Los Angeles’ Financially Strained Transit Agency Considers Eliminating Fares on Buses and Trains
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, called Metro for short, will convene a taskforce this week to study the idea of abolishing fares on its buses and trains.
The aim is to boost ridership and support low-income riders who’ve been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Still to be determined is how the already financially strained Metro would cover the costs of making its service free to riders.
“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 Paul Washington told The Source, Metro’s blog.
The idea has earned the support of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who chairs Metro’s Board of Directors. Garcetti said on Twitter that abolishing fares would be “an important step toward a more equitable and sustainable future.”
The Source post notes that the median Metro rider’s household income is $17,975 for bus riders and $27,723 for rail passengers, two income brackets that have been hit hard by the health and economic impacts of coronavirus.
Eliminating fares for all riders, regardless of income, would be an expensive proposition.
In fiscal year 2019, Metro says it pulled in $250–$300 million in fares to cover $1.9 billion in operating costs. In 2018, Metro collected $300 million in fares from its bus and rail services, which covered just under 20 percent of its operating expenses.
The money that Metro would lose from eliminating fares come on top of the extra costs it has had to assume because of the pandemic, says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation expert at the Reason Foundation (which publishes this website).
“To carry the same number of folks, they have to run extra trains, because they’re trying to do some form of social distancing. They have added health costs for their employees,” says
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