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MTA Increases Most Fares, Cuts Some Bus Service

Hundreds pack board meeting to protest vote to hike cost of monthly passes and tokens.

May 23, 2003|Kurt Streeter | Times Staff Writer

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board approved a new fare plan Thursday that increases most monthly rail and bus passes from $42 to $52, raises the cost of tokens, eliminates transfers and decreases the cost of a one-way ticket from $1.35 to $1.25.

The fare changes are a key element in the MTA's 2003-04 budget, also approved Thursday, which slightly reduces bus service while expanding light rail.

The vote on the fare plan was taken after a heated and sometimes chaotic four-hour meeting.

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn voted against the plan, saying the increase would be a blow to the MTA's ridership growth goals. The agency projects it will initially lose more than 30,000 daily users because of the new fares.

Transit riders in Los Angeles County tend to have low incomes -- the median is $12,000 for bus riders and $22,000 for rail riders -- and Hahn and others argued that they could not afford even a slight increase.

The mayor was backed by three others on the board -- Paul Hudson, Allison Yoh and Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke -- but needed five to side with him for the two-thirds majority needed to stop the fare change. The final vote was 9 to 4.

Within the MTA, the fare change is seen as a huge victory. The agency is struggling with its finances as it tries to pay for its 2,400-bus fleet and a growing light rail and subway system while it pays off debts on the roughly $5 billion spent on rail countywide since the late 1980s. The agency, which has not raised its fares in eight years, believes the new structure will generate an additional $40 million a year.

Members of the Bus Riders Union, which opposes the fare increase, turned Thursday's meeting into a raucous affair. About 200 people packed the board room, sometimes breaking into extended chants that at one point caused the board to retreat to back rooms and temporarily stop the meeting.

Bus rider advocates took to the dais to shout out demands that fares be kept as is, or even lowered. Some pointed to the fact that when the MTA temporarily lowered fares to 50 cents for several years in the 1980s, its daily ridership surged to more than 300,000 higher than it is today.

When the vote came out against their wishes, Bus Riders Union members stormed en masse to the front of the conference room, and some shouted profanities at the board members. Faced with screaming, yellow-shirted bus advocates, MTA members voted on the budget in a matter of seconds, then hurried through a back door.

Despite the fact that the MTA is operating under a federal mandate to improve bus service, its budget reduces service by about 3%, trimming lines officials believe are underused.

The budget is balanced, but includes several risky assumptions, including the projection of increased revenue from the fare hike, estimates that light rail will meet its ridership goals and a projection that rising workers compensation costs will be tamped down.

Last fiscal year, the budget made similar assumptions, but the MTA had to dip into reserves to pay for a nearly $30-million shortfall when the assumptions did not bear out.

Voting for the fare change were Los Angeles County Supervisors Mike Antonovich, Gloria Molina, Zev Yaroslavsky and Don Knabe, along with Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, Lancaster Mayor Frank Roberts, Pico Rivera Councilwoman Beatrice Proo, Santa Monica Councilwoman Pam O'Connor and Duarte Councilman John Fasana.

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