The Metro Fare Capping Proposal is Built on Two Fundamentally Flawed Assumptions, and the Board Should Reject It

Metro is proposing changes to its complex and complicated fare structure with a scheme called fare capping, an “equitable, pay-as-you-go fare payment model that ensures customers only pay for the rides they take and never overpay.” Fare capping, in theory, can result in a more equitable and “fairer” way to charge fares, according to research conducted by the National Academies Transportation Research Board and the experience of systems in London, Boston, Dallas, and other major metropolitan areas. And there are some good policies proposed in Metro’s proposal, such as capping the total cost a rider would pay per day/week, creating a simpler fare structure, improving the LIFE program, ending extra charges on Silver Line and Express routes, and removing the TAP card fee.

Despite this, Move LA asks the LA Metro Board to take a step back and direct Metro staff to restructure this proposal at their December 1st, 2022, meeting because the fare capping proposal is based on two assumptions that are fundamentally flawed and undermine the plan, resulting in unfair fares that are likely to drive customers off the system.

Let’s start with the example of a senior who takes two buses to see their doctor and pays $.35 for a one-way, off-peak fare. Under the proposed changes, the cost of their trip, one-way, would be more than five times more expensive ($.35 versus $2.00) and, with daily fare capping, still be 4 times as much ($.70 versus $3.00).

The second rider is the mother of two children who pay cash, gets off the bus to pick up their kids, and then continues on that same line to get home, sometimes paying for both kids to ride (because the bus operator knows her and will often let the kids ride for free). This family currently pays $1.75 on some days and as much as $4.75 on other days. Under the new system, this family would pay a minimum of $4.00 per day, but more likely as much as $8.00, and would not hit the cap if they continue to pay cash. Some weeks, the mother would be saving between $11 to $16 with the current fare structure.

Fatal Flaw #1
The fare capping scheme seems to be designed for the “ideal” rider—one who works a 9-5 desk job, earns a living wage and can take an hour (or more) for lunch to go see their doctor (see the graphic below from the Metro presentation). However, according to Metro’s own data, 1 in 3 Metro riders make less than $15,000 a year, nearly 9 in 10 riders live in households with annual earnings below $50,000, and 8 in 10 are people of color. What these stats don’t say is that many of Metro’s current riders are seniors, students, people with disabilities, and families that currently travel and pay the “off-peak” fare, subsidized by Measure M, which dedicated 2% to keep fares low for these riders. The fare-capping scheme would break the promise made to voters to keep fares affordable.

Fatal Flaw #2
The fare restructuring and capping scheme do not address the issue of the large number of Metro riders who pay, quite literally, with the change in their pocket. Cash riders represent approximately 1/4 of all riders and 38% of bus boardings. These will not benefit from a fare capping system because they won’t be tracked by the “closed loop” TAP system, a proprietary system that tracks your trips and charges you accordingly and will know when a rider has reached their “cap”.

Metro has very little information on these riders. For instance, what are their income? Are they casual riders who forgot their TAP card, or are they very low-income riders? Are they undocumented and/or unbanked and therefore can’t afford to or won’t purchase a card due to language or other barriers? The staff must work to better understand these riders to be able to propose alternative strategies to get these riders to use TAP before implementing fare capping.

One of the lessons from other transit systems is that they re-imagined fare payments BEFORE implementing fare capping by allowing people to “simply tap bank cards (or phones with Apple or Android Pay) to pay,” and implementing all-door boarding. This allowed for the elimination of cash payments, speeding up of buses, and a much more flexible system.

While Metro has promised all-door and bank card payments, implementation has not happened across the system. So rather than move forward with a fatally flawed program and try to twist the arms of cash riders to get a TAP card to make this fare-capping program work, Move LA makes these recommendations to Metro:

  1. Immediately identify the top 5 bus lines with the highest percentage of cash-paying riders and remove the fare box to make these lines completely free again. This will have immediate impacts of improving the speed and reliability of these lines, as people paying cash increase dwell times. It will also reduce cash payments across the system, reducing overall agency costs to process this paper and coin money. Boston successfully implemented this on three bus lines without a major deficit, and this policy would show that Metro is still committed to achieving a fully fare-less system in the future.
  2. Immediately invest remaining Federal funds, or apply for IIJA infrastructure dollars, to purchase the infrastructure for all-door boarding and the use of “open-loop” contactless debit or credit card payments for fares. Cubic, the same provider of Metro’s TAP cards, has successfully implemented this “pay as you go” system in London and New York.
  3. Metro could take one step further, combining its experience with the mobility wallet in its implementation of the Universal Basic Mobility pilot with the system of collecting and depositing cash fare payments to become a public bank in California that issues debit cards to riders. This would create a huge new customer base by helping hundreds of thousands of Angelenos become banked and make fare capping easier to implement, rather than force them onto a closed loop system to take advantage of fare capping.
  4. Consider split fares by type of transit rather than by type of rider. For instance, buses in London are less than Tube rides, with unlimited bus rides allowed within one hour. Metro should consider making buses more affordable by reducing the cost for anyone to ride the bus to $1 with unlimited rides within 2 hours (i.e. keep free bus transfers). Rail transit could see a modest rise considering its higher operating expense and anticipated future openings.
  5. Metro should publish the full Equity Framework review for the fare-capping proposal, addressing questions related to cash-paying riders, seniors, people with disabilities, students, and other equity-focused communities.

These policies would be fair, transparent, and improve customer service while making Metro an agency that both alleviate poverty while maintaining sustainable operations for the foreseeable future.

This is almost all folks . . . only 1 day after today!

Some say Lyft created Proposition 30 but if you know us and remember all the eblasts and Zoom calls we did about the need for climate and clean air action in 2020 and 2021 you know that isn't true.

Move LA and our Northern California partner SPUR began an online conversation with 70 elected officials, agency leaders, enviros and environmental justice and clean air advocates, labor and guests from the east and west coasts in 2020 after COVID hit—see our panelists HERE. 

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Join us THIS WEEKEND for important work, fun, tacos and mariachis!

Join us this weekend for major Get Out The Vote efforts! Saturday we'll kick off the Yes on ULA canvassing campaign at the LA/OC Building Trades in Historic Filipinotown at 10am. REGISTER HERE! And on SUNDAY, join our rally for Yes on Prop 30 in Hollenbeck Park at 12pm with free tacos and mariachis! REGISTER HERE!

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Not a cynical corporate scheme: the real story about Prop 30

This post was written by Stuart Cohen, a long-time friend and colleague in the Bay Area who founded TransForm 25 years ago and was Executive Director until 2019. Over the past year as a Senior Policy Advisor for Transform he also worked with many other groups to advance more equitable transportation and housing solutions—including Prop 30. Below is what he wrote about how this measure came to be, and why we Californians should support it.

The Origin Story of Proposition 30

The election is upon us and, unfortunately, there are wildly misleading ads opposing Prop 30 that feature Gov. Newsom saying “Prop 30 is a cynical scheme devised by a single corporation (Lyft).” This is a blatant lie. So I wanted to get you TRUE information about Prop 30 and its origins, including my role in co-creating it. But first, the basics:

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Peter Dreier points out on CityWatch that Jack Humphreville is wrong about Measure ULA!

Jack Humphreville, a conservative commentator well-known for opposing even progressive taxes, calls Measure ULA a “free lunch.” But as Peter Dreier points out in the City Watch column below, it's a fair, effective way to get LA’s wealthiest people—who prospered from the real estate boom—to help address LA's most pressing problem: the 40,000 people who live on the street. Measure ULA would tax the sale of super-expensive properties to provide funding to help seniors and other vulnerable renters avoid eviction and to build sufficient affordable housing for those living on our streets and in our shelters.
Paid for by Move LA, a Project of Community Partners, 1000 N. Alameda St., Suite 240, Los Angeles, CA. 90012.

Move LA Speaks Out About the Racist Conversation By City Leaders

Move LA, an organization founded on the potential for a broad-based and inclusive coalition to transform Los Angeles, condemns the hurtful, divisive, and racist conversation between Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo, Kevin De León, and former LA County Federation of Labor head Ron Herrera.

These leaders have betrayed our trust. The use of anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, homophobic, anti-AAPI, anti-renter, and anti-Semitic speech, as well as the threat of violence against Mike Bonin’s young Black child, has no place in our discourse. Angelenos must have faith that their leaders will treat everyone fairly and equitably.

These leaders fell far short. We have worked to guarantee the rights of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, and these back-room efforts to undermine and disenfranchise voters are reprehensible and unacceptable.

Therefore, we cannot stand idly by. We join with political and community leaders fighting for racial and economic justice and call for the immediate resignation of the remaining LA City Councilmembers, as Ron Herrera and Nury Martinez have chosen to resign. We believe that this is only the first step on the way to restoring trust in our City and its leadership.

When we come together in support of a more inclusive and equitable future, we become the shining beacon on a hill, a place we can all be proud to call our home. Over the past few days, that light has dimmed. We stand committed to working with leaders who share that vision of Los Angeles and who seek to restore faith in our democratic institutions and the rights of all in the City of Los Angeles. We have witnessed the awesome power of voters to change the future of our great region, but we can only achieve big stuff on transportation infrastructure, transit justice, climate change, clean air, and affordable housing if we do it together.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Daniel Tabor, President
Victor Griego, Vice President
Eli Lipmen, Executive Director
Denny Zane, Founder
Move LA, a project of Community Partners

Join Move LA's K Line Scavenger Hunt for the Grand Opening on Friday!

As you may have read, there's been talk about improving or restoring rail transit on the Crenshaw Corridor since the late 1940s! Move LA has been part of that conversation for almost two decades, and thanks to our effort to get the Measure R half-cent sales tax on the ballot in 2008—and thanks to voters for passing it—that dream becomes a reality this Friday!

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Join us Tues. Sept. 27 for a virtual phone bank to help house the unhoused in the City of LA

We need your help to talk to voters about the United to House LA ballot measure (Measure ULA)! Would you join us from 5:30-8:30 p.m. on Tues., Sept. 27, for a Move LA-hosted VIRTUAL phone bank? 

This is the ballot measure that Move LA’s Denny Zane drafted with homeless services providers, affordable housing nonprofits, labor unions, and renters' rights groups. It was put on the ballot by 98,171 LA renters, homeowners and small business owners who want to see real change. 

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Students seek funding for student transit passes after Gov. Newsom vetoes AB 1919


For Immediate Release: Wednesday September 14, 2022

Students and advocates from across California expressed disappointment after Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 1919 (Holden) late Tuesday. AB 1919 would have allowed any K-12, community college or university student in California to take public transit for free. It passed both the State Senate and the Assembly with only one NO vote.

“It is time for the Governor and the Legislature to ‘get on the bus’ with free public transit for all California’s students,” said Eli Lipmen, Executive Director of Move LA. “Assembly Bill 1919 would create the next generation of transit riders and help achieve our state’s social equity and climate goals.”


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Prop 30: We were there at the beginning!

This week we helped kick off the Prop 30 campaign to win a measure on the November ballot that would enable California to get very serious about addressing climate change and air quality (that is Denny Zane in the middle and Eli Lipmen and his son Cal on the left). Over 20 years the measure would invest about:

  • $45 billion to make zero-emission vehicles affordable, including cars, buses, and light-, medium-, and heavy-duty trucks, as well as trains and ships, and all diesel-powered vehicles and equipment as well.
  • $35 billion to expand zero-emission (this includes green hydrogen) charging and fueling infrastructure;
  • $20 billion to prevent catastrophic wildfires.
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