LA County students will be able to ride the subway for free in new pilot program – NBC Los Angeles

K-12 and community college students in Los Angeles County will be able to ride the subway for free in a 23-month pilot program approved Thursday by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Board of Trustees Authority.

Metro currently offers fare reductions to people earning $ 39,450 per year or less, people aged 62 and over, veterans and people with disabilities, K-12 students, and college or college students. vocational schools.

As part of the pilot program, K-12 students and community college students of all income will be able to use the metro at no cost.

The program is expected to cost around $ 49.9 million in lost revenue over two years.

Forty-one of the 87 school districts in Los Angeles County wish to participate in the program.

The pilot will begin Nov. 1, according to the office of Metro Board Chair and LA County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis.

A marketing campaign will be launched on October 1 to promote the possibility of taking the metro for free.

“Starting with the students – and as a student who used the bus every day when they did (the Southern California Rapid Transit District) – I think FSI can and will and should make the public transport accessible to all who need it and can potentially these young users of public transport for life. It can improve their opportunities to see the culture, go out and access jobs. It’s literally a game changer to have transportation, not just to and from schools, ”said Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles and member of Metro’s board of directors.

A majority of the pilot program – $ 41.5 million – will be paid for by the US federal bailout plan. Garcetti noted that this year Metro has a unique opportunity for the pilot program, due to funding it does not normally have and may not have in years to come. But he said there could be new resources in the future with the potential adoption of the $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill.

Subway fare revenues currently cover transit operations and maintenance, but Metro receives additional funding through sales tax and state and federal grants. Additional funding options for the pilot program identified by Metro officials include advertising revenue, cost sharing and subsidies through the traffic reduction program.

Metro initially considered expanding the program to low-income riders, who make up 70 percent of Metro riders, in January 2022, but that expansion is contingent on new funding of $ 416 million.

City councilor and board member Mike Bonin, who supports Metro’s transition to a universal tariff-free system, noted that not only did the vote Thursday for “less than (the council) promised,” but to the excluding low-income riders, many bus riders will watch when voting, the board withdrawing something. That’s because the buses, which were free during the pandemic, will start collecting fares again in January.

While the board did not vote on Thursday to implement the No-Fee System for Low-Income Users initiative, it did vote to develop a plan to double the number of participants in its LIFE program, which helps low-income LA County residents with free or subsidized access to public transportation.

Before the pandemic, approximately 35% of low-income users of the system were part of the LIFE program, while currently the program includes 60% of low-income Metro users.

Holly Mitchell, Los Angeles County board member and supervisor, changed the initiative to double the number of LIFE program registrants by the end of 2022, to partner with organizations to solicit buses and trains to register eligible passengers and to provide three months of free public transport to new registrants as an incentive to register.

“I am completely in favor of Metro being a free system for our users. The economic benefits of going priceless are clear to me, ”Mitchell said.

She added that her amendment would not prevent Metro from spiraling out of control in the future, but would serve as a temporary interim measure.

“Without further action on our part, fares will resume on buses with few alternatives for low-income riders who depend on metro services,” Mitchell said.

Metro Board Chair and Los Angeles County Supervisory Board Chair Hilda Solis said Metro would seek funding to fill the funding gap for a free pilot program for low-income users of Metro.

She responded to the public asking that all runners be eligible for monthly $ 26 passes, instead of just those participating in the LIFE program, saying “I don’t think we’re there yet.” But she said she believed the improvements to the LIFE program presented by Mitchell would move Metro “in the right direction.”

Several people, many of whom are organized by the Bus Riders Union, have called the Metro board meeting to demand a universal fare-free metro system.

“The Bus Riders Union calls on the MTA Board of Directors to move forward quickly with the implementation of free public transport for all. Free public transport for students is very useful, but it does not allow their parents to work, ”said Barbara Lott-Holland, co-chair of the Bus Riders Union.

Ground Game Los Angeles member Kendall Mayhew said the most effective way to convince friends and fellow vehicle owners to switch to public transportation is to tell them buses are completely free during the COVID-19 pandemic. .

“I can’t stress enough the massive psychological relief of being able to just get on a bus without doing the mental calculations if you can afford another fare this month, or even have to worry about remembering your TAP card. “Mayhew said.

In a survey with around 46,000 responses, LA Metro found that 86% of metro users and 80% of non-metro users are in favor of the tariff without fare.

The pilot was developed in part to allow Metro to test the feasibility of permanently eliminating all fares on Metro trains and buses. Metro staff indicated that it was not possible to switch to a completely tariff-free system now, and Bonin asked them to redo their analysis taking into account more factors.

“I think we can achieve universality without price much sooner, and if we had the right analysis today, I think we could do it today,” Bonin said.

He requested an analysis that takes into account the annual savings resulting from the elimination of tariff enforcement as well as the cost of not having a universal tariff, including the fact that federal funds for Metro’s highways could be at risk. because the Air Quality Management District reported that the LA area does not have a viable path to meeting federal air quality standards.

“Would free public transit bring us closer to compliance and keep us from losing that money?” This is something that we have to look at in the analysis. What other fareless financial benefits should we be aware of? Bonin asked.

Once the pilot program is completed, the board will consider expanding, modifying or discontinuing the tariff-free service. To help inform this decision, Metro staff will report to the board of directors on a monthly basis on the status of the pilot program.

Measures that will assess the success of the program may include financial viability, program participation, increased boarding of pilot participants, level of service, quality of service, increased travel of low-income passengers , employee safety, passenger safety and system safety.

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