Free fares in K.C., rail ridership, Vegas train: Metro News Now, Dec. 13


In the news…

•Kansas City is moving toward free bus and streetcar service instead of charging fares — the norm in the transit industry. From a K.C. Star editorial:

Those cities will confirm what Kansas Citians are realizing: Free bus service is more environmentally friendly, and it provides a transformative advantage for low-income residents who need a ride to work or school.

Eliminating fares will be politically popular, too. A 2018 survey showed Kansas Citians consider public transportation the third most important service in the city, behind only street maintenance and police. Yet less than half of those surveyed said they were satisfied with the current service.

A few facts worth munching upon. The transit agency in Kansas City has about 1.1 million boardings per month and about two percent of commuters in Jackson County (which includes K.C.) use transit to commute. The cost of free fares is $8 million. By comparison, LA Metro averages more than 30 million boardings per month and almost six percent of commuters use transit here. In FY 20, fare revenues here are projected to total about $326 million.

So, K.C. is a different animal. That said, Metro CEO Phil Washington has certainly mentioned his interest in using congestion pricing tolls here to potentially expand transit and offer free fares here one day (Metro is launching a congestion pricing feasibility study). The notion of free fares has also bubbled up in other big cities, although K.C. would be the first to take action.

Stay tuned. My hunch is that the fare conversation will be happening more frequently in the 2020s.

Curbed LA looks at Metro’s rail ridership for November and contemplates why it fell from about 350,000 average weekday boardings to about 301,000. Metro’s response:

Metro spokesperson Jose Ubaldo says the recent drop in rail ridership is about more than service shakeups.

“The Metro network covers a vast area of LA County and the decline of ridership cannot be attributed to simply one reason,” he writes in a statement. “With the closure of the Blue Line for 10 months a ripple effect was felt on the other rail lines.”

Ubaldo says recent technical issues and delays may have affected Gold Line ridership, while concerns about security and “social/economic challenges” may be driving rail passengers toward other modes of travel—like Uber and Lyft.

Members of Metro’s Board of Directors suggested last week that, given issues on the A Line and other routes, it might be necessary to better manage the expectations of new riders when opening new train lines, like the Crenshaw/LAX Line.

I’d also reiterate a point made by Curbed — we know car ownership is up in L.A. County and I’m guessing a lot of people who bought cars are using them.

Your thoughts?

•Virgin Trains is saying they could begin construction in late 2020 on the 170-mile high-speed train between Las Vegas and Victorville and that their funding picture is coming together, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The goal is to open the line in 2023.

16 replies

  1. I use the A Line to get to work every morning; connecting with it from Willow Station, in Long Beach.
    In the past few weeks it was noticed that while waiting for the train at the Willow Station, just about every day 2-3 trains pass by going in the Northernly direction (Towards L.A) without stopping, with the notice stating “NOT IN SERVICE”. I would like to know – What is going on ?

    • Hi Rawls;

      I’m guessing those are trains that have completed their runs from DTLA to DTLB and are headed back to the Blue Line yard — which is north of Willow (it’s just north of the 710 and 405 junction). The busiest part of the Blue Line morning schedule is between about 6 a.m. until a little past 8 a.m. At that point, there aren’t quite as many trains in service. Happy Holidays and thanks for riding and writing,

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. I had a medical issue that prevented me from driving from my North Hollywood home to Gardena workplace. I took MTA to/from work during that time. Gradually, I was able to resume driving to the point where I drive it five days a week. Reasons: Unsafe conditions on the Red Line, rude customers on both the Red and Silver lines, issues on getting back to 7th and Fig on Silver line that took 15 minutes to go two blocks, overcrowding on the E line if I picked it up at USC to avoid the Fig delays on the Silver line and infrastructure at the North Hollywood station that always seems to be not working. Yes, it takes me about 30 minutes longer to get home but, in my opinion, it is worth it to avoid the issues above and dodging the Orange line buses that block entrance/exit from parking lot at NoHo station.

  3. I’ve been car shopping since the reopening of the A line. I can’t keep telling my boss the train made me late, and I don’t want to leave an hour earlier just to ensure that I arrive on time. The train is slow even if it is on schedule, but it is perpetually delayed and broken down leading to 1.5 to 2 hour commutes each way. So much human potential is wasted riding around on Metro, waiting for trains. Imagine if all those hours could be reclaimed and put to good use!
    Also, I have not seen security or police on an A line train since it re-opened. Since re-opening, I have seen 3 fights, kids smoking on the train and cursing at the passengers that told them to stop, a man banging his bloody face against the window, a man passed out in his own urine, and too many people taking up whole sections sleeping across the seats and storing stuff in aisles. The only upside of no security, is the vendors. I appreciate the vendors on the train. Since I often don’t make it home in time for dinner with my family (cause the trains are so unreliable) I can at least have a Snickers while I wait. I don’t want to drive to work. I am a big fan of public transit, but it has to work and it has to be clean. LA Metro doesn’t work and its not clean. So, I’ll be driving for now 🙁

  4. I was concerned as well when I saw the recent drop in ridership. Besides the closure of the Blue Line and Expo to a lesser extent, I can’t think of something that would cause such a quick drop. The MTA has endeavored for decades to figure out a way to count passengers and has usually failed miserably. I remember the day we lost 25% of rail ridership because they changed the methodology they used to count passengers. The TAP system has been a disaster since the get-go – slow machines, no barrier gates, puzzling fare structures – etc. I read a great MTA report on fare collection a couple months ago that estimated 20% of the uncollected fares were probably a result of misunderstanding how to use TAP. A third-grader could tell you to enforce fare collection and then count how many fares and transfers you got but let’s not overthink things. While I hate to throw good money at consultants, it’s probably time the MTA brought it an outside firm to come up with accurate ridership counts and fare collection rates because it’s gotten to the point where internal data is untrustworthy.

  5. I’ve seen more police on the system, but they do absolutely nothing to stop bad behavior. Not on the Red Line at least. Also, Metro seriously has a problem with people bringing dogs onto the system.

  6. I can ride free, I’m a retired MTA employee. I do everything possible to avoid using the system. Not only can I walk faster than the buses on Santa Monica Bl. in West Hollywood but the headway is troublesome most of the day.

    • The 4 and 704 buses on Santa Monica Blvd. run every 15 minutes at midday and more often at peak hours, FWIW.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  7. Following along with the comment about safety and fare evaders. As someone who takes public transportation almost every single day, I have seen my fair share of it. Whilst the number of police officers at metro stations has increased, people still evade fare and hop over the rails with ease. Not once have I seen an officer actually confront an evader, unless they are creating a disturbance. More police presence does little.

  8. As usual, Metro Management seizes upon any excuse it can think of for the continuing decline in Metro rail (and especially bus) ridership–any excuse except for the real reason that is so obvious, especially to those of us who comprise the 7% who constitute the largest share of Metro ridership: Bad and unreliable service.

    For example, on Wednesday, November 6th, only about five days after Metro FINALLY reopened the complete A (Blue) Line route from 7th Street station, I decided to try out that (supposedly) refurbished/updated MetroRail line. When I arrived at that station to catch the regularly scheduled 9:50 p.m. weekday evening train to Long Beach, I was happy to see it waiting at Platform 2 with open doors, and already containing several southbound passengers.

    HOWEVER, as the minutes slowly ticked past the scheduled 9:50 p.m. departure time, and more and more hopeful passengers boarded the train, there still was NO announcement on the P.A. about why the train was not starting out from the station, or when our trip might actually begin.

    Finally, about 10:06 p.m., a full 16 MINUTES late, some Metro employee finally came on the P.A. to demand that everyone had to get off the train at once. STILL NO EXPLANATION for this problem was offered to the dispossessed passengers.

    We stood around on the platform for several minutes until, finally, Metro brought up another train for us to board. It did not depart until about 10:21 p.m., which was 30 MINUTES LATE! And STILL Metro provided its long-suffering passengers WITH NO EXPLANATION for the delay.

    Of course, when I finally reached the station I was bound for, I had to wait for quite a while for the arrival of a later connecting bus rather that the earlier one I should have been able to catch had the A/Blue Line left 7th Street on schedule. Interestingly, I noticed a subsequent southbound train arrive at my station only about five minutes after my train, rather than the scheduled 20-minute headways at the time of night.

    Needless to say, since then I have tried my best to avoid using the A/Blue Line–especially at night–because Metro’s buses, though painfully slow even in the light traffic typical of late night-time hours, at least tend to be more reliable than MetroRail trains are.

    Metro Management has yet to understand that its perennial practice of keeping Metro passengers in the dark about unexpected delays in service and other problems is probably one of the most effective ways to drive us completely away from using Metro.

  9. The reasons for low ridership on the trains/buses is many. One, is the constant delays. Two, the overcrowdedness when a train breaks down or a bus shows up late or not at all. Three, the homeless, that are allowed to ride free, all day, with all their belongings taking up the seats that paid passengers should be occupying. Four, besides the homeless, the trouble-makers who utilize public transportation. Five, trains/buses aren’t kept clean. They’re clean for now but for how long? These are just a few issues I can think of off the top of my head.

  10. Not sure why you and Curbed both ignore the increasing number of people who feel unsafe riding Metro due to an increasing number of fare evaders and other people who disturb passengers and violate other Metro rules. What is Metro doing to improve the safety of their buses and trains?

    • Hi Chris;

      Fair enough point. We have continued working in recent months to with our law enforcement agencies — Long Beach PD, LAPD and LASD — to make police more visible on the system. I feel like I’m seeing more police on the system but I don’t want to speak to others (I also roll through Union Station frequently — and there’s often police there).

      Quasi-related, I wrote some about safety on our system (and on Uber) the other day and included some of our crime stats. That post is here:

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • I agree with Chris 100%. Never see any enforcement of fares or rules on the Gold Line. Loud music, eating, drinking, homeless and dogs are all ongoing problems. Have yet to see ANY security on the train.