LA Metro Raises Bus and Rail Fares But Needs a New Fare Structure

Today the board of LA Metro raised fares on bus and rail riders by 25 cents to $1.75. Surveys of other transit agencies showed that LA ranks toward the bottom in terms of fare prices, as well as toward the bottom of farebox recovery (how much of the fare cover the actual cost of the ride). Of course, LA’s public transit ridership is disproportionately poor and minority compared to many other jurisdictions, leading to a strong outcry from the Bus Riders Union and many low-income riders for whom the additional increase will be a heavy burden.

As a sweetener, Metro finally ditched the policy that requires riders to pay a new fare each time they transfer, unless they have a daily or monthly pass. Now there are unlimited transfers within two hours.

Yet while Metro may have been motivated by its relatively cheap fares compared to other cities, it has not caught on to some basic fare structuring that other cities employ. Most obviously, Metro refuses to charge distance-based fares on its rail lines. A ride two Metro stops-long will cost you the same as riding 20 miles on the system. Metro should change that policy and charge according to distance, which would help cover costs better and also result in basic fairness for riders to pay according to the costs they impose on the system.

In addition, Metro does not charge more during peak travel times, as agencies like in Washington DC do. Right now there may not be need for peak charges, but once the Wilshire Purple Line subway extensions open, crowding on those tiny six-car trains will be so severe they’ll need to encourage people to ride off-peak. Either that or spend millions to retrofit the stations for ten-car trains, which may be impossible.

I also hope Metro directors are aware that the best way to encourage public transit usage is by lowering fares. After 1980, when the Proposition A sales tax measure passed and lowered bus fares to 50 cents a ride for five years, ridership surged. When the subsidy ended, ridership plummeted accordingly. Perhaps an increase in rail fares, through distance-based accounting, could help offset a corresponding reduction in bus fare revenue and still help reduce Metro’s ongoing deficit. It would alleviate the unequal burden of raising fares across the board and encourage more ridership overall. Either way, it’s time for different fares for rail than for buses in LA.


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