Los Angeles Metro Fare Public Hearing: Out of Control

Listening to the public hearing from the east coast, I was actually very appalled by the behavior of some of the yellowshirts (The Bus Riders Union).. In my younger days, I have been to different transit public hearings in Southern California and as I can see nothing has changed. Saturday's public hearing did turn into a physical altercation.

Here's my opinions on the fare changes.

Yes, Metro spends money.. all public agencies do. What some do not totally understand is that money that comes from the federal government can not be used for day to day operations of the system, it must be used for capital projects. Yes, federal funds can be used to purchase 5,000 buses that the BRU and others are demanding and can even purchase the land and build the operating divisions to park all of these buses while upsetting the people they are intending to help since you need to park the buses there so the land has to be purchased or at worst case, eminent domain. But once you have those facilities built and those buses delivered, they are going to remain parked since there are no operating funds.

For day to day operations, farebox recovery accounts for about 25% in an average system. That other 75% has to come from somewhere. However, the costs to operate the system including personnel, health care, wear and tear on the buses, facility maintenance costs and of course, fuel are all on the rise. A fare increase is necessary to maintain the 25% recovery rate.

I do fault Metro though for putting such a long term radical change on the table. A change that was spread out over 6 years. As you saw in the commentary, most people went straight for the last column (year 2020) and dwelled on that. We know that conditions change and any fare proposals I have seen where a multi-phase plan has been proposed will always get changed. I feel for right now, Metro should have offered a single fare increase with a single column of proposed fares and warned that this could increase in the future due to economic conditions.

At the same time I do not buy the arguments that Metro is too hard on fare evasion. It's simple, if you do not pay for your ride, you will get a ticket. I remember when I used to ride the Denver RTD Light Rail from end to end, I once got fare inspected 4 times on a 1 hour train ride. In Phoenix, you are lucky if you get inspected once every 4 rides. I can't imagine Metro being more aggressive than Denver was there.

Just my thoughts on the actual fare proposals themselves:

90-minute transfers are not enough. Back in the old days, transfers were usually "cut" for a time that is 60 minutes after the bus reaches the end of the line. A 90-minute transfer will not accommodate many reasonable transfers. For example, let's say I board the 2-Sunset bus in Pacific Palisades and ride it all the way to Western to transfer to the Red Line. That trip right there is already almost 2 hours. My transfer would not be any good. My recommendation would be for passengers using TAP can pay $1.75 (the September 2014 proposed fare) and then for each transfer within a 3 hour period, an additional 25¢ per bus/train would apply. This transfer can not be used for reverse direction on routes traveled during the 3-hour period.

In Option 2, I do not support the peak/off-peak fares. I feel that this penalizes those who do work 9 to 5 and need to ride the bus. Many people may have low income, rank and file jobs where so-called flexible work schedules are not an option. They have to report for work when they are expected.

I do feel that Metro should have a $2.00 cash fare. Therefore, if you pay with TAP, your card is deducted $1.75 but if you don't use TAP, then you will need to put $2.00 in the farebox. Transfers would not be available with cash fares. It is a per bus payment. I think that it is the desire for any transit system to go as cashless as possible, but we need to take into consideration that people could be in a bind and needs to pay cash because they don't have a TAP card or they do not have access to it at the time they need to ride the bus.

While the thought of a $180 (option 2, 2020) monthly pass sounds outrageous, even in 2020 dollars, it may be a reality. I would rather see Metro come out with a TAP card that is capped. So in other words, if you ride so much that you would benefit from a monthly pass, then put a maximum spend on the card for the monthly pass rate. All subsequent rides in the month are not debited from the card.

I think that Metro should do much more advertising on the buses and trains. Take a look at the trains in Tokyo, there is a LOT of advertising and their systems are much more self-sustaining than here.

To the yellowshirts and others out there, public transit is not a charity, it is a service.. all services cost something.

Let's hope that the Metro board develops a reasonable plan that does not cause undue burden on the riders yet meets Metro's financial goals to sustain the existing service we have and hopefully fill in more of the gaps in the future.

(Photo credit: Metro - The Source)