation is becoming too technical and too long for our everyday audience. If you want to continue to discuss at that level, please do so among yourselves by trading email addresses or whatnot. If you would like to continue making short comments about this idea, that’s fine. I’m not trying to stifle reader ideas on the blog, but I do want the comments board to be a more appealing read to more of our general audience. I hope you understand,

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  10. @ IT Guy in Irvine

    1) The transfers were eliminated to keep the Monthly passes not because they made little money. Metro was to do away with monthly passes but some pressure forced them to keep them and as a result removed the reduced transfers instead.

    2) WMATA did not cover the whole region when it opened neither did BART why can’t metro do the same. I mean they already charge distance fares on express buses. Charging distance for rail is more palatable than buses because the rail and liner lines have average speeds over 20 mph while the local bus lines travel at 15 mph or less especially during heavy traffic. One person complained that he thought it was not fair the the person going 20 miles was paying the same fare as some one going 3 on local buses. But the big difference the quality of the bus ride sucks and the person is paying for the distance was time lost.

    3)agree move on

    4) This is just a case of looking at a glass half full or half empty. But Metro will never shoot itself in the foot by charge directly by distance. Like taxis that operate on distance and time their is a minimum fare for boarding a vehicle. All transit agencies make alot of revenue by having boarding fees that have little to do with the initial distance traveled. I don’t see metro ever implementing $0.XX per mile. It will be more like $1.XX base fare + $0.XX for some distance traveled defined by the agency. This is how Singapore, Honk Kong, Tokyo, London all implement their fares with Singapore having a lower base fare.

    5) Im not sure of the politics of the situation but I doubt Metro can just ignore them. Their needs to be some consensus among the operators or we will just end up with the same mess the SF Bay Area is in with its 20+ transit operators that seem to be more focused keeping to themselves than working together.


    7)Their is a benefit and weakness to each mode of travel. Not everyone will own a bike or a scooter just like not everyone will own a car or ride Metro. I think Metro is doing good by encouraging cyclist to use the system for part of their routes. Bogota Columbia has been really successful at this by building massive bike parking to save money on its feeder bus lines to its trunk services.


  11. Why don’t we at least beta test distance fares on the Red Line where we already have unlocked fare gates?

    Metro can market it as a new benefit for TAP users:

    “Metro introduces new benefit for TAP cash purse riders: pay only the distance you travelled on the Red Line. Tap-in at the fare gate when entering the station and tap-out at the fare gate when exiting, TAP will automatically deduct the proper fare according to distance travelled.”

    Metro doesn’t have to implement this full scale from the get-go. They can beta-test it with the Red Line Metro riders who uses TAP’s cash purse option. They can collect data while they are at it to see how TAP riders use the Red Line and whether they see an increase in cash purse TAP users after it was introduced.

    If the results aren’t good, we can lay the issue to rest. If the results are positive, we can gradually spread this idea to other rail lines and even to buses.

  12. @Mospaeda

    Here are my rebuttals and agreements:

    1) Metro had a free transfer system in place before pay-per-ride. It was scrapped because it made no money for them in the last round of budget cuts. They needed funds to keep Metro running so did away with transfers and made people pay-per-ride. This was the first step in alienating short distance riders who need to take two buses to get where they were going despite the short travel distance. Besides, the idea of transfers would not be needed in a variable distance based model. A person traveling on the bus for 3 miles and taking another bus for 3 miles will only be charged a total of 6 miles worth of transit.

    2) We have not yet reached that point yet where rail covers all of Los Angeles that skirts freeway traffic. Angelinos still have yet to grasp of paying more on rail because it doesn’t get stuck in traffic. We don’t even have rail link directly to LAX, the entire West side is void of rail, the whole length of the 405 is still crawling at 4 or 5 miles per hour because there’s no rail that runs parallel to the heavily travelled SF Valley-Westwood/UCLA-Culver City-LAX-Torrance/South Bay-Long Beach-Orange County corridor.

    3) I agree; implementing distance fares would remove the reliance on monthly and weekly passes altogether. Only tourists will need them, not Angelinos. Substantial cost savings can be made by doing away with monthly and weekly passes.

    4) Agreed that TAP needs an incentive, but we differ in strategy. Cash payers should continue to pay $1.50 per ride whereas TAP riders benefit with $0.10/mi with $1.50 cap. Riders who want to take advantage of lower fares should start switching to cash value TAP rather than paying $1.50 every time they board the bus or train.

    5) I disagree; this is not a big issue as you make it seem. LA Metro is the largest of them all; it can go on its own independently and the rest will have no choice but to follow. Metro doesn’t need to waste time and money trying to negotiate a regional fare system with other agencies. Metro can take its own action independently, others will follow suit. Those that don’t will continuously run in the red in which Metro can take over.

    6) Agreed. Parking spaces are a waste; bicycles and scooters take up less space than cars so parking spaces should lessened. Said real estate space can be used to expand our stations with a tap-in/tap-out system or add retailer space which can be rented out for Metro to earn extra revenue.

    7) Metro’s goal is to increase ridership and move LA to a transit oriented society. Higher gas prices pushing more people to bikes, scooters, and motorcycles create another group of competition to Metro in addition to cars. If Metro wants to increase their ridership, they need to ask themselves “how do we tap into the bicyclists, scooter riders, and motorcyclist market? Why are they using those methods instead of riding our buses and trains?” The answer is their fare system. It needs a change.

  13. @ IT Guy in Irvine

    My plan is to show distance base fare implementation in other Metro’s in the United States

    We have two very good examples right within our own boarders. One in this very state.

    BART has distance based fares so does WMATA



    I realize the selling paying for less for shorter riders would be a big political sell but would be bad business for the transit agencies which have been known to slighly overcharge short distance riders at the expense of bringing cost down for long distance riders. In Metro’s case they don’t charge the long distance riders any more than the short distance ones which is what is getting people riled up.

    Here is how to begin to correct Metro’s fare system
    1) Implement free transfers. Metro’s grid based system is based on transfers to get to a majority of places people want to go. Removing the full penalty of re boarding a vehicle is a must. Metro could also only give transfers to TAP card holders as means to increase the incentives to use it.

    2) Implement zone or distance fares on Metro Rail and Liner, perhaps Metro Rapid(May not be quick enough for people to be willing to pay more). During my time in the Bay Area many money conscious college students, myself included, still payed the 3.00 BART one-way fare to cross the bay from berkely to san francisco even though we were all given AC Transit bus passes as part of our tuition. Heck I evens saw people take it to Oakland which is much more closer to Berkeley than San Francisco. People do value money but they also much more value their time and many will be willing to pay more if the service was faster and more frequent.

    3) Price the Monthly and Weekly Passes appropriately or remove them completely. Smart Card’s pretty much remove the perceived inconvenience of paying with cash fares so their is less need for these types of passes except for the fact that they are much cheaper if your have one transfer on your commute to work. They need to be priced so that only Tourist would benefit buying them. Perhaps removing these type of discounts could lower the base fare for riders.

    4) Use the London Underground approach to get people to use smart cards by overcharging people who pay by cash. This would require TAP cards to be easily accessible to the general public like finding them at a Walgreens or a Ralphs.

    5) Construct some form of universal fare system for the county. Metro is not the only transit provider in the county and whatever Metro does has to be done in coordination with the other providers to provide a seamless transit experience across the county. Aside from Metro we have
    Santa Monica Big Blue Bus
    Culver City Bus
    Foothill Tranist
    Glendale Beeline
    Montebello Buslines
    Norwalk Transit
    Long Beach Transit
    Gardena Transit
    Torrance Transit
    and others that I can’t list on the top of my head

    6) Perhaps this falls out of Metro’s jurisdiction but increasing the density of the city of Los Angeles is a must. Transit is never going to succeed in this city if at every other bus stop there is a sea of parking.

    People keep mentioning that high gas prices are not necessarily pushing all people to transit. Some are shifting to smaller motor vehicles and bikes because metro’s fares don’t fit their needs. But how is this a bad thing. Is it not a good thing to have options.

    Perhaps metro is not cost effective for short travel but this same argument could be made of every Metro system in the World where there are still plenty of bicycle and moped riders on the streets. No one mode will fill everyone’s needs

  14. While I give kudos for Metro and the Source for providing us updated about new projects, but it seems the issue of fares needs to be addressed more.

    We keep seeing arguments against the existing fare system that show signs that the number of transit riders who are out there who are nervous about fare hikes amidst federal transit cuts are increasing.

    Metro needs to do an in-depth article on how budget cuts will affect fares to sustain Metro and their new projects.

    With that article in mind, it also needs a poll asking Metro riders what type of fare system we can agree upon with a pro/con format:

    Continuously ask for more fare hikes across the board to recuperate operational costs and funding new projects.
    Pro: Everyone pays the same fixed fare so it’s easy to implement.
    Con: It further disadvantages shorter riders as they end up paying more per distance travelled. There’s no guarantee one fare hike will be the end as Metro expands its routes.

    Keep fares low for everyone as it is now, but continuously increase sales taxes as needed
    Pro: No change to the fare system so nothing new
    Con: Everyone has to pay more for buying goods and services in LA to keep transit fares low. We may end up asking for more tax hikes as Metro expands its routes.

    Scrap the existing fare plan and adopt a new “pay less for shorter rides/pay more for longer rides” distance or zone based model fare system
    Pro: Riders pay for only the distance they travelled so it doesn’t discriminate between riders on how far they travel
    Con: It costs more to implement so a small temporary sales tax increase is needed to fund the change. Subtle changes to distance and zone fares may become necessary as Metro expands, but fare changes will be fair for everyone as the changes will be made on a per-distance basis.

    We need a three-way poll of raising fares, raising sales taxes, and changing the way we pay our fares to see what Angelinos are willing to put up with.

  15. With budgets being a reality all across the US, the talk about re-thinking how we pay for public transit is being discussed all over the US. It’s being discussed heavily where I’m from too:

    Musings on a zone-based fare proposal (NYMTA)

    The fare versus distance issue is not specific to Los Angeles. In NY, the longest subway ride is the A train which spans over 31 miles, covering from the Bronx, spurring to Kennedy Airport and all the way to Coney Island. This is almost the same distance as trying to go from Santa Monica all the way to El Monte.

    And just like LA Metro, NYMTA is faced with budget cuts. The only way to recuperate costs for running a mass transit subway system in NY is to raise fares for everybody. But everyone hates it because we’ve been seeing fare hikes year after year. We now pay $2.50 per ride with more fare hikes on the horizon due to federal transporation cuts.

    But, what realistically are the other options? Public transit cannot sustain itself as they spread out; it just costs more to keep them running. Realistically, there’s no way we can keep fares low for everyone but have transit cover everywhere from a person’s front porch to where they work.

    Low flat rate fares hurts the transit agency as they expand their system. It needs more farebox recovery to keep it sustainable. The only option is to raise fares or ask for more tax hikes.

    Raising the flat rate fares hurts the riders as every riders’ needs are different from person to person. As fares rises, it may still retain the benefit of long distance commuters to use public transit over the car. But it also creates an opposite effect of discriminating against short distance commuters to seek alternative means of transit.

    Or we can scrap this entire flat rate idea and move onto distance or zone based pricing. Shorter riders pay less, long riders pay more. It becomes more inline with the different needs of public transit riders.

    In the end, it comes back to the question “how much fare increases are you willing to put up with at which distance of travel?” Is $1.50 for two station worth of subway rides acceptable? How would you think if you have to end up paying $2.50 or more now? Or $5.00? Or, we can keep it $1.50, but everyone’s sales tax is now at 20%? Or wouldn’t you rather just pay a fair price of what you want based on how far you want to travel?

  16. I think the growing concern from distance fare advocates are more to do with the uncertainty of fare increases that are reflective to how far they only need to go.

    What we’re seeing is a paradigm shift where as we add more lines and building new projects, the public transit riders are beginning to become more nervous with a cheap flat rate pay-as-you-ride system can continue to co-exist with all these new projects.

    For example, if the Gold Line were to be extended all the way to Ontario Airport as planned, it’ll be a 40 mi ride all the way from Ontario to LA Union Station. I think anyone would agree that $1.50 ride for 40 miles all the way from Ontario Airport to LA Union Station is way too cheap.

    In contrast, you also have the transit rider who rides the Red Line from 7th/Metro to Union Station which is only two miles paying the same $1.50; which I can understand some would consider this to be a rip-off.

    The concern is when fare increases happen. It’s pretty darn obvious that as more lines are built and more projects are done, there are costs associated to maintain these new lines and there’s no guarantee that fares are going to stay $1.50 per ride forever.

    In order to maintain a 40 mi route from Ontario to Union Station, fares inevitably have to be increased just to cover operating expenses. But under flat rate pay-as-you-ride, that just means people will have to fork over more expensive fares for every single ride without distinguishing the needs between one who rides the Gold Line from Ontario to Union Station (40 mi) to another person who takes the Red Line from 7th/Metro to Union Station (2 mi).

    The concern about fixing the fare system is a real one. We need to fix the fare system now before building new projects. Otherwise, it’ll be a one hell of a budget nightmare to fix it when we a have full system in place. The more we keep pushing fixing our fare system off for later, it’ll just end up costing more taxpayers to fix it. Might as well do it now when costs of switching is still cheap.

  17. I honestly don’t give a hoot how distance fares are implemented.

    All I care is that I’m getting a crappy deal by paying $1.50 every time I board the bus when I only need it for 7 blocks, while somebody else is getting a steal for riding the bus for 20 miles.

    Why should somebody end up paying 7.5 cents per mi for riding one bus 20 miles while I have to deal with being ripped off at 50 cents per mi for taking a shorter 3 mile ride? And Metro thinks this helps people use the bus more? It’s ridiculous! I should only be able to pay no more than a quarter if the 20 mi person gets to ride it at a rate of 7.5 cents per mile.

    This is a growing concern among short distance transit riders. Metro needs to address the fare inequality between short distance riders and long distance riders NOW.

  18. @Mospaeda

    So what’s your plan? If you were to convince Metro and LA councilmembers, what presentation are you going to give to get their heads nodding up and down to a more profitable distance model?

    Are you going to go in and say “let’s put the base fare $1.50, tack on $0.10 per mile so the first mile will be $1.60…” Yeah, right like how that’s going to work.

    You don’t understand how politics work.

    You don’t convince politicians with “paying more for longer distances” when their constituents ride long for cheap.

    But you get them to agree by saying “pay less for shorter rides” as it brings them a whole new set of constituents that secures their next ticket to re-election.

  19. @ IT IT Guy in Irvine

    It’s not the same. NO transit agency directly charges per distance. Its BASE FARE + DISTANCE FARE. The base fare being necessary to gain a significant amount of revenue to allow longer trips not to get to expensive. Look at every transit agency in the World and you will see this to be true.

    Metro as is currently chargse only a base fare with plenty of bulk discounts and passenger discounts. Metro could conceivably lower the base fare if they removed the monthly and weekly passes since a majority of Metro riders are pass holders but considering the relative cost of other systems that operate distance base fares in this country it will not be much.

  20. @Mospaeda

    “Again I repeat distance fares = longer riders paying more = less operation subsidy. Cheaper short distance fares not likely”

    And again, I stress that distance fares means the same thing; longer riders paying more is the same as shorter riders paying less.

    Introducing it as $0.10/mi with $1.50 cap is NOT the end. It’s just the start. It’s the way you get politicians to agree to this stuff because it’s their ticket to re-election.

    After you get this implemented and everyone gotten used to the concept, paying less for shorter rides/paying more for longer rides mindset kicks in. When that happens, it’s just a software fix to increase it to $0.50/mi with $5.00 cap or whatever.

    You want it to pay $1.00/mi with $10.00 cap? Fine, we can do that too. Whether people will go for a sudden jump from $0.10/mi to $1.00/mi is another issue though.

    You need to understand things like these takes steps. You can’t go from $1.50 flat rate to “oh let’s move to distance based fares of $2.00 per mile with $20.00 cap, that’ll solve all of our problems.” You need to start from something cheaper and gradually increase it to match the fare box recovery ratio.

  21. @ IT Guy in Irvine

    I have said MANY times that switching to distance based fares is a necessity but I have argued several times that it will not be some bastion of goodness for short distance riders. When Singapore switched to distance based fares on their bus system the short distance group ended up paying more while the longer distance riders while payed less. Hence the 1/3 of commuters not happy with the fare change.


    “Public transit in cities like Singapore, HK, Seoul, Tokyo and London are respective to gas prices; they pay more per gallon (or liter as we’re the only one still not using metric system) therefore it’s practical they charge more than a $0.XX/mi .”

    Um, No. The fact is they don’t charge $0.XX/mi . London uses zone fares and HK, Seoul, Tokyo, and and Singapore have a minimum fare for boarding with incremental charges based on how far you go.

    Here is a nice little chart that Im presenting to show how Los Angeles fares compares to the mentioned transit systems. I included what the fare is in the US based on the exchange rate and the relative cost of the Big Mac in each of the respective countries for comparison purposes

    Base Fare/ Exchange Rate/ Calculated based on Big Mac Index

    London Underground 1-2 Zones: 1.90 Euro/ $2.73/ $2.25
    Seoul Metro: 1000 Won/ $0.93/ $1.10 * for trips up to 10 km, 500 won added after each 5 km
    HK MTR: $3.00 HK Dollars/ $0.39/ $0.81
    Tokyo Metro: 170 Yen/ $2.22/ $2.16
    Singapore MRT: $0.71 Singapore Dollars/ $0.59/ $0.65

    Cost of Big Mac in Respective Countries: $4.07 USD/ 320 Yen/ $15.10 HK Dollar/ 3700 Won/ $4.41 Singapore Dollar

    In all honesty if and when Metro goes to distance based fares it will look more like BART in the SF Bay Area or WMATA in Washington DC where the base fares are $1.75 or $1.60 respectively and increase from there base on distance traveled. BART even charges extra to go into the airport or cross the SF bay. Los Angeles is not dense enough to have low base fares like most of the Asian Countries

    To address the anti-tax sentiment. Most of the places with better public transit have much higher gas taxes than what is seen in America. Their governments help assist in the funding of mass transit expansion and in some cases operations. http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/02/fuel_prices

    Also many of the people who voted for Measure R wanted more rapid transit expansion. Yes, some bus operation subsidy was included but a good 35% of it was dedicated to bringing faster transit options to LA residents, and if Measure R2 were to come it would most certainly be sold on the premise of increasing these options not to provide more subsidies.

    Again I repeat distance fares = longer riders paying more = less operation subsidy. Cheaper short distance fares not likely

  22. I agree that Metro could gain more riders and earn the revenue they need without resorting to more taxes if they change their fare structures to something more logical. Instead, what they’re doing now is just pushing people away from using public transit and seeking alternatives like the bicycle or scooter.

    No one is going to pay $3.00 for a roundtrip ride on the bus just to get to my favorite barbershop 3 miles away or just to get to the bank 7 blocks away. Charging everyone $1.50 per ride on the bus or train whether they ride it 3 miles or 20 miles is, excuse my language, just f—ed up.

    It’s like paying $1.50 whether it’s three apples or twenty apples. The person who gets 3 apples for $1.50 ends up paying 50 cents per apple while the person getting 20 apples for the same $1.50 is getting a steal at 7.5 cents per apple. If this person is getting apples for 7.5 cents per apple, then the person who’s getting three apples should be charged at the same 7.5 cents per apple rate and should only pay a total of 22.5 cents for those three apples.

  23. Here’s my take on why this board is seeing an increase in frustration with Metro’s fare policies: more middle class people are switching to public transit.

    The middle class consist of college educated people who make financial decisions every day. From the middle class perspective it’s called “what’s in it for us.”

    Why do we buy at Wal-Mart and Costco? Because we can save on household items by buying them in bulk than buying at Ralphs.

    Why do we change our lightbulbs in our homes to CFLs and LEDs? To lower our monthly electric bills.

    Why do we use credit cards for everything? To earn frequent flyer miles and exchange them for free flights.

    Why are more middle class buying/financing scooters and motorcycles these days? Because Metro’s fares are too expensive for shorter distances.

    So the reason why you’re starting to see questions like “why should we switch to TAP when there’s nothing in it for us,” or “why should we pay the same $1.50 for shorter rides every boarding than another person riding the bus for 20 miles” is simple: more middle class people are asking tougher questions. And we don’t stop and accept it if it makes no sense.

    If Metro says it costs X per passenger mile as a basis for flat rate fares, we counter it with “give us proof, what screwed up mathematical formula did you use to come up with that figure.”

    If Metro uses AAA figures to justify Metro’s fares, we come back with “we can just buy a scooter.”

    We don’t blindly give up when Metro forces TAP on us, we say “why should we, what’s in it for us?”

    Metro needs to address these issues as more middle class starts taking public transit. From our perspective, Metro’s fares makes no sense at all. People have different travel needs and travel different distances, we should be charged based on that instead of being charged the same amount every ride.

    Honestly, we’re sick of tax hikes after tax hikes. We want to see my sales tax decrease to 7% not increase to 10% by another Measure R2 or whatever. Metro needs to do a better job at becoming more self-sufficient with less dependency on taxes. If they can’t operate a better fare box recovery ratio under pay-per-ride flat rate fates, then they need to fix it to pay-by-the-distance.

  24. @Mospaeda

    “No transit system that I know of charges $0.XX per mile. Singapore does not, Hong Kong does not do, Seoul does not, Tokyo does not, and London most certainly does not.”

    Public transit in cities like Singapore, HK, Seoul, Tokyo and London are respective to gas prices; they pay more per gallon (or liter as we’re the only one still not using metric system) therefore it’s practical they charge more than a $0.XX/mi.

    But in the US, gas is cheap. But that doesn’t mean we still have to continue using a flat rate charge everyone $1.50 model and continue to put faith on it. If gas prices are lower than other countries, then it’d make sense to do $0.10/mi or whatever.

    If anything, the prices of gas we’re paying now was the amount Tokyoites and Londoners paid two decades ago, which they’ve been running on a distance based model since then.

    Even Metro’s own formula says it’s around $0.68/mi per passenger (on whatever mathematical formula they used to get that number is anyone’s guess as they don’t report it anywhere).

    If Metro’s own formula says $0.68/mi, then introducing it with $0.10/mi and gradually increasing it to $0.50/mi with the other $0.18 being covered with taxes is much better than it is now.

  25. Here is a nice video I found covering the fare change in Singapore. Mass Transit fares are always such a contentious issue.

  26. Can we stop with the idea that short distance riders are getting “ripped off” taking metro a mile or two. Metro is NEVER going to charge $0.XX per mile. Distance base fares don’t work that way. Like a taxi cab their is a minimum boarding fee aka the base fare then the additional distance charges start taking place.

    No transit system that I know of charges $0.XX per mile. Singapore does not, Hong Kong does not do, Seoul does not, Tokyo does not, and London most certainly does not. The idea is most certainly incorporated to how they charge their fares and they all could do it conceivably but they have not done it yet perhaps their is a reason for that.

    The only good going to distance base fares will do is to make metro less dependent on government subsidies for operations like BART and WMATA with their high farebox recovery ratios 64.5% and 61.6% compared to LACMTA’s 30%

    Face it people that $1.50 or something of its equivalent is here to stay.

  27. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who thinks the fare system needs to be redone.

    It’s ridiculous that I have to pay the same $1.50 for only three train stations worth of travel on the Green Line when another person could go from LAX to Norwalk for the same price. I should pay cheaper because my Green Line needs are shorter than those that go from end to end.

  28. Why not let cash users continue to ripped-off $1.50 and let riders who uses the cash purse on TAP have the benefit of cheaper distance fares of $0.10/mi to $1.50 cap as IT Guy had suggested?

    Make it a benefit and people will start using TAP instead of cash.

  29. Transit advocates usually seem to separate on the issue of bus versus rail. The truth is that transit in large cities should optimally be intermodal. We also need to recognize that many passengers, in certain situations, need to be able to drive their own cars part of the way. It’s ironic but true: to encourage some people to take mass transit, you have to let them park at the train station. With congestion based parking downtown just now coming on line, this would help a lot of people.

  30. Came here to mention the fare system. Apparently I am not alone!

    Why can’t LA Metro and (for example) SMBBB have some recoprocity?

  31. The fact that bus service in transit-dependent communities is being sacrificed to open up funds for rail operations.

  32. I agree with IT Guy that Metro’s fare policies need a total revamp.

    Paying $1.50 per ride, $5 for a day pass, $20 for a 7-day pass or $75 for a monthly pass doesn’t make any sense when there are just as many cheaper alternatives like bicycling or riding a fuel efficient 100 MPG scooter to get around town.

    Why would anyone want to take the bus and pay $1.50 every time they board them for a short ride when a bicycle or scooter makes much more sense?

    Lots of young people like me are buying bicycles or financing scooters because of this.

    If Metro wants to attract more riders, they need to address the issue that their fares aren’t cost efficient for shorter rides; they just push short distance riders like me to seek cheaper alternatives.

    Now if Metro made the fares more reasonable like 10 cents a mile, I’d ride it because it’ll only cost me 25 cents for the 2.5 mile ride from my apartment to my workplace at the Beverly Center.

    Even if they raise it to 50 cents per mile, I’d still take the bus because it still gets me there in $1.25 instead of $3.00 ($1.50 x 2 buses).

    But the way it is now, Metro sees no ridership from me because I’d rather bike or consider financing a new Vespa than fork over $1.50 every time I board the bus.

    Metro could be earning $0.25-$1.25 revenue from me if they go to a pay-by-the-distance model. But they get nothing because they expect me to pay a total of $3.00 on two short bus rides that don’t even total 2.5 miles. Metro fail.

  33. Metro’s fare system should be fixed sooner rather than later to allow a more self sufficient Public Transportation system. But the issue of the United States obscenely low gas tax still needs to be addressed. Highway maintenance is not paying for itself and private entities will not assist in High Speed Rail funding without a significant commitment of funding from Federal and/or State Governments.


  34. In terms of extra revenue, there is no doubt that overhauling the fare system would help a lot, and metro needs to address these concerns as there is a growing sentiment against the current fare structure, but I think the lack of signal priority/preemption is an issue less about cost and stems much more from the prevailing and deeply flawed mentality at the top level that moving individual cars through an intersection 20 seconds faster is more important than moving trains or buses across that are full of people and need to keep schedule and maintain movement as a rapid transit system. Metro’s OWN study on signal preemption on the gold line east side extension ONLY looks at the supposed impacts to cross traffic but does not ever seem to mention the benefit to trains. When you have a transit agency that is more concerned about intersection traffic than actually moving the transit system, that’s a major problem. Yes I know LADOT technically controls the signals but its not like this is out of metro’s hands. Basically we are approaching transit from a car oriented perspective and are somehow expecting that to yield better results… Since this subject is on mobility 21, the term “mobility” is quite literal which is why I see this issue as very important.

  35. All of these are great issues, but where’s the money going to come from?

    More taxes aren’t the answer; people are sick of it. The only other way is through finding other sources of revenue, which is to redo the entire fare system. Charging everyone $1.50 per ride is a dumb idea to begin with. It makes no money and forever keeps Metro dependent on taxpayers.

    Start off with $0.10/mi to $1.50 cap and when people have gotten used to the concept, raise it to $0.50/mi to $5.00 cap.

    Better farebox recovery stream on a pay-by-the-distance system will solve Metro’s budget problems without being dependent on taxes.

    We have the technology to do this. I can’t see why not we wouldn’t want to try this out at least in the more busier bus routes.

  36. MTA Speeding buses due to poorly synchronized lights is a big problem in Downtown.

    And the MTA buses are POORLY MAINTAINED and NOISY.

    NOISY, NOISY, NOISY. Other cities around here have way quieter buses, no screaming belts needing replacing and noisy air brakes.

  37. I think buses and trains having the right of way in areas where they interact with traffic in any fashion needs to be addressed and improved. This may seem like a small issue, but it does effect the ride quality and time in a way that either entices people into using transit or not using it at all. It effects perception too of both tourists and locals alike, and that’s is a huge factor in LA.

    With buses, there needs to be much better signal priority for the limited stop “rapid” buses and queue jumping where physically possible.

    And for the rail and busways, there needs to be active signal preemption anywhere the trains or metro liner buses (like the orange line) cross an intersection.

    These are relatively no-brainier and not terribly costly improvements for any city or region that truly cares about mass transit working well and attracting much more ridership. Plus in many other us cities the at-grade rail already gets full preemption whether its street median running or in a dedicated ROW. Some examples are; New Jersey light rail, Portland MAX, Seattle Link, Hiawatha LRT, Sacramento RT, VTA San Jose, T third line San Francisco, Baltimore LRT, and of course, the vast majority of tram-trains in Europe. These necessary improvements and fixes will help transform the efficiency of mass transit in the LA area.

  38. Too much parking is incorporated into developments. Lower the parking threshold at residential/office buildings so that more people would find transit a reasonable alternative. With high parking thresholds, there’s very little incentive to go Metro!

  39. Parking at many existing Metro/Metrolink stations are full by 8am in the morning. Both the Norwalk Metro station and Norwalk Metrolink stations are full Mon-Fri. Also Artesia Blue Line Station is always full. Adding additional parking lots/structures at locations like these will translate directly into higher ridership.