The Metropolitan Transportation Authority decided it still needed a solid financial plan before giving the green light to a pilot project that would allow students and low-income people to ride subway trains and buses for free.
Metro directors voted unanimously on Thursday to ask new chief executive Stephanie Wiggins to come up with a proposal to ensure the plan’s financial viability. The project must meet several conditions, including the assurance that funding for this pilot program will not financially affect other ongoing or existing programs.
Although the board vote does not officially greenlight the free pricing plan, the board has expressed its unwavering support for keeping the idea alive.
“Since we’ve been talking about a fareless initiative, I’ve supported it,” said Janice Hahn, MTA board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor. “But I’m clear that how we get there and how we implement it is really important.”
Under the original 23-month proposal, K-12 and community college students could have taken subway rides for free starting in August. Low-income riders, who represent nearly 70% of Metro ridership, could join the service in January 2022.
Those deadlines are now removed to give Wiggins flexibility as she steps into her new role. But Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who chairs the Metro’s board of directors, said he would push to try to get the pilot plan working in time for students to return to campuses in the fall.
The pilot program is expected to cost Metro $250 million over the next two fiscal years. Fare revenue helps pay for part of the transit system, and Metro receives additional funding through sales tax and state and federal grants. Metro officials have identified state and federal grants, as well as third-party partnerships and cost-sharing with school districts, to help fund the pilot plan.
“One-time funds scare me because, by definition, they are one-time funds,” said Ara Najarian, MTA board member and Glendale councilman. “How can you develop a sustainable initiative when every year you have to cross your fingers and lobby Washington or Sacramento for funding that would sustain that?”
But Garcetti said officials would “work hard not only to identify this funding, but also to advocate and hopefully reach out to the coalition as well.”
Metro offers reduced fares for students, seniors, low-income populations, and people with disabilities, but the proposal under discussion is a way to assess whether Metro could be completely free in the future.
Metro will continue with its current fare collection policy until the board adopts a formal plan for the pilot, according to Los Angeles County Supervisor and MTA Board Member Holly J. Mitchell.
Outgoing Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington, who attended his last meeting on Thursday, floated the idea years ago when he suggested congestion pricing, which would have charged people more for driving in converting car pool lanes to toll lanes, charging drivers based on number of miles. they travel or charge a fee to enter certain areas of the city.
Passengers were already leaving the Los Angeles bus system when Washington arrived in 2015, and the decline continued during his tenure. The pandemic has further aggravated the decline.
With the majority of the MTA’s Latino and Black ridership, many students and organizations have asked how the elimination of fees would help them. A student described the difficulty of having to pay $1.75 a day.
Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor Francisco C. Rodriguez said in a statement that this type of program could “make a real difference between going to college or not, and remove a major obstacle in the path of students. to access higher education.
“Everyone agrees with the mission of a fare-free system at Metro,” said Eli Lipmen, director of programming and development for the Move LA organization “But there are varying degrees of confidence in the availability resources… Success really depends on whether Metro can find willing partners in Sacramento or DC”