Metro Bus

Photo Courtesy Metro (Venice Current)

LOS ANGELES  - The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors has tentatively advanced plans for a 23-month pilot program that would make Metro buses and trains free for students and eventually for low-income riders, but it wants more details on the proposal's finances before implementing it.

During its Thursday meeting, the board requested reports from its staff on how the fare-free program would be funded and on what efforts would be undertaken to ensure the program does not negatively impact overall Metro service or affect the ability to keep the transit system in a state of good repair.

Once those reports are completed, the board will again review the proposal and take a final vote. No immediate timeframe was given for when that discussion will be held.

Metro currently offers fare discounts to people who make $39,450 a year or less, people age 62 and older, veterans and people with disabilities, K-12 students and people in college or vocational school.

 Under the pilot program, K-12 students and people enrolled in community college of all incomes would be the first to ride Metro fare-free, followed later by low-income riders, who make up 70% of Metro's ridership.

Original plans called for the first phase of the program to begin in August, but the board's request for additional reports leaves the exact timing up in the air.

The 23-month pilot for K-12 and community college students is expected to cost $49,179,167 in lost fare revenue, according to Metro officials.

Fare revenue pays for transit operations and maintenance, but Metro receives additional funding through sales tax and state and federal grants. Additional funding options for the pilot identified by Metro officials include advertising revenue, cost-sharing and grant funds through the Traffic Reduction Program.

 Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian again expressed concerns Thursday about one-time funding being used to bankroll the program.

 Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said during an Executive Management Committee meeting last week he was confident the agency would generate enough funding. During an April Board of Directors meeting, Garcetti said Metro will``leave no stone unturned when it comes to funding,'' and emphasized the need for the federal government, the state and municipalities in the county to chip in.

   In a survey with about 46,000 responses, Metro found that 86% of Metro riders and 80% of non-Metro riders support going fareless.

  The pilot program will allow Metro to test the feasibility of permanently eliminating all fares on Metro trains and buses. After the pilot concludes, the board will consider extending, modifying or discontinuing fareless service. To help inform that decision, Metro staff will report to the board each month on the status of the pilot program.

   Metrics that will evaluate the success of the program may include financial sustainability, program participation, increased boarding by pilot participants, level of service, quality of services, increased trip by low- income riders, employee safety, rider safety, system security, according to Metro Principal Transportation Planner Doreen Morrissey.