As its 30-year anniversary looms on the horizon, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) introduced a new plan that would restructure LA Metro’s fares. If approved, the proposal would eliminate discounted monthly, weekly and daily passes, increase the price of bus and train rides and implement a fare-capping system. The fare cap would cap costs for frequent travelers (unlimited free rides after hitting a fare cap of $6 per day or $20 per week) but leave riders who pay with cash unable to access fare-capping benefits.
The last time LA Metro, which was formed in February 1993, increased its fare price was in September 2014. At that time, Metro’s base transit fare went from $1.50 to $1.75. Six years later, the agency plans to raise the current fare of $1.75 to $2, in addition to raising the fare for senior and disabled riders to $1 per ride.
On November 14, unhappy public transit riders and community organizers expressed their concerns and disapproval of the fare hike proposal in a LA Metro public hearing. Los Angeles Daily News reported that more than 70 people testified in the virtual meeting, with nearly 100% of them opposed to the new approach to fares.
The Latino community is the largest ethnic group, representing 58% of LA Metro riders, in comparison to Black/African Americans representing 14% of riders, followed by 12% who are white, according to LA Metro’s 2022 Customer Experience Survey.
Community organizers and activists believe that the new proposal would negatively impact low-income people of color.
Approximately 83% of riders reported a household income of under $50,000 a year, according to the LA Metro’s 2022 Customer Experience Survey, which is below the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s low income and poverty level.
One of the leading organizations against the fare hike is Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE). SAJE is a South LA community collective that focuses on economic justice, equitable development, and tenant rights. One of the organization’s active campaigns is the Fareless Transit Campaign, which was taken on by the organization in 2019. The campaign synopsis states that “among its many benefits, fareless transit gets cars off the road, improves air quality, eases the cost of transportation for low-income people, and gets the whole community invested in LA’s public transportation.”
Oscar Zarate, director of Building Equity and Transit at SAJE believes this proposal, which would automatically raise fares every four years based on inflation, will take money out of the pockets of working families who are already struggling with the city’s cost of living.
“LA Metro is a public good – public goods should be free, just like libraries, roads and sidewalks,” Zarate told CALÓ NEWS. “We want to make sure LA Metro acts more like a public service and less like a business. Seeing fare hikes being proposed worries us because that is not the direction we aim for.”
Many of the public comments expressed in last week’s LA Metro hearing also supported eliminating fares entirely, something that was done throughout part of the pandemic until January 2022, when fares return to their original implementation.
“The LA Metro system successfully operated fare-free buses during the pandemic, and we’d like to see that move made permanent,” Zarate said.
One of the biggest arguments against free public transportation is the negative impacts that it might cause on the agency’s budget and resources, but Zarate argues that contrary to what most people believe, LA Metro does not need fares to operate. “Most of the money that goes into Metro comes from local sales tax and fares only consist 1-5% of their budget,” he said.
In May, the Los Angeles Metro Board of Directors voted to approve the agency’s $8.8 billion budget proposal for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. As stated in the LA Metro Adopted Budget, the agency only expects a total of $106.5 million in fare revenue, but $4.6 billion from sales tax, which is approximately 56% of the entire budget resources.
“LA Metro does not depend on fares. They waste more money and spend more money on enforcing fares than the actual revenue that they bring in, so it doesn’t make sense to keep fares,” Zarate said.
For Carmina Calderon, Senior Organizer at Community Power Collective (CPC), a non-profit organization serving East LA and the Boyle Heights community, fareless public transportation is just one step to improving LA Metro services. Organizing her community against the fare hike is a personal mission for her. “I grew up as a lifelong long transit user. My mom did not get a car until I was older and by that time I was already an experienced transit user,” Calderon said. She said this has helped her organizing effort because she knows the struggles and concerns LA Metro users have.
Calderon also sits in the Organizing and Transit Justice Committees of the Alliance for Community Transit-LA (ACT-LA), a coalition of community organizations that have passed policies supporting more development of affordable housing near transit. ACT-LA’s latest report titled: Metro as a Sanctuary: Reimagining Safety on Public Transit, advocates for LA Metro to improve Angelenos’ lives and livelihoods through transit by disinvesting in police and the ongoing Metro’s law enforcement contracts and investing in better bus services, fearless transit, and a better bus experience.
The report touches base on the 2017 LA Metro multi-agency policing model, which increased the presence of law enforcement personnel including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Police Department and Long Beach Police Department officers. The report states that Metro’s five-year multi-agency law enforcement contract originally allocated $369.3 million to LAPD, $246.3 million to LASD, and $30.1 million to LBPD, for a total of $645.7 million. In 2018, Metro expanded LAPD’s contract by over $35.3 million.
“Concurrently, Metro maintains a $105.4 million contract with a private security firm, RMI Security. In addition, Metro employs its own security. Altogether, Metro has budgeted over $786 million to ‘serve and protect the system,’” states the report.
Calderon believes funds like these need to be redirected and used on things riders need most: reliable and frequent bus service, bus lanes, care-based safety strategies and universal fare-free transit. “All this money is invested in harassing and surveilling homeless people or Black and Brown youth. Why can that be better invested in hiring more bus operators, getting more buses, or building bus-only lanes?” Calderon said. “Money can be better spent, and this possible fare hike and restructuring is just another obstacle to building the public transit the community wants.”
The new proposal has also been heavily criticized for its inaccessibility. The fare restructuring would require riders to have a LA Metro TAP card in order to access fare-capping benefits. A great percentage of working-class riders continue to pay in cash and do not use a TAP card.
“These are the things we have been sharing with LA Metro’s Board staff. A lot of the people we interact with are immigrants, elders, and folks that for whatever reason get paid in cash and therefore only carry cash and are not interested in carrying other cards,” Calderon said.
Calderon said one of the biggest problems is the serious disconnect between Metro and its riders. “I was in a meeting with Hilda Solis’s staff and he confirmed that 38% of riders use cash. That’s a big number, so this proposal is an inequitable solution.”
Zarate and Calderon have joined forces to organize against the fare hike and call this LA Metro proposal “unrealistic.”
‘The best outcome is that [LA] Metro removes fares completely. That’s what we will always ask for,” Zarate said.
The LA Metro Board of Directors will have another board meeting on December 1st, where they will vote on the proposal. It has not been confirmed, but Zarate believes the meeting will most likely be in person. “We hope people show up and make the board listen to what the community wants and that the fare increase does not happen,“ Zarate said. Those interested in registering their opposition to the fare hike can do so by signing the online petition. ACT-LA has also constructed an advocacy guide with messaging for commenting and social media. For more information about the new proposal and fare hikes, you can visit www.metro.net.