Amid concerns over a projected operating deficit in Los Angeles County's rail and bus system, transportation officials Friday recommended raising basic fares gradually by as much as 117% over the next eight years.
In a report released Friday evening, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's staff said action was needed to address a $36-million gap in the agency's 2016 operating budget. Without changes in fares and costs, the agency will be $225 million in debt in 10 years, the report says.
Representative of riders immediately criticized the proposal.
One option, the report suggests, is to raise the basic $1.50 bus and rail fare to $1.75 in September; $2.00 in four years; and $2.25 in 2021. Fares for seniors and the disabled would rise from 55 cents to $1.10, and student fares would increase from $1 to $1.75 over the same eight-year period. A day pass would increase from $5 to $9, and a weekly pass from $20 to $32.
Under a second option, base fares would initially stay at $1.50 during non-peak hours. During morning and afternoon rush hours, fares would go up to $2.25 in September and would eventually more than double to $3.25 in 2021. A day pass would increase from $5 to $13 in 2021; a weekly pass from $20 to $45.
The agency also should change its transfer policy, the report says. Currently, passengers pay $1.50 each time they board a Metro bus or train. The suggested change would allow passengers to board unlimited buses and trains at no added cost for 90 minutes.
"We looked at our whole fare structure and said, is this really fair to our riders?" Metro spokesman Marc Littman told The Times. "We actually penalize our passengers for trying to use the system more efficiently."
More than half of passengers make a transfer during their trips, Metro surveys indicate. Charging full fare at each transfer discourages passengers from using more than one bus or train, Littman said.
Riders who buy daily, weekly and monthly passes will see the biggest increase in price because most of them use the system most heavily, Littman said. The monthly unlimited pass, now $75, would be eliminated in 2018 and merged with a pass that allows unlimited rides on all Los Angeles County bus systems. The price would eventually rise to either $135 or $180.
Leaders of the Bus Riders' Union took issue with the proposals. Eric Romann, a representative of the group, said fare increases represent "an on-going civil rights issue."
The riders' union co-chair, Barbara Lott-Holland, said, "The majority of MTA riders are poor and transit dependent. You're asking the poorest of the poor to pay more."
Metro has raised fares three times since 1995, most recently in 2010. One-way fares rose from $1.25 to $1.50 and monthly passes rose from $62 to $75.
In the long term, Metro hopes fare collections will cover about one-third of the cost of operating the bus and rail system. But under the current fare structure, that percentage is expected to fall. "Right now, we're only at 26%, and sinking like a stone," Littman said. "What's happening now is unsustainable."
Metro will hold a public hearing on the proposed fare increases March 29, and the board of directors will consider the proposal at their May 22 meeting.