The commuters who crowded along a broad, sunny sidewalk Monday morning in South Los Angeles craned their necks as bus after bus rumbled north on Vermont Avenue.
As each vehicle pulled to the curb, a public address system said in a cool monotone, “Regular fare is $1.75.... Watch your step.”
Monday marked the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s first fare increase in four years. Spurred by financial warnings that Metro’s expected deficit could grow to $225 million in the next decade, the agency raised one-way bus and rail fares from $1.50 to $1.75 and monthly passes from $75 to $100. Also new was a free-transfer policy that allows two hours of unlimited rides.
Systemwide, Metro saw a successful roll-out of higher fares after weeks of preparation, spokesman Dave Sotero said. Customer service representatives did not receive an inordinate number of complaints, he said.
Perhaps the largest hiccup happened at the 7th Street / Metro Center rail station, where some ticket scanning machines didn’t honor the new free-transfer policy and charged passengers twice. The software glitch was fixed and those customers will receive automatic refunds within 48 hours, Sotero said.
Most commuters interviewed Monday had heard of the increase and came prepared, bringing an extra quarter or visiting a nearby Expo Line light-rail station to reload their digital fare cards. But most also seemed unaware of the fare increase’s silver lining, the free-transfer policy.
“What? Really?” said Carmen Perez, a housecleaner from South Los Angeles. She takes three buses to Santa Monica and typically buys a day pass, which now costs $7.
Her ride, often shoulder to shoulder on packed east-west buses, feels like forever, she said. On the days it takes less than two hours, she said, she might consider relying on a one-way fare, which would save her several dollars a day. “I need to start timing myself,” she said.
Passengers who pay cash are not eligible for the free transfer. The three-quarters of Metro passengers who use digital fare cards are allowed to board as many buses and trains as needed for two hours after the first ticket scan.
Wes Coast, a Jehovah’s Witness minister, tightened his arms around a stack of pamphlets and prepared to board the red accordion bus that would carry him to Melrose Avenue. “When I got here 20 years ago, a bus pass cost $10,” Coast said. “Now it costs $100? Poor people can’t afford that.”
Angela Fussie of Los Angeles nodded in agreement as she waited to board. “If we could afford a car, I’d be in one,” she said. “Every penny counts.”
One rider boarding the No. 204 bus toward Beverly Boulevard, seemingly unaware of the fare increase, dropped six quarters in the fare box and turned as if to sit down. When the operator stopped him and explained, he rummaged in his pockets, grimaced and looked back at the line of people behind him.
“Does anyone have 25 cents?” he asked. A woman standing in the back of the line unzipped a small coin purse and handed him a quarter.