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Metro CEO Proposes Eliminating Fares by 2021

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At Metro’s August board meeting, Metro CEO Phil Washington presented a proposal for a new fare-free system, eliminating fares on all Metro lines by January, 2021.

According to Washington, “Public transportation is a public service and should be treated no different than other City/County services.”  In other words, he said, “Transit is like policing and firefighting — it should be made available by the public purse to the public.”

Washington said the COVID-19 crisis provided the impetus for his proposal, because the pandemic has hit Black, Latino, and low-income populations – the same people who use Metro most – the hardest.  As a result, he said, we have “a moral obligation to explore how a fareless system can aid those that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.”

Pandemic effects by income and ethnicity, presented by Metro CEO Phil Washington at Metro’s August board meeting.

In addition to addressing issues of racial and economic equity, Washington said, eliminating Metro fares would have additional benefits.  He said going fare-free would boost ridership “exponentially” – not just among BIPOC and low-income riders, but also among other groups such as tourists and students, and it could help reduce traffic congestion and contribute to larger goals of “rethinking public streets and town squares.”

Washington’s proposal calls for the creation of a special Task Force that will begin working this month to study funding sources – such as grants and/or moving funds from other parts of Metro’s budget – that could cover budget items now funded by fares.  (According to UCLA researcher Juan Matute, Metro receives just 8.9% of its income from rider fares, while most of its revenue comes from sales taxes, federal funding and other sources.)

Overall, the Tasks Force’s mandate will include:

In general, board member reaction to Washington’s proposal was overwhelmingly positive, though many board members also tempered their praise with financial questions.

Among the most enthusiastic board members were Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who chairs the Metro board and called Washington’s proposal “exciting stuff,” and City Council member Mike Bonin (also a Metro board member), who said the proposal “should be accompanied by trumpets and fireworks,” and that a fareless system would be an “exciting change and something we really should be doing.”

Several other board members also expressed support for the idea…but were a bit more emphatic about the as-yet-unanswered questions about where the money will come from.

But Washington reminded everyone that finding funding solutions will be an important and immediate part of the new Task Force’s job, and said he feels the effort is worth it to put an end to the piecemeal fare reductions Metro has previously proposed for certain ridership groups.  In other words, he said, it’s time to stop the “death by a thousand cuts” approach, in which they reduce or eliminate fares for groups such as “left-handed kids with glasses,” which are just “Band-Aids” that make it harder to administer the overall fare structure.  Instead, he said, it’s “time to rip off the Band-Aid” and make Metro free for everyone.

And the benefits, he said, would not only be increasing ridership and equity in the short term, but changing “the trajectory of public transit” into the future.

The Task Force is scheduled to report its findings to the Board by the end of the calendar year, with the goal of eliminating fares by January, 2021.


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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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  1. I wonder how the amount of money Metro collects from fares compares to the costs to create and maintain the infrastructure for fare collection. If we take out the fareboxes, the subway gates, the need for bus drivers and other personnel to enforce fare collection, the people that sell and do customer service for TAP cards, armed guards to collect and transfer cash, the whole thing, I wonder what the savings is vs. the reduction in revenue?


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