L.A. Metro Will Pilot Free Fares for Most Riders

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will let low-income residents and K-12 students ride for free starting in January 2022.

March 4, 2021, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Los Angeles BRT

Jonathan Riley / Flickr

In an attempt to study the potential for switching to a fare-free system, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is implementing a two-phase pilot program that will let low-income riders ride for free. Ryan Fonseca reports on the plan, which is projected to save commuters up to $1,200 per year. According to Metro, "about 70% of its current riders earn less than $35,000 annually and would qualify for free fares under the current proposal." The second phase of the proposed program, set to launch in August 2022, would extend free fares to K-12 students. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti praised the proposal, saying "it's time for us to treat public transit as a public good."

Transit activists, meanwhile, argue that public transit was meant to be a public good all along, and that the proposed program doesn't go far enough to reduce the burden of transit costs for low-income Angelenos. Additionally, segmenting riders and requiring documentation to qualify for the program will likely exclude many qualifying residents. City Councilmember Mike Bonin expressed his concerns about the administrative costs: "I think we need to think about and be very realistic about whether or not the administrative burden of trying to separate 30% of the people [making] above $35K is so burdensome, that it isn't even worth it." Although the program will lead to revenue loss for the agency, fare revenue only makes up 4% of Metro's annual budget.

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