The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors approved a 23-month pilot program Thursday that will make Metro buses and trains free for students starting in August and for all low-income riders starting in January.
Metro currently offers fare discounts to people who make $39,450 a year or less, people age 62 and older, veterans and people with disabilities, K-12 students and people in college or vocational school.
Under the pilot program, K-12 students and people enrolled in community college of all incomes will be the first to ride Metro fare-free, with that phase expected to begin in August. Low-income riders, who make up 70% of Metro’s ridership, will be phased in starting in January 2022, although outside funding — likely federal — will need to be secured for the second phase.
The 23-month pilot for K-12 and community college students is expected to cost $49,179,167 in lost fare revenue, according to Metro officials. Fare revenue pays for transit operations and maintenance, but Metro receives additional funding through sales tax and state and federal grants. Additional funding options for the pilot identified by Metro officials include advertising revenue, cost-sharing and grant funds through the Traffic Reduction Program.
Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian again expressed concerns about one-time funding being used to bankroll the program.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said during an Executive Management Committee meeting last week he was confident the agency would generate enough funding. During an April Board of Directors meeting, Garcetti said Metro will “leave no stone unturned when it comes to funding,” and emphasized the need for the federal government, the state and municipalities in the county to chip in. He added that organizations like LAUSD should provide funding, since the fareless system will likely increase school attendance and therefore increase school funding.
Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington expressed confidence that the federal government under President Joe Biden would provide funding for the pilot and permanent funding for a fareless Metro system in the future.
He noted that Los Angeles County is the most diverse county in the United States, and the Metro system has the highest percentage of low-income riders in the country.
“So we believe that what we are doing fits right into the `Justice40 Initiative’ from the Biden-Harris administration … so what we are saying is that we are in the best position in this country with the hopeful approval of a pilot next month to be that test case for the federal government,” he said.
In a survey with about 46,000 responses, L.A. Metro found that 86% of Metro riders and 80% of non-Metro riders support going fareless.
The pilot — which will end on June 30, 2023 — will allow Metro to test the feasibility of permanently eliminating all fares on Metro trains and buses. After the pilot concludes, the board will consider extending, modifying or discontinuing fareless service. To help inform that decision, Metro staff will report to the board each month on the status of the pilot program.
Metrics that will evaluate the success of the program may include financial sustainability, program participation, increased boarding by pilot participants, level of service, quality of services, increased trip by low-income riders, employee safety, rider safety, system security, according to Metro Principal Transportation Planner Doreen Morrissey.