Can L.A. Metro Fund its Fareless Transit Pilot?

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors has approved a program that would eliminate fares for students and low-income riders, but the program's future rests on finding sustainable funding sources.

Read Time: 2 minutes

June 6, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

The board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has tentatively approved "a 23-month fareless transit pilot program" for K-12 and community college students—provided that the agency can prove they can cover the cost, among other conditions. "Right now, no launch date has been set, though the staff proposal sought to start with the student groups this August, then expand in January 2022 to include 'qualifying low-income residents,'" reports Ryan Fonseca in LAist.

A Metro task force has been studying the issue since September. The agency's CEO Phil Washington, "who is stepping down from his role this month, pitched exploring free transit as a moral obligation of the agency. Eliminating fares is also seen as a way to improve transit service by reducing boarding time, and encourage more people to take the system regularly by removing a financial barrier." While rider fares make up around 13% of Metro's operating costs, "roughly one-third of those costs go toward expenses related to fare collection, such as fare enforcement, accounting and fare box maintenance." Fareless transit would also address "equity concerns about Black and brown riders being targeted for fare evasion, leading to confrontations with law enforcement and deaths on the system."

With 70 percent of Metro riders qualifying as low-income, eliminating fares would be "a major step toward making the county’s bus and rail system free for all riders." But the agency must still contend with the cost of a permanent program. "In its report to the board, staff noted that 'a sustainable source of additional funding' will need to be secured for fareless transit to remain viable."

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