Metro staff today released a much-anticipated proposal to test eliminating fares on Metro buses and trains for kindergarten through 12th grade students, community college students and low-income residents of Los Angeles County.
Under the proposal, Metro buses and trains would be fareless for students beginning in August. Fareless transit would then be offered to qualifying low-income residents beginning January 2022. The test program would end June 30, 2023.
If approved, Metro would be the largest transit agency in the world to adopt such a sweeping fareless test program. About 70 percent of Metro’s riders are considered low-income (meaning annual income is less than $35,000) and the fareless program would help fulfill the agency’s pledge to put equity at the forefront of its mission to improve mobility for all in our region. The fareless program would also directly benefit many people most economically impacted by the pandemic and who most depend on Metro to get around.
The Metro Board of Directors will consider the staff proposal this month. The Board’s Executive Management Committee will take up the issue at their meeting at noon on Thursday, May 20; the meeting will be live-streamed. If the Committee advances the proposal, the full Board will consider it at their meeting at 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 27.
There is no shortage of evidence that putting money back into peoples’ pockets matters — a lot. In addition to the bleak household incomes for many of our riders, an estimated 69 percent of K-12 Students in L.A. County are low-income. Surveys suggest that about 75 percent of the county’s community college students who ride transit are also low-income. Introducing students to transit also helps improve attendance and would help students connect with educational, cultural and recreational opportunities.
Besides directly saving money for riders, the fareless program is also designed to aid in the recovery of the local economy from the ongoing pandemic (unemployment in L.A. County was at 11.3 percent as of March). Evidence suggests that having access to transportation helps people find and keep jobs, get to school and better care for their families.
The overall goal of the test program is to determine whether it’s possible for Metro to go fully fareless in the future. The test program would provide data and other insights needed to make that decision. Board has the discretion to terminate the program at the conclusion of the pilot if long-term Federal or State funding commitments are not secured.
“LA Metro has a moral obligation to pursue a fareless system and help our region recover from both a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and the devastating effects of the lack of affordability in the region,” Metro CEO Phil Washington said last August when he first proposed Phil told The Source. “Fare-free transit will help essential workers, moms and dads, students, seniors and riders with disabilities. I view this as something that could change the life trajectory of millions of people and families in L.A. County, the most populous county in America.”
Some other important details:
•Current Metro daily ridership is about half of the 1.2 million daily boarding Metro served in 2019. Metro’s Board recently directed that bus and rail service should return to pre-pandemic levels — with full bus service returning in September. That should provide ample capacity for returning and new riders.
•Vaccinations are now widely available to anyone 12 or older and Metro requires all riders to wear masks. We believe that getting vaccinated and wearing a mask makes riding transit extremely safe.
•The cost of the fareless test program is estimated to be $250 million for Metro over the next two fiscal years. Metro plans to pay for the program through a combination of state and federal grants (Congress is considering new legislation to support fareless transit initiatives around the country), external partnerships, cost-sharing with local school districts and finding cost savings at the agency. The first step toward securing any money is the Board’s approval of the pilot.
•Since Metro launched its fareless study last summer, we’ve heard from plenty of riders and stakeholders — a survey earlier this year received 46,400 responses with 86 percent of Metro riders supporting fareless and 80 percent of non-riders also supporting it.
•Stakeholders definitely have concerns, namely impacts of going fareless on safety, operations, cleanliness and — in particular — the number of homeless riding the system.
Metro takes those concerns very seriously and the agency has a number of initiatives underway as part of its recently released Customer Experience Plan. These include increasing Metro staff presence at facilities and on Metro vehicles, elevator attendants at stations, adding blue light call boxes and continued efforts to connect homeless people to social services and shelters.
•At this time, the fareless test program would only include Metro buses and trains. Metro has been in discussions with other transit agencies in L.A. County about participating in the program.
A fact sheet on the fareless efforts is below and here again is the link to the Metro staff report. Both documents have many other key details of this important effort.