Metro eyes making bus, rail service free for all riders

Local news

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Thursday that it is exploring ways to make riding its buses and trains free, a monumental undertaking that — if accomplished — would make L.A. County’s public transit system the largest in the world to be entirely fareless.

Metro will begin the effort on Sept. 1, when it launchs a new internal exploratory task force to work on a proposal aimed at eliminating fares. That announcement, from Metro CEO Phil Washington, came during Thursday’s board of directors meeting, according to the agency’s blog, The Source.

The task force hopes to provide a plan, complete with funding sources and scenarios, to Washington and Metro’s board by the end of the year, the blog post stated.

If it’s successful, Los Angeles’ transit system could be fare-free sometime in 2021, according to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is also Metro’s board chair.

“This is an important step toward a more equitable and sustainable future,” Garcetti tweeted.

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on the economy and left many Angelenos struggling to get by, Washington said he viewed fare elimination as an economic development tool.

“Fare-free transit will help essential workers, moms and dads, students, seniors and riders with disabilities,” he told the Source. “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.”

Not only will it improve mobility throughout the county, but it will also help people save money — something vital as L.A. works to recover from the public health crisis, according to the CEO.

The median household income is $17,975 for bus riders and $27,723 for rail riders, according to Metro’s last customer survey, from fall 2019. But much has changed since the novel coronavirus appeared in the region earlier this year, hitting low-income individuals and families especially hard.

“LA 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 affects of the lack of affordability in the region.” Washington said.

Going fare-free could also be a boost to another major Metro initiative: reducing traffic in a city known for its clogged roads.

Making bus and rail service free would likely boost transit ridership, taking more cars off the streets and thereby lessening traffic congestion, according to Washington.

When the initiative’s task force begins work, they will be looking at a number of variables to determine how best to make fareless transit a reality.

That includes studying funding opportunities, such as local, state and federal grants, and looking at how Metro’s funds — including revenue from advertisements and sponsorships — could be reprioritized to pay for the program.

It will also weigh other costs, such as equipment purchasing and upkeep, as well as staff and enforcement.

Additionally, the group will look at how free fares would affect other county transit agencies, and impact ridership, the rider experience and traffic, according to the blog post.

“As Phil sees it, fareless transit should be considered no different than other public programs funded by the public purse such as firefighting, policing and other public infrastructure that serves as a public right and common good,” the blog post read. “In that sense, if approved it’s something that can change the social and economic fabric of our county.”

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