Horrifically Expensive effort to serve LA with Rail
has been an unmitigated disaster.
Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority is now under
federal court order to
quit raising rail fares . It must put hundreds of buses back into operation,
improve service, and reduce bus fares.
The Los Angeles urban area,
today, is far more concentrated than metropolitan
Seattle or Portland -
5,800 people per square mile. Immense determination,
political courage, and policy discipline would be necessary for Seattle or Portland
to match that density two generations hence. And an ambitious,
horrifically expensive effort to serve
with rail has been an disaster
in that still widely distributed region.
expenditures on new rail systems often drain
resources from lower-cost but more effective alternatives.
Nowhere has this been more clear than in Los
Angeles, where the damage to bus ridership from the
diversion of resources to rail far exceeds any ultimate benefit expected to be
derived from rail, a situation that recently provoked a civil-rights lawsuit.
(The suit was brought on behalf of low-income and ethnic minority citizens and
bus drivers, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Los Angeles Metropolitan
Transit Authority is now under federal court order
to quit beggaring service and raising fares for
low-income bus riders while lavishing resources on up-scale train riders.
It must put hundreds of buses back into operation, improve
service, and reduce bus fares.
The roughly 15% of LA MTA patrons on the
trains [average income $65,000] have been the beneficiaries of 45 percent of the
subsidies, while the 85 percent on the buses
[average income less than $15,000] have received 55 percent-or roughly one-fifth
the level of per-ride transit subsidy.)
Southern California Rapid Transit District/Los Angeles County Metropolitan
California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD) operated the bus transit system, and
later the light rail and heavy rail systems, in Los Angeles County until the
merger with the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC) (the
transportation planning and funding agency for Los Angeles County) to form the
Los Angles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in the first part
of calendar year 1993.
usage in Los Angeles over this period offers an almost unique opportunity to
track the impact of fare changes and improvements in quality and quantity of
transit service on transit utilization. We will track SCRTD/MTA ridership,
specifically unlinked passenger trips (UPT)2, over the
period 1980-20113, as shown in the graphic following.
1980-1982 During the latter part of the
1970's, due primarily to the price and uncertain availability of motor fuel
following the reaction of the Arab oil producing nations to the outcome of the
1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel, Egypt, and Syria, and the rapid influx of
Hispanic immigrants who were transportation-disadvantaged, SCRTD transit
ridership rose rapidly, funded primarily by the one-quarter cent sales tax
authorized by the Transportation Development Act of 1971. However, funding
shortfalls led to an increase in SCRTD cash fares from $.55 for fiscal year
1980 to $.65 for 1981 and then $.85 in 1982, with other fares changing
approximately accordingly, resulting in an 11% reduction in UPT.
1982-1985 Following the passage of
Proposition A4, the first (of three) half-cent sales
taxes primarily for transit in Los Angeles County, in accordance with the
terms of the Proposition, SCRTD adult cash fares were reduced from $.85 from
$.50, and other fares reduced proportionately, for the three year period,
1983-85. Ridership (UPT) increased slightly over 40%, with peak period
ridership up over 36%, despite vehicle revenue miles only increasing 1.5%5.
1985-1996 During this period, the LACTC,
again in accordance with the terms of Proposition A, ceased using part of the
Proposition A funds for the SCRTD fare reduction program and shifted emphasis
to planning, design and construction of rail transit (during the three years
of the 50-cent fare, slightly under 20% of the total Proposition A sales tax
revenues, or slightly less than the value of a 0.1% sales tax, had gone for
this purpose).6 Two light
rail lines and part of the heavy rail system went into service during this
period. As the adult cash fares increased from 50’ in 1985 to 85’ in 1986 to
$1.10 in 1988 and $1.35 in 1994, SCRTD UPT declined approximately 27%7.
1996-2007 As a direct result of the 1994 fare increase passed by the
MTA Board which was to include the elimination of monthly passes, which were
extensively utilized by transit-dependent riders and, therefore, would have
amounted to approximately a doubling of average fares8
a major Federal Title VI (discrimination in the utilization of
Federal funding) legal action was filed against Metro. This produced a Consent
Decree, which remained in force for approximately eleven years9.
The Consent Decree (CD) required Metro to reintroduce the $42 monthly transit
pass, institute a new $11 weekly pass, increase bus service to reduce extreme
bus overcrowding, and add additional bus lines10.
After eleven years of losing an average of twelve million UPT a year, the
Consent Decree requirements not only immediately stopped the loss, but turned
it around, producing an average annual increase of twelve million UPT annually
a 36% increase over this period. While Metro rail ridership did increase
significantly during the 1996-2007, period, 58% of the added riders were bus
riders and approximately 60% of the new rail riders were former bus riders11.
Using the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) new starts methodology
for annualizing costs, the average taxpayer subsidy per new passenger,
expressed in FY07 dollars, was $1.40 for the bus riders added by the Consent
Decree, vs. $25.82 for the added guideway transit (Blue, Gold, Green, Orange
and Red Line)12, a taxpayer
subsidy per new passenger ratio of 1:18.4 that is, adding transit trips via
bus only required a taxpayer subsidy of 5.4% of the cost of adding transit
trips via guideway transit (rail and dedicated busway surface bus rapid
v MTA Consent Decree also produced the unique situation where the question
the value of transit improvements through:
to the American judicial system for an evaluation of their relative values
found in favor of improvements to the
The plaintiff and defendant both presented
detailed arguments by their transportation experts on the transportation
impacts of the Consent Decree, arguing for and against MTA actually having to
live up to what was, in essence, the contract it had entered into and the
court had approved. Ruling
clearly found that the bus service improvements mandated by the Consent Decree
not only were legally required, but had significant demonstrable
transportation benefits over and above MTAs
proposed alternative Rail.