By: Andrew Gonzales
Public Relations Director
SMART Transportation Division
On May 22, 2014 the LACMTA held its Regular Board Meeting and on the agenda was a proposed rate restructuring plan that included fare increases. The fare increases are intended to cover a $36 million operations shortfall expected for 2015 and a deficit that could grow to as big as $225 million within the decade. As expected a large crowd filled the boardroom to speak out against the fare increases.
According to LACMTA spokesmen, the MTA needs to collect 33% of their operational budget from the fare box. That 33% is a condition for current and future federal dollars used for item such as new bus and rail lines and new equipment. Currently the LACMTA is only getting 26% in fare box recovery and that amount is falling every year according to the MTA. In order to close the gap, MTA staff proposed an increase on one-way bus and rail fares from $1.50 to $1.75 in September, to $2 in 2017 and to $2.25 in 2021. In addition monthly passes rates would rise from $75 to $100 and day passes would increase from $5 to $7. These increases would bring the LA METRO systems fares to within rates of similar transit systems such as New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and San Diego, all of which have standard one-way rates of between $2 & $2.50. MTA CEO Art Leahy warned that a failure to increase rates could lead to a 1 million hour per year reduction in services and over 1000 layoffs.
A motion put forward by Mayor Eric Garcetti, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is designed to limit the impact and delay many of the increases. Their plan called for a freeze on 24 of 28 rate classifications including student and disabled fares. It also called for an independent task force to review the MTA budget and to make independent recommendations on how to close the funding gap before implementing fare increases in 2017 and 2021. Under their plan the fare increase of $.25 in September would go forward but only under the condition that the plan to allow 2 hours of free transfers was also ready for use. This option will save a rider who makes one transfer within two hours $1.25 and a rider who makes two transfers within two hours would save $3 over the current structure.
Opposition to the fare increases included student groups, community organizing groups and the Bus Riders Union. They characterized the fare increases as a racist attack on poor minorities who overwhelmingly use the transit system. It is estimated that over 90% of the system is used by people classified as low income and over 80% minority, the largest portion being African American and Latino. Those figures were cited by Supervisor Gloria Molina when she argued that LACMTA cannot compare its self, and its fares, to other transit agencies who have a more diverse social economic and racial ridership. She argued that fare box recovery was not a sustainable way to close budget issues and it would place a tremendous burden on the people at the lowest end of the economic scale. She suggested that the MTA should “go back to the drawing board” and find a way to cut 1.5% out of the MTA budget before increasing fares. It is worth noting that the $5.5 billion 2015 MTA budget was voted on and unanimously passed with support from Supervisor Molina just moments before this discussion.
After three hours of public comment and testimony, almost all of it against the fare increases, a vote was held on the fare restructuring plan. First a vote on the Garcetti, Yaroslavsky, Ridley-Thomas amendment passed with only Supervisor Molina abstaining. Then a vote on the fare restructuring plan, including the amendment, passed with the only dissenting vote once again being that of Supervisor Molina.
Fares will increase to $1.75 for a standard one-way trip beginning in September 2014 and riders will be allowed free transfers for up to 2 hours. Reports on the work of the task force and any future rate restructuring will be released as their work progresses.