Move LA has been tracking Metro's Fareless System Initiative closely, and we are happy to report that a pilot has been officially launched with 17,000 K-12 students in six LA County school districts. Metro is planning to expand the program if approved at the September board meeting.
Metro's latest report on the FSI program is here, and we will update this post when we know more. According to a memo from August, the pilot involves close to a third of the 1.4 million public K-12 students in LA County—and LAUSD has made a verbal commitment to join the program. In addition, Metro has received interest from dozens of other K-12 districts representing more than 1,139 schools and 695,610 students.
While the families of K-12 students are not charged a fee, participating school districts must contribute $3/student/year, and municipal transit agencies interested in joining the program must cover the remaining cost—for a total cost for all partners, including Metro, of about $50 million over 2 years. This allows K-12 students to ride any Metro bus or rail line, or any participating municipal bus services, without paying a fare at the point of entry, if their school district participates in the program.
This program is very similar to the “Any Line, Any Time” program that Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane helped pilot at Santa Monica College about a decade ago, which has been so successful that we’ve been working to expand it ever since. Now it appears we’ve succeeded—with the help of all the parties mentioned above, as well as the students!
But what about community college students? The community college program will launch if the Metro Board approves it at the September meeting, and because community college students ride more frequently than K-12 students they will be charged more—but just $7 per student per year.
However, colleges that have an existing arrangement with a municipal bus operator can keep that program going according to those agreements, and students will have access to Metro service without additional costs—their TAP cards will simply be programmed to work on the Metro system.
The use of TAP cards, which will be free, will help Metro measure the impact of the program on ridership—and provide information on the vehicle miles traveled per student, and whether the program reduces tardiness and absences.
We hope to see a dramatic jump in Metro’s ridership since almost 1 million students could be eligible. One possible result is that Metro may be able to return to pre-pandemic ridership levels earlier than anticipated and ahead of other transit agencies—which will help reduce traffic and improve student outcomes at school.
Move LA plans to track this program as it develops—beginning with Phase 1 of the program with K-12 and community college students as well as the proposed “Phase 2” for all low-income residents of LA County, including qualifying older adults and people with disabilities. We’ll be making the case that this program is not only financially feasible but also a moral obligation for a public agency funded by sales tax dollars to benefit those most vulnerable and in need of high-quality transit service.
As we follow Metro’s efforts to scale up this important program—with multiple benefits not just for student riders but for everyone who wants to see reductions in GHGs and VMT—we've been thinking back to the time we began advocating for a student transit pass program at least a decade ago. You can read about that long and difficult but very rewarding effort on our website HERE.