By Laura J. Nelson, May 22, 2014
Nancy Lawrence and members of the Bus Riders Union rally against
proposed fare increases. Despite many riders' protests, Metro will raise
fares beginning in September.
Amid concerns over a projected budget deficit in Los Angeles County's
growing bus and rail system, officials Thursday voted to raise Metro
fares in September, but opted to postpone a decision on further
increases in 2017 and 2020.
After a lengthy meeting punctuated by
yelling and applause from the packed audience, the Los Angeles County
Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors voted 12 to 1
to raise one-way bus and rail fares from $1.50 to $1.75. Monthly passes
will also go from $75 to $100 and day passes will increase from $5 to
The room was silent as the votes were tallied. But when Los
Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina voted against the increase,
dozens of audience members rose to cheer.
also change its transfer policy to allow two hours of unlimited rides.
Currently, passengers must pay each time they board a bus or train,
which Metro says puts unneeded strain on some lines and leaves others
Metro analysts say the fare increase will help offset
an expected $36-million gap in the agency's 2016 operating budget, which
could deepen to $225 million within the decade. Without a fare hike,
agency staff would have considered laying off nearly 1,000 of Metro's
9,000 employees or cutting up to 1 million hours of bus and rail
The fare vote comes as Metro accelerates the biggest rail boom in Los
Angeles history: By the end of this year, five rail lines will be under
construction, spanning downtown Los Angeles and Mid-City to Azusa,
South L.A. and Santa Monica. Once in service, those lines will add
significantly to Metro's operating budget.
More than 130 public
speakers, some in tears, asked Metro directors to lower fares or keep
them at current levels. Several said they would have to choose between
buying bus tickets and feeding their families if fares went up.
advocates said the increase will disproportionately hurt minority
passengers, who make up about 80% of bus ridership. More than 90% of
Metro riders are low-income, with an average household earning less than
$20,000, according to agency data.
"Do you even understand how much we're struggling day by day?" said
Hee Pok Kim, a 92-year-old woman who could barely see over the public
comment lectern. She spoke in Korean through a translator. "When we
reach out to you for help, you shouldn't push us away. You should grab
On a motion from director Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los
Angeles County supervisor, officials agreed to keep fares for students
at current rates until a panel of independent experts can analyze
Metro's long-term finances.
Molina asked the board to delay the
fare increase for eight months while Metro staff found ways to cut from
next year's $5.5-billion budget. She said the agency should not fix its
budget problems "on the backs of the very poor."
"If you look at
the expenses, the redundancies, the consultants, all the things that are
going on, you know what I'm talking about," Molina said. "MTA needs to
go back to the drawing board."
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said putting off fare increases was
the easier political decision, and said the agency couldn't afford to
punt on a fare hike until next year. He becomes the chair of the Metro
board in July.
"One thing I'll never do here is give people false
hopes," Garcetti said. "I do believe, this coming year, we need this
Molina said Metro should stop worrying about what
portion of the operating budget is funded by fares. That ratio is 26%,
making Los Angeles one of the most subsidized transit networks in the
world. Fares covering less than 33% of the agency's budget could
jeopardize Metro's chance of receiving future federal grants.
"We should abandon that model," Molina said, saying that helping
low-income passengers was more important. "There is no other bus system
in the country that has a more dramatic number of low-income and
minority bus riders. Those are unbelievable and startling figures that
this organization has to come to grips with."
Metro board members
said they would not vote on fare increases proposed for 2017 and 2020
until they could learn more about the agency's long-term financial
"And how about 2014?" one man in the audience shouted.
"Why don't you sit tight for a minute and let us deliberate?" Ridley-Thomas responded.
Mike Bonin, a Los Angeles City Council member, pushed Metro to make it
easier for low-income riders to find out about the agency's fare subsidy
programs, including advertising at train stations and bus stops and
working with community groups, including churches.
increase is justified or not, the action we take is going to cause real
pain to people," Bonin said. "If we're going to approve any increase, we
need to bend over backwards, and break our backs, to try and mitigate
An alternate proposal that officials did not support would
have made one-way fares as high as $3.25 during rush hour, which Metro
officials said would encourage people to travel during off-peak hours.
is Metro's fourth fare increase since 1993. The most recent was in
2010, when one-way fares rose from $1.25 to $1.50. Fares for seniors and
the disabled have not increased since 2007.