Fareless System Initiative gives update to Metro Board on potential pilot program

Metro staff provided an update today on the agency’s Fareless System Initiative (FSI), saying although the study is still in progress, a leading concept has emerged to do a fareless pilot program that would provide free rides on Metro for low-income riders and K-12 students.

Metro staff working on FSI told the Metro Board of Director’s Executive Management Committee that they are looking at a potential January 2022 start date for the low-income part of the pilot program and August 2022 start date for testing fareless for K-12 students. The pilot program would conclude June 30, 2023.

The Metro Board would then decide how to proceed. It’s important to note those dates depend on the ongoing pandemic easing and the majority of the population and Metro Bus and Rail Operators having access to COVID-19 vaccines. The pilot program would only be for Metro and not other local transit agencies.

Metro staff stressed that the FSI study is still very much a work-in-progress and many details still need to be ironed out. But the project team is aiming to bring a firm proposal for the Metro Board to consider in May 2021.

Metro staff believe testing the fareless concept with low-income riders and students will deliver results to people who most need financial relief during the economic recovery from the pandemic. Low-income riders and students are currently eligible for discounted fares — but getting rid of that cost altogether (and streamlining the application process) would give workers, students and families time and money they could use on other needs and expenses.

Data from Metro’s Customer Survey in Fall 2019 (pre-COVID) indicates that approximately 70 percent of Metro’s existing riders could potentially qualify for the Metro pilot program and about 1.6 million people in L.A. County could qualify according to Census data – although it remains to be seen how many people would ride. There are about 79,000 participants who currently receive Metro’s LIFE fare discount that would also automatically qualify. There are also 1.4 million K-12 students in L.A. County. A fareless initiative could save riders up to $1,200 annually.

One aspect of FSI that is still being studied is the cost of going fareless. There are many factors involved, including the cost of adding service for increased ridership and, of course, making up the revenue lost to not collecting fares.

Many transit agencies in the United States are closely watching a federal bill before Congress known as the Freedom to Move Act that would establish a $5-billion competitive grant program for local agencies that want to go fareless. The bill was authored by Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Mass. Senator Edward J. Markey. The FSI team is also evaluating local and state funding opportunities and taking a hard look at Metro’s budget to see if reprioritizing some funds might be possible.

Some important background: Metro CEO Phil Washington announced the launch of the agency’s Fareless System Initiative last August. On many occasions, Phil has said that he believes Metro has a moral obligation to Los Angeles County residents to help the region recover from the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic and to help counter the high expense of living in our region.

In particular, housing and transportation are known as the two biggest expenses facing many households — and the fareless proposal would eliminate one of those. Going a step further, this could mean the difference between a family of four being able to make rent or risk being unhoused. Farelesss transit would also:

•Put money back into the pockets of essential workers, moms and dads, students, seniors and riders with disabilities.

•Increase transit ridership and increase access to opportunity for more residents while giving people an incentive not to drive, thus helping to reduce traffic and pollution. Metro’s ridership has been about 40 to 50 percent of the 1.2 million weekday boardings pre-pandemic — which we believe shows how heavily people depend on us to get around.

•Reduce fare evasion penalties that disproportionately impact low-income riders.

Metro staff are also evaluating impacts to other Los Angeles County transit providers, as well as other potential impacts such as the number of bus operators Metro may need.

In addition, the FSI team is studying several ways to go fareless, including the possibilities of a fully fareless system, using fareless transit as an incentive to ride during off-peak times and going fareless in certain geographic areas. The potential pilot that staff discussed would be a good way to test the concept before considering whether to expand it to other riders.

Metro will be conducting public outreach meetings on the pilot project in March. Stay tuned to The Source and Metro’s social media channels (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) for the dates and times of these meetings.

30 replies

  1. They are wasting millions studying a monorail. What a waste of funds. They are throwing away money on nonsensical projects. The actual alternative is a light rail line, not yet another incompatible monorail line.
    Free fares are detrimental to the whole idea of the system paying for itself for middle class commuters trying to go to work. I suggest keeping Metro higher cost and perhaps busses being slightly cheaper to to encourage ridership. Overall, few people want to wait for busses that never arrive and Metro being constantly broken down with routes that don’t take them to work or anywhere actually. California laws make it impossible to build anything reasonably cost. Crime, homeless, and the increasingly diverse population where no one gets along makes these fare reduction initiatives ridiculous on it’s face.

    • The second point, which I forgot to make is that Free Fares might look good on the surface, but when you get into all the little details. Like added security, added cleaning [due to increased amount of homeless using the system as their home], the loss of passengers due to all the above, it just isn’t worth it.
      The Metro System needs to be of value, not only to the lower income people, but appealing to the middle class as well. Free fares just won’t do that, in fact it will drive ridership away.

  2. Make people pay higher fares provide faster cleaner safer transportation and ridership will grow quickly but just giving out free rides for the poor on slow schedules will not grow ridership get more funding for faster service.

    • That is absolutely true! If people have to pay more, it will tend to eliminate the homeless and enable METRO to provide better, faster, cleaner, and more reliable service for everyone. I’m NOT saying that we need to take away the reduced fares for the students, disabled, or the elderly.

  3. When will fare paying riders be provided with restrooms? Will Metro be last transit system in the world to get these basic human rights?

    • Probably, it will take METRO another 20 years before they realize that people need to use the restroom, sometimes, and then it will take another 10 to 15 years before they begin to become a real thing. Metro doesn’t act very fast on positive things!

  4. The hatred of the needy and homeless shines through the so-called “christian” (lower-case ‘c’ on purpose) ramblings via the conduit of Fox News and trump (lower-case ‘t’ on purpose) followers.

    • NO, your hatred of Conservative views is shining full and, hopefully, this liberalism will diminish as more people realize that Conservatism is what’s best for this nation! Most of the homeless population have brought their situation on themselves either through alcoholism or drug abuse. So, don’t preach, to me, about the “poor homeless”.

      • To be fair, not that I disagree (believe me you are 90% correct), but not all homelessness is the result of Alcoholism and Drug abuse. I’ve seen genuine people go homeless as a result of bad circumstances occurring all at once (such as loss of a relative and loss of a job, for example). It really is difficult to build a solid foundation to finally get back on your feet again, so I do think that those people that ACTUALLY want to get back on their feet be given at least the basis resources to do so. That will actually prevent the drug and alcohol abuse route for many.

        But at the same time I will agree, there are many who purposely choose to remain homeless and refuse help. I have to give Metro credit there, if they are actually giving the homeless options and they refuse, then there’s no point in wasting time on helping someone who doesn’t want it.

  5. Going Fare less is going to open up a whole can of worms at the MTA. On cold raining nights the homeless population will move from their tents on to MTA buses and trains. A better initiative to help the homeless and attempt to rid the system of the current homeless situation is instead of scraping old buses that has become the norm, park the buses at strategic locations setting homeless villages for the poor soles to sleep in and perhaps get their lives back together.

    • You got that right! Metro hasn’t even began to think of all the negatives that a fare less system would bring. Just one of which is the need to have more security due to the massive increase of homeless on board of Metro. The costs associated with that along with the costs associated with the additional cleaning would make this idea a very stupid one.

  6. This is a bad idea if this ends up becoming permanent. The possible negative outcomes are alot worse than the benefits. It’s like Metro wants to double down on the issues it already has. Metro already struggles with paying for projects and other budgetary issues, so this will just exacerbate that as it will make Metro that much more reliant on outside subsidies in an ever changing political climate. It will also likely lead to an increase in vagrants and mentally ill on the street entering the system willy nilly as well as make the system more attractive as a moving homeless shelter. All of this will likely exacerbate the already present safety and cleanliness concerns so many riders have expressed in recent years. There’s a reason no other major transit system in the entire world has completely free fares. I don’t see this going well long term.

    • Hi Joan;

      At this time it’s just a proposal. The Metro Board of Directors would have to approve the plan and then time would be needed to implement it. We’ll certainly provide updates as the proposal works its way through the process.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  7. Metro should require that the municipal transit carriers implement whatever anti-fare program that Metro adapts. If any municipal transit agency will not adopt the same proposal as Metro, them Metro should operate competing routes against the muni routes. Metro should also refuse to subsidize the municipal carriers, unless those carriers give Metro full cooperation with Metro-s fare cutting policy.

    • Your attitude is one of the reasons that METRO is in this mess today. We DO NOT need the homeless riding the Metro System. We pay way to many taxes, as it is, The LAST thing we need is more taxes, which is EXACTLY what a fareless system would bring. Metro has enough problems already, a fareless system would just bring more problems. STOP THIS MADNESS NOW! NO transit system, in the world, has gone totally fareless, so why should METRO?

      • I don’t know what the point in engaging with this classist drivel is but just know that being un-housed means nothing in of itself when it comes to running a transit system. The fundamental goal is to move people around. If what you’re implying by referencing un-housed folks is the potential to encounter poverty, physical/mental/emotional distress, etc. on the system– then why bother leaving your home? There are some things that Metro has control over– fare or no fare, there are going all sorts of different people from different walks of life on the system. Maybe they should focus on getting help to folks that need it (more un-armed outreach and more bus/rail service instead of spending transit funds on cops and other frivolities)

        • If it’s a classist driven problem, then it’s only an American problem. The problem with people like you is thinking transit is only for the poor, the third class, the minorities, the help, you get where I’m going here,

          Transit should never be the “be all” solution for poverty. People are not in poverty because of their $3.50 round trip fare 30 days of the month, so why is going fare fare less the be all solution.

          You want a better solution? Do EXACTLY what’s happening at Jordan downs in Watts. A development of homes and businesses moving in their area, providing modern homes and jobs.

          Don’t want to support big brother businesses? okay, stop by and support the BLACK OWNED businesses in the area that will actually offer you something much more unique.

          Give the people the tools they need to create their Santa Monica, their own Westwood, their own South Bay Job hub, their own Irvine, Warner center, etc. and watch those communities grow and prosper because they don’t need to rely on a 90 min train ride or 2 hour bus ride to get to some barely minimum wage job across town. That is a much better solution. I’ve been to parts of the world where it’s actually rare to find people with a commute longer than 45 min, yet somehow that’s acceptable in America?

          Lastly, regarding the unhoused. Some of them just don’t want it, PERIOD. Literally seen people getting interviewed on tv saying they much rather continue to live on the streets then to follow the rules of someone. That’s individualism for you right there, and to those groups I will say then, why should I even continue to bother to care for those people if they can’t care for themselves or others? Think about that before you throw the world classist again, cause sometimes it’s the other side that can be classist.

          • You know that makes sense! There is an old Chinese Proverb, and it goes like this; “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day, Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life”. The point is, that if you give people the skills they need, they will become more self reliant.

    • LOL, that’s cute. Those munis operate much better and cleaner service than Metro ever will, and still somehow do it at a cheaper fare. NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE should be obligated to implement this stupid proposal, period.

      Throughout my years of riding the Rapid 6 (CC) and Rapid 7 (BBB), I rarely encounter the homeless and a dirty bus, and that’s considering they offer much lower fares than Metro. You want to un-subsidize them, fine. I’ll still pay the much higher fares to ride them over Metro any day of the week. Also, your suggestion about “running competing service on muni routes” is technically illegal by federal law, that’s why it took DECADES for the Rapid 7 to get its Koreatown extension. Also, what’s the stopping the Munis from doing the same if Metro is allowed to do it?

  8. I support getting rid of fares. I also support waiving fares for low-income persons. Metro is owned by all members of the public, and should legally be accessible to everyone.

    Metro should also protect the environment by encouraging the use of public transportation with free fares.

    If Metro only gives free fares to low income people, I will probably still have to pay approximately $20 a month for a senior citizen pass. But I support this proposal, whether it will waive money for me or not.

    Although I normally sympathize with homeless persons, I would like Metro, its security officers, the Los Angeles and Long Beach police, and the sheriffs to crack down on riders who do not wear face masks. The federal government implemented a regulation requiring transit providers to make passengers use face masks. Yet Metro, the L.A.P.D., and the sheriffs think that they are above the law.

  9. Better late than never! (In August, Phil Washington announced this would be in “early 2021”)

    • Why should other people pay, via their taxes, for the homeless to get free rides? You want to improve OUR system, get rid of 75% of the management and their salaries. Stop paying people to just “sit around and do very little”. Isn’t it time we make Government work for us, instead of the other way around?

        • I feel great actually. Hey, considering how terrible went about implementing them. I got a chance to try the express lanes on the I-110 the other day and it was awesome flying by traffic at 80 MPH arriving in Downtown from the I-105 to I-10 in about 10 min when just 3 months ago I was sitting on the other side and it took about 30 min for that same distance, so yeah I feel great and we should continue doing it at least in the areas with the absolute heaviest traffic, and continue to implement HOV lanes in the suburbs.

          But if you think going fareless instead of encouraging job and economic growth in local communities so they don’t have to travel on their free train or bus ride for 90 min to 2 hours to a barely minimum wage job across town is somehow going to end poverty then. . .Actually no. Last I heard, people paying $3.50 round trip to get to their job wasn’t the reason they were in poverty. How about actually solving the problem at its core?

          Now just imagine if Metro actually had the money for Express Buses and Train Lines so people could get to their jobs quicker if you really wanted to keep the status quo? It could actually compete with the car for once. But of course that isn’t the goal of government agencies controlling public transit. At the very least Metro should start with actually making the system reliable, something it currently isn’t.