By Arthur T. Leahy, March 17, 2014
On March 29, Metro will hold a public hearing on fare changes. The
issue at hand isn’t about how much we should charge for bus and rail
service. It’s about sweeping changes in how riders use and connect with
their ever growing transit network.
Twenty-four years ago the only
public transit option in Los Angeles County was taking the bus. Today,
thanks to voters who approved local transit sales taxes, Metro runs more
than 2,200 buses and six rail lines on 87 miles of track, and five new
rail projects crisscrossing the county will be under construction within
a year. About 400,000 passengers board Metro trains on an average
weekday and rail ridership is growing exponentially. Metro also is
investing more than $1 billion to overhaul the Blue Line, subway and
other existing lines to ensure safe and reliable travel for our
customers for decades to come.
As a former bus operator, I understand that rail is just one transit option. Buses remain the backbone of our system.
why the first of 550 new buses began entering service a few weeks ago,
with an option for us to purchase 300 more. That’s why we recently
opened the modern El Monte Transit Center. That’s why we extended the
Orange Line busway to Chatsworth and developed the popular Silver Line
freeway express bus between the South Bay and San Gabriel Valley. And
that’s why we’re building a new state-of-the-art bus maintenance
facility in downtown Los Angeles near our Union Station transit hub.
Buses and trains don’t compete. They complement each other to
enhance connectivity for our customers, attract new riders and ease
traffic and air pollution. And our system of buses and rail also
includes Metrolink and more than a dozen municipal bus carriers.
Angelenos still love their cars, 2 million county residents voted for
Measure R in 2008, the half-cent sales tax dedicated to expanding our
public transportation system. You voted for public transit options.
And we’re delivering those options. Within two years the Expo Line
will connect Santa Monica with downtown Los Angeles, the Gold Line will
be extended to Azusa and more projects including the Crenshaw/LAX
Transit Project are in construction or pre-construction phases.
Even with more transit options, Metro fares will remain among the
lowest in the nation, but we can’t sustain the current fare structure
with riders only paying a quarter of what it costs to operate buses and
trains. That is far lower than many other transit agencies such as San
Diego (41 percent), Chicago (44 percent) and New York (53 percent).
two years, Metro faces a $37 million operating deficit that will
balloon to $225 million in 10 years. We’re squeezing every penny we can
from local sales taxes and tapping dwindling operating assistance from
state and federal coffers to make up the balance between what our riders
pay and the cost of delivering service.
We cut overhead, eliminated non-contract jobs, beefed up efforts
to curb fare evasion, and boosted productivity — but it doesn’t pencil
out. And, no, we can’t legally siphon monies from voter approved Measure
R street and highway projects or stop the rail program.
additional revenue, the momentum in delivering new transit and weaning
solo drivers from behind the wheel will come to a screeching halt. Bus
service would be cut and we couldn’t open new rail lines under
Fare changes are necessary. Staff has proposed two
options to gradually get us to a point in six years where riders would
cover one third of our operating costs. Again, it’s not just about
raising fares. Staff also is proposing free transfers within a 90 minute
period instead of charging double for transfers as is now the case.
This will encourage customers to more fully use their investment in the
growing transit system.
We’ve held off as long as possible recommending fare changes. If the
Metro Board of Directors approves, this would be the fourth time in 19
years fares were raised. But we have accomplished much in the past two
decades in giving a traffic-weary public more transportation options. By
making tough choices now, we will continue to transform Los Angeles
from the car capital of the world to a world-class transit capital.
Arthur T. Leahy is CEO of Metro.