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MTA fare hike plan is opposed by riders

March 24, 2007|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

Five months after a federal consent decree expired, Los Angeles County transit officials Friday unveiled a plan that would raise bus and rail fares to cover an expected $100-million deficit.

The proposal, which would push the price of a regular monthly pass as high as $120, has drawn fire from bus rider advocates. They want fares reduced instead.

"There is no middle ground," said Manuel Criollo, a spokesman for the Bus Riders Union, which sued the transit agency the last time it tried to increase fares, in 1994. "Our people cannot afford another cent."

But Roger Snoble, chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the increase is necessary and, in fact, overdue. "We don't have enough money to pay for what we operate," he said, advocating that passengers pay more of the agency's operating costs. Without an increase, he predicted the deficit could grow to $1.8 billion over the next decade.

Snoble proposed increasing the standard $1.25 cash fare to $2, beginning Jan. 1, 2009.

Day passes, which now cost $3, would increase to $5 in July and to $8 by 2009. Monthly passes, now $52, would cost $75 in July and $120 by January 2009.

A public hearing must be held before the MTA's 13-member board approves any rate hike. A date has not yet been set.

Passengers, on average, pay 58 cents per ride, an MTA calculation based on the larger number of riders who use monthly and other discounted passes. Snoble estimates that next year it will cost $2.50 per ride to operate the buses and trains.

In recent months, ridership has increased, gently boosting revenue, he said. The MTA also is preparing to cut $10 million in services as part of its semiannual service adjustment.

Last year, the transit agency balanced its operating budget by cutting administrative costs and increasing revenue by selling more advertising on buses and in subway stations.

Fares have increased little, if any, since 1994, when the Bus Riders Union sued the MTA to improve bus service. In fact, monthly passes for students in kindergarten through 12th grade are $2 lower today than in 1982, when they cost $22.

Under the federal court order, the agency was limited in how much more it could charge riders. The MTA did not raise fares during that 10-year period. The decree expired in October.

Instead of raising rates, the Bus Riders Union wants transit officials to lower fares to 50 cents to attract more riders. The group also wants $42 monthly passes.

jean.guccione@latimes.com

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