On Thursday, July 27th, Mayor Karen Bass led her first Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board meeting as chair.  

LA Metro welcomed Bass as the newest member of the Metro Board of Directors. “With her focus on providing a unified approach to addressing the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. Bass’s appointment to the Metro Board is expected to be pivotal in helping Metro further advance its initiatives to connect homeless individuals on its buses and trains to services, and ultimately reduce the number of people seeking shelter on the system,” read the official statement

Bass, who took office in December 2022, replacing former Mayor Eric Garcetti, will also serve on Metro’s Planning and Programming Committee, which provides development review and approval of agency planning and programming issues. In addition, she will also serve on the Executive Management Committee, which oversees the implementation of agency policies. 

Lastly, she will serve on the 2028 Olympics Committee, which is tasked with preparing and planning Metro services for the upcoming games.

Wearing a lavender-colored suit, Bass arrived for her first Board of Directors meeting early Thursday morning at Union Station, located at 800 N. Alameda Street in DTLA.

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Youth, elders and frequent transit riders outside of LA Metro headquarters. Phots By Brenda Verano

Outside of the meeting, a group made up of community organizers, youth and a wide range of LA Metro riders gathered. The approximately 120 people arrived at the LA Metro headquarters with one goal: to remind Bass of her promise to make free transit a reality for Angelenos.

During her mayoral campaign, Bass vowed to make LA Metro a free transportation system. “As Mayor, Bass will reduce wait times, increase vehicle speeds and expand the transit network so that Los Angeles, with or without a car, enjoys access to all the city has to offer,” as stated on her campaign website. “She will also make sure that no Angeleno ever has to pay to ride a bus or Metro train again, saving working families thousands of dollars every year, and giving all Angelenos the freedom to get around their city without worry.”

Some of the working families that Bass mentioned in her campaign were people like Juan Aguilar, who works in a grocery store in Koreatown but lives in South LA. Aguilar rides the train every day. 

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Juan Aguilar is talking in front of the community organizers and sharing his story.

“My job is not close to my home. Therefore, I must take four buses. That’s $7 a day, and I pay cash,” Aguilar said. “That’s only counting my commute to and from work. That’s not taking into account the times when I have to go get groceries, go to the doctor or anything extra like that.”

Aguilar took the day off work on Thursday to attend the LA Metro Board of Directors meeting. Later that day, Aguilar stood in front of the directors, Bass and other city leaders to give a public comment with the help of a translator. “That’s why I’m here today— to support and hopefully have buses and trains be free soon.”

Some of the most frequent LA Metro riders are students. Maria Cheverria is one of them. She is part of the Los Angeles Community College District and a member of Community Power Collective, an organization supporting low-income tenants and workers through economic justice and community control of land and housing in Boyle Heights and the greater Los Angeles region. Cheveria said her family and she are regular bus riders.

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Cheverria says her and her family would all benefit from LA Metro free tarnsit.

“I’m here to welcome Bass to the Board of Directors,” Cheverria said. “Most people who ride the bus are low-income, working-class people. 75% of people riding Metro identify themselves as Black and Latino.”

Cheverria said fareless transit would not only allow future and current LA Metro riders to use the system to its maximum without any financial restraints, but it would also reduce atmospheric contamination. 

Earlier in the week, on Monday, June 24, Bass also joined other Metro officials at the annual “State of the Agency.” In this meeting, Bass also formally accepted the Metro Board Chair’s gavel from outgoing Board Chair Ara Najarian before leading the first board meeting on Thursday. 

“Metro is truly an essential service. But for Los Angeles to thrive—and for Los Angeles to survive in the future—Metro cannot be mostly a system of last resort. It must be a system of choice,” Bass said at the State of the Agency event. “As we prepare to host the World Cup as well as the Olympic and Paralympic Games, we will work towards that reality by building ridership and making our system safer and more accessible for all.”

On Monday, Bass joined Najarian; Metro Board First Vice Chair and L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn; Metro CEO Stephanie N. Wiggins and the rest of the board to share the agency’s growth, updates and ridership status. 

Metro shared that in June the agency had a 13.3 percent year-over-year increase in ridership with nearly 24 million boardings, marking the seventh consecutive month of year-over-year ridership growth. Metro’s monthly bus and rail ridership is now at 81 percent of its 2019 pre-pandemic level. Average weekend ridership is now at 91 percent of the pre-pandemic level and 76 percent for average weekdays. 

Regardless of the ridership increase since last year, Bass said the overall ridership is still considered low. She said the drop is coming disproportionately from women, who report they do not feel safe. 

Bass also talked about the agency’s plans to increase its homeless outreach team. Following Bass’s promise to tackle and end homelessness in LA, Metro plans to work with community-based organizations to develop homeless navigation hubs and conduct outreach to move people out of Metro buses and trains and into stable housing. 

In May, LA Metro approved a $9 billion budget for the 2024 fiscal year. The balanced budget represents a 2.6 percent increase over last year’s $8.7 billion budget and covers the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2023 through June 30, 2024. Metro’s budget also includes $290.5 million for what Metro is classifying as “public safety” and “improve safety for customers,” as stated in the budget report. The $290.5 million constitutes a 3.7 percent increase over last year’s budget. 

“Metro has reassessed and reimagined its approach to public safety and is implementing transformational change through its multi-layered public safety approach that includes a combination of Metro Ambassadors, Transit Security Officers, contract security, law enforcement and homeless and mental health outreach teams on its system,” according to the budget report. 

But for many community organizers, Metro’s decision to extend its law enforcement contracts with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, LAPD and Long Beach Police Department is not what the community needs. 

According to Metro, law enforcement contracts cost the agency approximately $911.9 million over a six-year period starting in 2017.

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Young people were also present in Thursday’s action.

Channing L. Martinez, Facility Manager of Strategy and Soul Movement Center and co-chair of the Bus Riders Union, took the stand in front of the Board and presented data, which according to him, has been presented many times before. “Black people make up 19% of the ridership. 8% of the population but make up more than 50% of the citations given on Metro buses and trains, and have been for the last 15 years, every single year,” he said. “I’m calling on the board to convene an emergency task force to talk about what is going on with Black passengers.” 

Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) is one of the leading organizations advocating for fareless transit. Since the beginning of the year, SAJE has been hosting meetings and marches outside of the LA Metro headquarters, supporting their members, most of whom are elders from South and East LA, as they advocate for free bus and train rides. 

Oscar Zarate, Director of Building Equity and Transit with SAJE, said he is very excited when he sees the number of people showing up to the demonstrations and organizing efforts like Thursday’s. ”It’s a reflection of how much transit matters to people and how much transit is an essential service to people,” Zarate told CALÓ NEWS. 

Zarate said with Bass sitting in her first meeting as chair of the LA Metro Board, it was an important day to continue to advocate for fareless transit. “Making sure that she hears a clear message from us that this is important for us … it’s a priority for us, especially as she is becoming chair, “ he said. 

“I think it’s a very important moment for her, and she has a great opportunity today to set the tone for the new [LA Metro’s] fiscal year.”

Brenda Fernanda Verano is a journalist born in Mexico and raised in South Central, LA. Verano is a two-time award winner in the California College Media Association Awards. At CALÓ News, she covers...