We want to start out by expressing a deeply-felt thank you to all the very brave "essential workers"—especially those in health care, those who are driving and cleaning buses and trains (and stations), and those riding transit to get to jobs in order to keep the shelves stocked and the lights on. You are the heroes!
The COVID-19 pandemic will change society as we know it forever: What does the future hold for the way we build and live in cities, for transportation and population density, for those who are homeless now and those who may become homeless in the wake of the crisis?
This experience is causing us to think hard about what we can do to aid in the restoration and recovery. The impact on transit across the U.S. has been devastating. Metro's revenues have plummeted since the crisis began, with an estimated $800 million loss in sales taxes, a $25 million loss in ExpressLane tolls, and a $19 million to $23 million loss in fare revenues, resulting in what is likely an inevitable need to cut the Metro budget for next year.
This was among the issues discussed at Metro committee meetings last week (now being held virtually) and will likely be discussed at the board meeting this week. And the concerns expressed about the impact on low-income riders resulted in assurances that Metro's newly hired Executive Officer on Equity and Race will join Metro's Restoration and Recovery Task Force.
But Metro CEO Phil Washington says that even though fare collection has not been enforced so as to limit the risk resulting from interactions between drivers and riders, that fares cannot become free: Washington says the unintended consequences of the increased transit ridership likely to result could mean the end of social distancing. And there were lingering questions, such as: Given the bigger loss in rail ridership (75%) than bus ridership (65%), why are service cuts higher for buses (30%) than rail (15%)?
As alarming as the impact of the coronavirus is on transit, the impact on people who are homeless and on those individuals and families who lose their homes and/or their jobs could be even more devastating. We worry that unless we can restore/reinvent transit and increase the affordable housing built near it that we'll lose ground in our battle against the other crisis—climate change—that awaits us in the wings. These concerns cause us to refocus on Move LA's 2020 workplan to:
- Work with LA Metro to help advocate for all who need the agency to reach consensus on what constitutes a "new normal" as soon as possible, especially in regard to operations. The Metro Board will need to make some hard choices and we will keep you informed. We have also petitioned the Legislature to temporarily make funds available for operations (for all agencies statewide) from California's Low Carbon Transportation and Operations Program and the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program.
- Work with the California Legislature, counties and cities to find new revenues (needed now more than ever) for affordable housing for low-income residents and those who are homeless now or may become homeless during COVID-19. We have several ideas in the works, including a project we call Boulevards of Opportunity to facilitate production of more affordable housing near high-frequency transit on the commercial boulevards of our county, which we will tell you more about later this week.
- Renew our commitment to Vision 2022, a likely regional or statewide ballot measure for November 2022, urgently needed to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as air pollution. California is already the world’s absolute leader in the climate change movement, but such a measure would take the state's efforts to a new level, creating by far the most aggressive clean vehicle deployment program—from cars to trucks to trains to planes—in the world.
- Continue campaigning for deeply discounted transit passes for all public college and university students in California. We continue to work with Asm. Chris Holden toward this goal, this year with AB 2176, which will be heard in the Assembly Transportation Committee soon. We believe this is an important way to begin restoring transit ridership and growing new transit ridership, too!
Over the next few weeks we intend to increase our communications to keep you updated on our work in regard to these important issues, which are growing ever more important in the wake of the coronavirus.
And, finally, we want you to know that you are on our minds. Thank you for staying with us over the past 12 years. We hope that you and those you love are safe and healthy. What we are doing together by staying at home will make us stronger as a community and healthier as a community. Thank you for continuing to stay at home during these challenging times.