The Los Angeles bus and rail system exists largely for those struggling to make ends meet. About half of those who use it make less than $15,000 a year, according to the system’s rider survey.
These are the people who sweep and mop homes in the San Fernando Valley, work at the back of restaurants on the Westside, and tidy up offices when the other workers have long gone home. They often live far from their jobs and can’t afford to drive.
Raising fares three times over six years, as the 13-member governing board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will be asked to do on Thursday, will inevitably hurt these mass-transit-dependent workers and their families even as the agency also attempts to fix long-standing problems like eliminating the need to pay fares twice when transferring from bus to rail or vice versa.
That’s why the editorial board backs a different approach by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Supervisors Mark Ridley Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky, all MTA board members, that increases some fares but also creates a panel to look at ways to deal with the agency’s growing operating budget deficit and set fees that don’t hurt the most vulnerable.
Their proposal calls for a riders’ advocate, something sorely missing in the agency, a freeze on fare hikes for students and an expansion of a subsidy program for the poorest.
Under the agency’s recommendation, meanwhile, the price of monthly bus passes would jump from $75 to $135 by 2020. The first-year increase would hike passes to $100.
MTA staff has argued the agency has among the lowest fares in the country and the increases must be approved to offset a $36.8 million deficit in 2016 and keep up with the system’s expansion. Fares cover about a quarter of the agency’s operating budget and its analysts say that without an increase, cuts must be made.
Since then, the agency has undertaken a spending and building spree on rail service, while realigning and, in some cases, ending bus routes to better connect with existing rail and other cities. There are 200 bus lines and 87 miles of rail track that cross the agency’s 1,433-square-mile service area from the beaches to the San Gabriel Valley. Within a year, there will be five additional rail lines under construction.
Last year, the MTA reported a 2.4 percent increase in ridership. But tension remains over how well the agency’s most vulnerable customers are served.
Even as the agency seeks to raise fares, many of its riders can’t safely get to rail lines in their neighborhoods, and many believe black youth are disproportionately targeted by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies patrolling the Metro lines. Fare evasion is the No. 1 reason youth are cited by deputies. Those violations put them in the courts with heavy fines.
The proposal by Garcetti and the supervisors helps address this issue, and helps bridge the serious chasm between the MTA and the people it serves.