Metro proposes fareless pilot program for K-12 and community college students and low-income residents

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.

14 replies

  1. Awful, horrible idea – poor concept, and will surely be just as poorly executed. Didn’t LA already have a program for discounted (or free) TAP cards (which are silly in and of themselves) to be provided to low-income individuals and students? What was wrong with that program? Instead, Metro has just completely given up any semblance of caring about the condition about what could (and should) have been a cutting edge system, and as a result it is already being used at no charge. Stations, buses, and subway cars have no oversight whatsoever; I can assure you that we’d be hard-pressed to find any other major world city that has ZERO fare enforcement on their transit systems. Metro’s canned reply – well, even if there were 100 percent fare compliance, that would still only cover a percent of the annual operating cost of the entire system. OK, well isn’t something better than nothing? Does it really take a Nobel-prize winning economist to understand this?

    Also – keep in mind that LA is scheduled to host the Olympics in a few years (pandemic-permitting). For the (presumably) many visitors from around the world that will be attending the Games, is our system really in a condition you’d want these tourists to see? Filthy, smelly, unsanitary (blood, urine, you name the bodily fluid) stations? Buses with seats that are more often than not soaked (and not with water, either)? Trains that are littered with hypodermic needles and “seats” that are being used as beds around the clock by homeless riders?

    Come on Metro – we can do better. Let’s start charging a proper fare for a proper service provided, and enforcing it regularly – the way all other transit systems around the globe do. Surely they can’t all be wrong. Then let’s use the added revenue wisely to invest in new/refurbished equipment, system upgrades and expansion, employee salaries/benefits, and maintaining and clean and healthy environment for all riders.

  2. My concern is that, for many persons, paying absolutely nothing for a valuable service (like public transit) tends to cause the user to lose respect for the value of the service–leading to bad behavior by many riders, including bad/inconsiderate treatment of the service’s facilities, vehicles, employees, and other users (in this case, other passengers).

    Lowering fares for riders with the lowest incomes is not a bad idea, but making Metro totally free for everyone (or even for most riders).seems likely to lead to even worse treatment of Metro buses/trains (e.g., more trash, graffiti) and fellow passengers, resulting in further erosion in ridership by middle-class residents and eventual loss of taxpayer support for Metro.

    Better to continue charging reasonable fares for most riders and use some (most?) of the fare revenue to pay for better security on Metro–e.g., some enforcement personnel who (unlike deputy sheriffs and LAPD) actually will issue (and collect) fines.for littering, smoking, spilling food/drink, discarding trash. producing graffiti, abusing employees and other passengers,evading fares, etc.

    If you cannot attract the middle-class to use Metro (i.e., if it becomes accepted that only, or mostly, the poorest residents ride Metro), Metro’s future is bleak.

  3. The real reason is no public transportation cares about the farebox money! Ask yourself why do the busses and trains have sensors on the door fron and back? The Goverment pays each time a passenger boards or gets off $13 that was in 2018. Plus mileage also why do you think they cut bus lines? To make the customer take connection bus or train lines. Tally up more boardings……

  4. We all need to have some balanced information on what exactly this initiative is meant to do. We all should know that the vast majority of Metro ridership is working-poor, like less than $30k a year. They make up the majority of riders. Improving their financial situation is something to be lauded. If they ride more, then that is a good thing to. Is this initiative meant to directly improve the security situation or access to buses and trains– no. There are other initiatives in the works that are tackling that. Nextgen is supposed to increase bus frequencies and change routes to make them more useful. There’s a public safety committee that’s focusing on improving the riding experience for EVERY rider- that includes the unhoused folks too. Secondly, Metro gets the vast majority of its funds from the 2 or 3 sales tax measures that the county has approved in the last 20-30 years. That’s a lot of money. Fares make up maybe 12-15% of the money in the budget- compared to 30%+ in other systems like in San Francisco, New York City, etc. As much as we could pull a Hong Kong or Tokyo and get transit money through real estate investments, there are tons of local, state, and federal changes that need to be made for this to even get started (I imagine). This may sound like I’m defending Metro, but they are seriously behind and are finally doing what should have been done years ago– What matters now is the follow-through. Will they do anything to improve the overall riding experience? That still has to be seen- especially when Metro’s own staffers are reluctant to increase bus service because more frequent service “confuses riders.”

    • MTA doesn’t care about the fare box money.
      In 2018 the federal government pays back the agency $13 per boarding. Why do you think each door on the bus or train has sensors? It tallys how many people board and get off? That’s how they make there money plus mileage. From the Federal and state and local governments. It just like when a corporation or a singer donates money, goods. They look good in our eyes but write it off on there taxes at the end. It’s a win win for them. This will bring in alot more boarding for the agency. More money……..

    • Hong Kong, Tokyo and pretty much most of Asia like Taipei, Singapore, Seoul all are ran for profit. They are semi-private or fully-private corporations where they have shares of their mass transit company being sold on their stock exchanges, and they operate under a distance based system where you pay more the farther you go. The last one is the biggest difference than our systems here, they charge you more the farther you travel, similar to how Amtrak and Metrolink operates, but with a more smaller rate like starting off at $0.50 up to max of $5.00 or more depending on distance travelled. That’s why theirs are far better than our poorly mismanged government run public transit.

  5. Hey Metro, why does EVERY. SINGLE. Car on the Red Line smell like the unhoused had an O*** the night before and the maintenance crews only had 20 min to do their best to flip the cars back into service at 4am?

    My god the stench is that terrible. Mind you a few cars on the Expo Line and Gold Line suffer from this but on the Red Line it cannot escaped. Maybe my nose is readapting to the system is to blame, but this wasn’t even an issue in Seattle which suffers from the same homeless problem as well.

    Yeah you know what? The fare is the problem. The solution? Get rid of the fareless initiative, increase the base fare by a Quarter and implement Distance Based Fares while still keeping the 2 hour transfer limit.

    Stop depending on tax dollars to survive. The goal should be for Metro to be self-sustainable and not becoming a burden to tax payers, including the low income taxpayers, which I’m quite surprised Metro isn’t disclosing that part so much.

  6. (Revised II) I hope this pilot program is not going to be really becoming a true, otherwise my households are going to order me neither to ride a bus nor a train because they said that there might be going to be very crowded on the bus or train if the fareless pilot program becomes a true, and they said that at that time, either all of us on the bus or train might be going to be infected, even if all of us have been fully vaccinated or even if all of us still be going to continue to wear masks or even if all of us still be going to keep a social distance at least six feet away from each other.

  7. Seniors not on your list? They should be at the top of the list! Why would we ride if you cannot even provide toilets? Metro is a huge failure.

  8. Ridership is down NOT because of cost but because of the horrible experience of riding Metro. Poor maintenance, teeth rattling bus rides, filthy conditions, and complete lack of security. Riding Metro is ALREADY free for all practical purposes. This won’t solve anything and will only accelerate the deteriorating ridership experience.

    Enforce fares. Enforce masks. Enforce sanitation and passenger hygiene. Provide a SAFE and COMFORTABLE experience. The fare isn’t the issue.