Students, Low-Income Residents May Ride L.A. Metro for Free

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority board of directors has unanimously supported an idea to create a program that allows students and low-income people to ride Metro’s trains and buses for free.

(TNS) — Los Angeles, Calif., The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has decided it still needs a strong financial plan before greenlighting a pilot project that would allow students and low-income people to ride Metro trains and buses for free.

Metro's directors unanimously voted Thursday to direct incoming Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Wiggins to develop a proposal to ensure the plan is financially sustainable. The project must satisfy several conditions, including assurance that funding for this pilot program will not financially affect other pending or already existing programs.

Although the board's vote does not officially greenlight the free fare plan, the board expressed unwavering support to keep the idea alive.

"Since we've been talking about fareless initiative, I've supported it," said Janice Hahn, an MTA board member and Los Angeles County supervisor. "But I'm clear that it really matters how we get there and how we implement it."

Under the initial 23-month proposal, K-12 and community college students would have been able to take Metro rides for free beginning in August. Low-income riders, who make up nearly 70 percent of Metro's ridership, could join in on the service in January 2022.

Those deadlines are now scrapped to give Wiggins flexibility as she steps into her new role. But Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who chairs the Metro board, said he'd push to try to get the pilot plan running in time for when students return to campuses in the fall.

The pilot program is estimated to cost $250 million for Metro over the next two fiscal years. Fare revenue helps pay for a portion of the transit system and Metro receives additional funding through sales tax and state and federal grants. Metro officials identified state and federal grants, plus third-party partnerships and cost-sharing with school districts, to help fund the pilot plan.

"One-time funds scare me because by definition, they're one-time funds," said MTA board member and Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian. "How can you develop a sustainable initiative when each year you've gotta cross your fingers and go lobby Washington or Sacramento for funding that would keep this up?"

But Garcetti said officials would be "working our tails off to not only identify that funding but to make the case and to hopefully address also the coalition."

Metro offers discount rates to students, seniors, low-income populations and people with disabilities, but the proposal under discussion is a way to gauge whether Metro could be fully free in the future.

Outgoing Metro CEO Phil Washington, who attended his last meeting Thursday, floated the idea years ago when he suggested congestion pricing, which would have charged people more to drive by converting carpool lanes to toll lanes, taxing drivers based on the number of miles they travel or charging a fee to enter certain areas of town.

Riders were already leaving L.A.'s bus network when Washington arrived in 2015, and the decline continued during his tenure. The pandemic further exacerbated the decline.

With the majority of the MTA's ridership Latino and Black, many students and organizations asked how eliminating fees would help them. One college student described the hardship of having to pay $1.75 every day.

Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor Francisco C. Rodriguez said in a statement that this kind of program could "be a real difference maker between going to college or not, and removes one major obstacle from the paths of students in accessing higher education."

"Everyone is on board with the mission of a fareless system at Metro," said Eli Lipmen, director of programming and development for the organization Move L.A. "But there are varying degrees of confidence that the resources are available.... Success really depends on whether Metro can find willing partners in Sacramento or D.C."


(c)2021 the Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
Sponsored
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?
Sponsored
As more state and local jurisdictions have placed a priority on creating sustainable and resilient communities, many have set strong targets to reduce the energy use and greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with commercial and residential buildings.
Sponsored
As more people get vaccinated and states begin to roll back some of the restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic — schools, agencies and workplaces are working on a plan on how to safely return to normal.
Sponsored
The solutions will be a permanent part of government even after the pandemic is over.
Sponsored
See simple ways agencies can improve the citizen engagement experience and make online work environments safer without busting the budget.
Sponsored
Whether your agency is already a well-oiled DevOps machine, or whether you’re just in the beginning stages of adopting a new software development methodology, one thing is certain: The security of your product is a top-of-mind concern.
Sponsored
The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2022, over half of the workforce will require significant reskilling or upskilling to do their jobs—and this data was published prior to the pandemic.
Sponsored
Part math problem and part unrealized social impact, recycling is at a tipping point. While there are critical system improvements to be made, in the end, success depends on millions of small decisions and actions by people.
Sponsored
Government legal professionals are finding Lexis+ Litigation Analytics from LexisNexis valuable for understanding a judge’s behavior and courtroom trends, knowing other attorneys’ track records, and ensuring success in civil litigation cases.