What would local public transportation and mobility look like if Los Angeles County's buses and trains were free for everyone? The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is attempting to answer that question.

Metro CEO Phillip Washington today launched a task force to investigate what he called the "Fareless System Initiative" or "Operation FSI". And he wants to move quickly.

Last week in Washington said Metro Board of Directors He hopes that the system can be free "by the beginning of the new year".

While his virtual presentationAs one reason for free transit, he cited the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on color communities and low-income residents, which he compared to public services such as firefighting and policing:

"In many cases, people have to choose between paying rent, paying utility bills or using transit. We believe that (a) a free public transport system will be achieved – for young people, for the elderly, for working mothers and Fathers, to important workers, the disabled (and) students – will change the trajectory of millions of people and their families here in America's largest county. "

Washington stated three main goals the agency would strive to achieve if it were to go farless:

  • Improving equity and economic parity for drivers, a large part of which live below the federal poverty line
  • Creating an incentive to use public transportation over private vehicles, thereby alleviating L.A. County's crippling overload
  • Rethinking public spaces and how cities manage roads, with more people moving into communities without cars.

The task force will examine how complex it can be when driving impacts the driving behavior, operation and homelessness of the system. They will also analyze the current cost of managing tariff collection and reduced tariff programs, Washington said.

The biggest question, of course, is how to pay for it. Washington said the task force will examine federal and state funding options and reallocate existing agency funds, such as from advertising revenue.

Metro offers reduced tariffs for certain drivers and is Exploring the free tariffs for K-12 studentsbut Washington says these are "band-aid" solutions that don't go far enough.

"What we're doing here is tear down the band-aid, and we're saying that as the largest agency in this country that has a fareless system, I can see ourselves as a pilot agency. I could see we're looking for federal funding to do this as a pilot to do to show that it is possible. "

Several Metro board members spoke out in favor of the initiative.

"I think the time is now," said LA Chairman and Mayor Eric Garcetti. He called the proposal "a bold way forward" to invest in mitigating climate change and rebuilding the driving force.

It's important to note that driver tariffs represent a tiny fraction of Metro's annual revenue. In the agency's 2020 budget – approved before the pandemic – tariff revenues accounted for just 4% of the agency's budgeted resources for that fiscal year.

This pie chart shows L.A. Metro's available resources for fiscal 2020. (Courtesy of Los Angeles Metro)

Washington had previously hesitated to offer free fares on the metro. In the first few months of the pandemic, smaller transit agencies in the county and the U.S. waived driver rates in Washington warned against it for L.A. Metroand say it might attract too many drivers and counteract social distancing.

The pandemic hit Metro hard. The Agency lost around 70% of its drivers amidst orders that stay at home. The larger long-term impact is a drop in sales tax revenue, which is roughly half of Metro's operating budget. According to official figures, the agency will lose $ 1.8 billion in the coming fiscal year, which ends in June 2021.

The exemption from the CARES law will help to fill this gap.

L.A. County was grants nearly $ 1.1 billion specifically for local public transport to cover operating costs affected by the coronavirus, although Metro has joined a coalition of US transit agencies that are looking for this a second round of federal aid.

The Operation FSI task force is expected to make recommendations for Metro executives by the end of the year. In the meantime, you still have to pay to drive the system.

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