By Steve Scauzillo, September 3, 2014
Thousands turned out at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority or Metro Gold Line’s Atlantic Station in Los Angeles to ride the rails for free on the official opening day for the eastside stations on Nov. 15, 2009.
Increased Metro bus and rail fares set to take effect in 11 days will raise $21 million by the end of the 2015 fiscal year, but that’s still not enough to lift the giant Los Angeles County transit agency out of an operating deficit, officials said Wednesday.
Despite charging more than 1 million daily riders more each time they hop on a bus or subway, it won’t be enough to close Metro’s $36.8 million deficit, leaving the agency scrambling to pursue other revenue sources and operating cuts, said Michelle Navarro, Metro director of planning and development.
A board report on where Metro will place the budgetary ax is due at the end of the month, she said. Navarro declined to say what areas are under consideration for “cost trimming.”
The double-whammy — a rate increase possibly followed by service cuts — reflects the agency’s low collection rate from riders. At present, Metro fares pay for only 25 percent of the agency’s operating costs, a figure that must reach 33 percent for the agency to achieve a balanced budget, she said.
Metro took in $345.1 million from fares last year that went toward bus and rail operations, according to Rick Jager, Metro spokesman.
About 75 percent of operating funds comes from three county sales tax measures in effect: Propositions A, C and Measure R. In addition, Metro receives federal and state tax dollars to make up for what it doesn’t get from fares. It’s operating budget is about $1.3 billion. Metro’s total annual budget is $5.5 billion.
Metro figures its fiduciary picture will get worse before its improves.
When fares go up Sept. 15, the agency anticipates a 3 to 4 percent drop in ridership to last for about six months, said Dave Sotero, Metro spokesman. Currently, Metro averages 1.4 million weekday boardings on buses and trains combined, he said.
Reaching 33 percent from fares will not happen unless Metro raises rates higher in 2016 (Phase two) and 2017 (Phase three), Navarro said. That option was rejected by the Metro board in May when it voted 12-1 to raise fares, beginning Sept. 15.
At 12:01 a.m. Sept. 15, the cost of a day pass increases from $5 to $7, a weekly pass goes from $20 to $25, the popular 30-day pass goes from $75 to $100 and a countywide EZ Pass jumps from $84 to $110. The fare hikes do not spare seniors and the disabled, whose single rides go from 55 cents to 75 cents during peak hours and 30-day passes from $14 to $20.
Only K-12 students escaped increases. Their fares were frozen, Navarro said.
There is some good news for riders who take more than one train or bus per trip.
Those using TAP cards, a card with an embedded chip loaded with value using a credit card or debit card or by cash at customer service centers, will get free transfers on another Metro bus or rail line during a one-way trip. The transfer time lasts for 2 hours from tap to tap.
This reduces the overall cost of a trip for many riders.
For example, a passenger taking the Gold Line to Union Station, then riding the Red Line or Purple line subway to Hollywood or other downtown locations, will only pay once — $1.75 — instead of twice for $3. Instead of two taps, $1.50 + $1.50, the card deducts $1.75 for the first ride and $0 for subsequent rides within the 2-hour window.
To get the free transfers, passengers must use pre-loaded TAP cards, explained Kelly Hines, director of TAP technical systems. “The TAP card does it automatically. We don’t have to track paper transfers,” she said. Metro did away with transfers in 2007.
Hines said about 26 percent of riders pay cash. She predicts more will switch to TAP cards. Metro will be handing out TAP cards at 30 heavily used bus stops starting Monday for 30 days, Navarro said. These include intersections at: Slauson and Western, Westwood and Wilshire, Roscoe and Van Nuys, Venice and Broadway and many other locations.
A TAP card costs $1-$2 depending on where it is purchased. It’s $1 at the Orange Line and Metro Rail stations but $2 from outside vendors, such as universities and check-cashing stores. The cost of the card will be waived during the roving TAP card sales, Sotero said.