Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Stupid ...

For residents and non-residents alike, "Los Angeles" conjures images of smog and snarled freeways (adding to the smog). The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has decided to add to the image by raising fares for the buses, light rail, and trains that comprise its system. Single fares will go from $1.25 to $2, daily passes from $3 to $5, with comparable raises for weekly and monthly passes, and this is just the first phase of fare hikes, according to an article in today's Los Angeles Times.

After a decade of being largely restricted from raising bus fares by a federal judge, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is proposing a sweeping series of fare hikes that some experts worry will discourage commuters from using mass transit.

The hikes would establish some of the highest bus fares in the country. The basic fare would rise to $2 from $1.25. About 87% of all MTA passengers use some form of bus or rail pass, which would see larger price increases of up to 400% over the next 20 months.

MTA officials say that the hike is needed to help cover rising operating costs and that they have already cut 500 jobs. Without the higher fares, they say the agency would have to slash service.
[Emphasis added]

The fare hikes will hit the most vulnerable of users the hardest:

The MTA records about 1.6 million bus and rail boardings each weekday, many of them low-income riders who do not own cars. According to an MTA survey in 2001, the average family income of a bus rider was $12,000, and $22,000 for rail users.

"It really puts all the burden on the poorest, who are really relying on the bus," Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, chairwoman of the UCLA Department of Urban Planning, said of the fare hike.
[Emphasis added]

It's not like the poor have much of an alternative: the price of gasoline has risen to $3.33 per gallon, so even if a cheap and reliable car could be found, fueling it might not be feasible for the long treks to and from work. While the article makes no connection for the timing of the proposed fare hikes with the rising gasoline costs, that certainly has to be part of the equation. By the way, most MTA buses run on natural gas, so that isn't even being raised as an excuse.

What will happen, and the MTA acknowledges this, is that more affluent riders will go back to their cars, clogging the freeways and streets even more, adding to the poor air quality of the Southern California Basin. At least a 10% drop in ridership is anticipated, but the MTA believes that will just be a temporary phenomenon.

Making the fare hikes almost a fait accompli is the fact that Hummer-driving Governor Schwartzenegger has cut the budget for public transportation in favor of adding to the highway budget, which gives some indication of his priorities.

Hopefully the Riders Union will resurface with the same tenacity it did in the '80s and '90s and force the MTA back into Federal Court on the issue. If it doesn't, we're in for a series of long, hot summers: longer and hotter than they need to be.



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