The Metro Board of Directors on Thursday will consider the agency’s budget for the FY 2020-21 fiscal year, which runs from this past July 1 through June 30, 2021.
The budget includes funding for the levels of bus and rail service that Metro plans to provide for the rest of this fiscal year. We know that many riders and stakeholders have questions about how much service we plan to run — and we have answers below.
Is Metro proposing to cut service?
No. The Metro budget proposes that we continue to run our current level of bus and rail service through June 30, 2021. We are not proposing ANY additional cuts.
We’re presently running 80 percent of the service we had prior to the COVID-19 pandemic for about 50 percent of our normal ridership.
We believe this is a fiscally responsible path forward with ridership down. Many people have lost their jobs or are telecommuting. Most students are attending classes online.
This strategy meets current demand, helps provide the transit service people need and will help preserve agency finances so that we can add service when the pandemic eases and riders return.
Will Metro be able to add service if ridership surges during the current fiscal year?
Yes. If we see a sudden uptick in ridership, Metro has the ability to add service or shift service to busier lines as practical.
But let’s not sugarcoat this. Los Angeles County has more COVID-19 cases than any other county in the U.S. In the new four-tier system to track the virus in California, we have the longest path to a full reopening of our economy.
Why isn’t Metro running its full service?
Metro is facing a $1-billion-plus budget deficit in the future. That’s due to increased costs related to the pandemic and declining revenues from local sales taxes and fares.
Other transit agencies face similar challenges. And many large agencies — including those in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York — have also reduced service during the pandemic.
What about social distancing?
In an ideal world, we would be able to run enough service so everyone could stay six feet apart on every bus and train.
That would require us to run much more service than we did prior to the pandemic. We don’t have the money, staffing or equipment to do so.
We’re currently trying to ensure buses are at no more than 75 percent seated capacity compared to the 130 percent standard we used prior to the pandemic.
What else is Metro doing to keep rider safe?
Metro has joined the American Public Transportation Association and transit agencies across the nation in committing to specific measures to help ensure the safe return of riders to our system.
As part of that effort, we’re requiring all riders to wear face coverings, we’re ensuring good ventilation on buses and trains and we’ve enhanced cleaning of our system with an emphasis on high touchpoint areas.
And we’re making it easier for you to choose less crowded times to ride by providing crowding prediction data via the Transit app, our official app that is available for Android phones and iPhones.
What happened with the CARES Act funding Metro received?
L.A. County received $1.068 billion from the federal bill to help Americans cope with the pandemic. Metro received $772 million and $296 million went to other transit operators in the county.
The CARES Act money has certainly helped. But we need more federal stimulus money and a rebounding local economy to erase more of our deficit in future years.
Why can’t you just take money from other projects and use it to run more service now?
It sounds easy to take money earmarked for future projects.
But voters in L.A. approved ordinances that require us to spend sales tax revenues in specific ways. Meaning we can’t use project money to pay operational expenses, and vice versa.
What about Metro’s NextGen Bus Plan?
If the Metro Board approves NextGen this fall, we’ll use the plan to dictate where we add service as we build back the bus system.
It’s a great plan that was developed with stakeholders and will provide more frequent bus service for most riders. The pandemic might slow down full implementation a bit, but we’re sticking with the plan.
Metro is also working on other upgrades that are a companion to NextGen — these include working with cities to speed up transit service by adding more bus lanes in L.A. County, improving bus stops and optimizing traffic signal priority for buses and trains.
Even before COVID-19, bus ridership had fallen because our bus network wasn’t meeting the needs of riders. The NextGen Bus Plan was designed to bring fast, frequent and reliable all-day service to more people. We are not abandoning a plan so desperately needed.
How can I submit a comment to the Metro Board before they vote on the budget?
There are three options. We recommend the first two as the best way to ensure your voice is heard.
1) Comments can be submitted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23. Put “public comment on budget item” in the subject line.
2) You can hear the meeting and submit a comment via phone during the meeting by:
•Calling 888-251-2949 or 215-861-0694. The numbers will be available five minutes prior to the meeting beginning at 10 a.m. and throughout the meeting.
•Enter English Access Code 8231160# or Spanish Access Code 4544724# and then follow instructions to comment.
•If you need assistance, please call 888-796-6118.
3) Comments can be submitted prior to the meeting by regular mail at: Board Secretary’s Office One Gateway Plaza MS: 99-3-1 Los Angeles, CA 90012. Note: if you mail your comment today, it will likely not arrive in time.
Any final thoughts?
We know how much many riders depend on us. We know many people have high aspirations for Metro.
We feel likewise. This isn’t where we thought we would be when 2020 began. We think we have a sound plan going forward. It may not be ideal, but we believe it paves the way toward a future we all want.