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A new internal Metro exploratory task force is working on a proposal to eliminate fares for all riders on buses and trains, Metro CEO Phil Washington announced.
The effort will be called the Fareless System Initiative and the task force will deliver a plan to the Metro CEO and the Metro Board of Directors for consideration by the end of 2020. The plan will include possible funding scenarios and sources.
No other large transit system in the world has switched to an entirely fare-free system. In remarks to the Metro board on Aug. 27, Washington said he views eliminating fares as an economic development tool that will also improve mobility and save money for those who need it most. It will be especially important as Los Angeles County recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.
Combined with Metro’s other work to reduce traffic congestion, fare-free transit could greatly increase transit ridership, free space on roads, help create more public spaces and improve air quality of life.
“L.A. Metro has a moral obligation to pursue a fareless system and help our region recover from both a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and the devastating effects of the lack of affordability in the region.” Washington said. “Fare-free transit will help essential workers, moms and dads, students, seniors and riders with disabilities. I view this as something that could change the life trajectory of millions of people and families in L.A. County, the most populous county in America.”
The median household income of Metro bus riders is $17,975, and $27,723 for rail riders, according to a customer survey conducted by Metro last fall. Low-income individuals have been particularly impacted by COVID-19.
The initiative’s task force consists of Metro staff. It will consider funding opportunities for a fare-free system such as local, state and federal grants, and the re-prioritization of Metro funds – such as revenues from advertising or sponsorships.
The task force will also consider the impact of fare-free transit on other transit agencies in L.A. County and the issue of local and state fund allocations which are, in part, based on fare revenues. It will determine how eliminating revenues generated by fares compared to the cost of equipment purchase and upkeep, staff and enforcement. In fiscal year 2019, which ended prior to the pandemic, Metro collected from $250 to $300 million in fares versus $1.9 billion in operating costs, for a fare recovery ratio of approximately 13%. That percentage has been in decline for the past 20 years and is expected to decline further as operating costs rise.
The task force will also examine the impact of fare-free transit on ridership and the rider experience, the safety of Metro employees, the impact on car traffic, and bus and train service levels and operations. It will also consider how fare-free transit will mitigate allegations of targeting people of color for fare enforcement, and how the system would affect homelessness.
Metro is at the beginning of the process and until the Metro board takes action, fares are being collected and fare payment is being enforced. For information, visit thesource.metro.net.
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