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Complaints, resignation greet MTA fare increases

July 01, 2007|Tiffany Hsu | Times Staff Writer

Today will probably be a gloomy Sunday for patrons of public transit, as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's fare hikes take effect.

Ever since the increases were approved by the Los Angeles County agency in May, many bus and rail riders have dreaded the hikes, which they consider too steep but inevitable. A judge rejected a request for a restraining order Thursday.

"The hikes aren't too popular -- people on the train are all talking about it," said Highland Park resident Susan Rivera, a regular on the Gold Line. "People are most concerned about their own pocketbooks. There's not much sympathy the other way around, not too much argument about how much trouble the MTA's budget is in."

The last time the agency raised its fares was 10 years ago. Prices are scheduled to rise again in two years, at which time the cost of the popular day pass will have doubled.

In the current round of increases, the day pass has gone from $3 to $5, the weekly pass from $14 to $17 and the monthly pass from $52 to $62. The monthly pass will rise to $75 in two years. A single-trip ticket will remain at $1.25 but increase to $1.50 in 2009.

"It's not a good idea," said Carmen Corera, 52, as she waited with her day pass for a bus near Sunset Boulevard and Vermont Avenue in Hollywood last week. "It's too much money. Three dollars is already expensive; $5 is just too much."

MTA officials said revenue from the fare increases would go toward plugging a $1.8-billion deficit anticipated over the next decade. The funds will also be used for operational costs, officials said.

In a suit filed last week against the MTA, several groups including the Bus Riders Union claimed that the agency intended to use some of the proceeds from the hikes for capital projects, including construction of more rail lines.

For that reason, the groups say, the MTA should be required to conduct an environmental impact report, and until it is completed, the fare hikes should be put on hold.

Although Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant has not yet ruled on that point, he did reject the groups' request that the agency not be allowed to implement the increases until their suit is settled.

Meanwhile, many riders have resigned themselves to dealing with the hikes, with some even commiserating with the MTA.

"I don't really blame them, because gas prices are going up, so of course they have to exert themselves," said John Kong, 17, as he got off a bus in Monterey Park. "But change adds up -- it'll eventually catch up to a lot of people."

Kong said he was not overly concerned about how the fare increases would affect him. He has a job at a sandwich shop, so he can still afford the fares, he said.

At Union Station downtown, Rivera said she felt fortunate that her employer, the Los Angeles Universal Preschool, reimbursed her nearly $60 a month for her monthly pass.

"But it seems like the pass has been $52 for only a short period of time. Ten dollars is a significant difference," she said. "But it's still better than driving -- the Gold Line is near home, and I work near Union Station."

Although the fare increases will affect low-income riders most, many said Metro would remain their transit choice. It is often their only choice.

The hikes came at an especially inopportune time for daily bus rider Sandra Martinez, 36. While waiting at Sunset and Vermont for a bus to downtown L.A., she bemoaned what she said was a lack of explanation about the raises.

"The bus is now too expensive for me, especially since I'm looking for a job right now," said Martinez, who currently uses a weekly pass. "I knew it was coming, but I don't understand why they did it."

To offset the extra costs, Martinez said, she might occasionally walk instead of taking the bus. For the majority of her trips, however, she said her only option is the bus.

The same holds true for Brian Conrad, 43, who has to take two buses every day to and from his FedEx job near LAX. Although he is flirting with the idea of buying a cheap car, Conrad said he probably would just switch from his current weekly pass to a monthly one, which would save him about $6 a month.

"I feel, not exactly helpless, but definitely frustrated, because the bus is my only form of transportation," Conrad said while killing time on the platform of the Blue Line's Compton Station. "But I have no choice. Bus fare is like rent -- I've got to pay it."

Other riders said they will grumble less if the MTA uses money from the fare hikes to improve its service.

"The rates are crazy, and they don't make any sense. I've heard that people are going to write angry letters to MTA," Conrad said. "But other people are saying that with the increase, we might get better services, and more buses might actually be on time."

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tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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