Goodby to a Bargain : Some Blue Line Riders See Red as MTA Announces Big Fare Increases

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

For the past four years, one of the best transit deals in Los Angeles has been a ride on the Blue Line trolley. A one-way trip from Long Beach to Downtown Los Angeles set you back just $1.10--even less if you used a monthly pass.

But all that will change Sept. 1, when a new fare system adopted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority takes effect.

Fares from Long Beach to Downtown will more than double, to $2.35, and general monthly passes will no longer be available, which could cause transportation bills for some commuters to balloon even more.

"It's already too high as it is," complained Rickey Hargrove, as he trundled home to Long Beach on Thursday from his job as a security guard for a Downtown firm.

But he shook his head in resignation. "I gotta do it. You can't fly to work."

The increase is part of the MTA's attempt to get rid of a $126-million operating deficit. On Wednesday, agency officials narrowly approved a new fare structure that will hike the price of bus and train rides. For bus riders, it was the first increase in six years, climbing from $1.10 to $1.35.

With a higher base fare of $1.35 and new surcharges based on distance, Blue Line riders will have to shell out up to $1.25 more for every ride they take.

It's enough to make some riders look at freeways with fresh eyes, whatever environmental concerns they might have.

"I don't own a car," said Tara Wolfe, who takes a bus from Pasadena and then the Blue Line to work at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. "This may force me to save money for one."

MTA officials defend the zoned price structure, calling it an equitable way to share the pain of fare hikes between bus and light rail riders. (The same zoned price structure will apply on the Norwalk-to-El Segundo Green Line trolley system scheduled to open next year.) Officials note that the average trip aboard a bus is only four miles, whereas the average Blue Line rider travels nine miles.

MTA spokeswoman Andrea Greene acknowledged that the agency expects Blue Line ridership to drop, possibly by as much as 20% from the current daily total of 37,800 boardings.

"We're very concerned, but there's not much we can do," she said. "There will be a 56% increase in the amount of revenue we will see on the Blue Line, which is good news."

Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana, whose district includes much of the Blue Line, has directed the MTA to submit bimonthly reports on ridership to gauge the impact of the higher fares.

"The whole purpose of the Blue Line is to stop the traffic congestion," he said. He said he hopes the fare increase will not deter riders from sticking with the Blue Line.

Many Blue Line riders now take advantage of the $42 regular monthly pass, which allows unlimited use of the trolleys, MTA buses and the Red Line subway. Beginning in September, passes will be available only to students, the elderly and the disabled.

That means that riders accustomed to getting from door to door on different kinds of transit will have to pay for each transfer.

For example, a Long Beach commuter who takes a bus from home to the Blue Line station, rides to Downtown, then hops onto the subway to the office could pay as much as $2.85 ($1.35 for the bus fare, 25 cents to transfer to the Blue Line, $1 to cross two zone boundaries and another 25 cents to ride the Red Line). Using a 90-cent bus token would only reduce the amount to $2.40.

That means a daily round trip between $4.80 and $5.70, or up to $120 for a working month--2 1/2 times the cost of a monthly pass.

"Are you kidding?" Wolfe asked. "I can get someone from my neighborhood to drive me (to work) for $5."

Rodney Brown of Compton has taken the Blue Line to visit his mother in Long Beach ever since the system opened in July, 1990. But the new fare may keep him from fulfilling his filial duties.

"I'm a poor man," said Brown, who is unemployed. "I live on a budget, and I can't afford it. Every time they have a budget cut . . . it hurts the ones who are out there trying to make it day to day."

Bus Route Cuts To save money, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will cut back or cancel some lesser-used bus lines starting in October. Only two San Fernando Valley routes are affected: Source: Metropolitan Transportation Authority

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