The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced on Thursday it will convene a task force starting Tuesday to explore ways to eliminate fares for all riders on the agency's buses and trains.
"L.A. Metro has a moral obligation to pursue a fareless system and help our region recover from both a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and the devastating effects of the lack of affordability in the region," Metro CEO Phillip Washington said. "Fare-free transit will help essential workers, moms and dads, students, seniors and riders with disabilities. I view this as something that could change the life trajectory of millions of people and families in L.A. County, the most populous county in America."
The effort will be called the Fareless System Initiative, also known as FSI or Operation FSI, and the task force will deliver a plan with possible funding scenarios and sources to the Metro CEO and ultimately to the Board of Directors for consideration by the end of 2020.
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No other large transit system in the world has gone entirely fareless, according to Metro.
Washington said that he views eliminating fares as an economic development tool that will also improve mobility for all people and put money back in the pockets of those who need it the most, something especially important as Los Angeles recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CEO also said a fare-free transit would greatly increase transit ridership, take a noticeable number of cars off the road, help create more public spaces that better serve the majority of people and improve air quality.
According to Metro, the median household income of its riders is low, about $17,975 for bus riders and $27,723 for rail riders, according to a customer survey conducted last fall.
The task force will look at obtaining grants and/or re-prioritizing Metro funds, such as revenues from advertising or sponsorships that could be put toward eliminating fares, and it will examine possible effects fareless transit would have on other transportation agencies in the county.
In fiscal year 2019, which ended before the pandemic, Metro collected between $250 million and $300 million in fares but had $1.9 billion in operating costs, a recovery of about 13%. That percentage has been in decline for the past 20 years and is expected to decline further as operating costs rise, Metro stated.
The task force will also look at how eliminating fares could reduce or eliminate allegations against Metro of targeting people of color for fare enforcement, and will discuss how eliminating fares could affect homelessness in the region.
Metro officials stated going fareless could be one of the most important initiatives it has ever attempted, but until any plan is implemented, the agency will continue to collect fares.