This week has been a big one for transit news in Los Angeles. There have been announcements for major improvements to the city’s heavy rail system as well as a plan for a three-stage fare increase.
Purple Line Extension
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced announced on Wednesday that the purple line extension project is going to get over $2 billion in federal funding. The long overdue extension will extend the subway past its current endpoint in Koreatown to the VA Hospital in Westwood. Digging has already begun on exploratory tunnels. The project is expected to take ten years to complete, while creating an estimated 20,000 jobs.
My thoughts: Obviously, this has me thrilled. The purple line currently has only has two independent stops that only service Koreatown. This is the line that’s closest to my home, but in all honesty, the purple line is useless in its current state. The distance between the last purple line station and the nearest red line station is only a mile, and mere blocks separate my purple line station at Wilshire/Normadie from its red line neighbor station of Wilshire/Vermont.
The purple line can finally tie together the heart of the city, which travels along Wilshire Boulevard. Wilshire contains so much culture and history and has been this way for generations. It connects Los Angeles from downtown all the way to the ocean. Cultural hubs like LACMA and Museum Row will soon accessible to a larger portion of the population. Those who work in the high rises of Century City and Westwood will finally have a realistic option for commuting without a car. UCLA students will no longer have to live near campus or drive to school. Veterans will be able to receive care with more ease thanks to the purple line extension.
Additionally, the jobs that would be created through the purple line extension would be great for Angelenos. We still have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and construction jobs are not the ones that can get outsourced. Let’s get to work!
Map above shows current rail lines and those under construction. Image courtesy of Metro.
Garcetti is slated to announce on Thursday Metro’s three-stage plan to increase fares. Metro currently is projecting a $36 million shortfall of its 2016 operating budget. Despite recent measures approved by voters to fund Metro, more efforts need to be made to close this gap while still expanding LA’s slim public transportation system.
One plan calls for three fare increases over the next seven years, the first of which would be enacted in September. The initial increase would raise basic fare to $1.75 (still one of the lowest fares in the nation), with fares capping off at $2.25 in 2021. Another plan would keep basic fares at $1.50 during non-peak hours, but would increase to $2.25 in September during rush hour. That prime time rate hike would jump to $3.25 by 2021. For both plans, weekly and monthly passes would see the biggest jump.
Community and religious leaders have been rallying against the rate hikes, saying they unfairly target low-income residents and minorities. On Tuesday, a coalition of religious leaders called Concerned Clergy Against the Fare Increase gathered at City Hall to pressure the Metro board against the increases. Garcetti has also been meeting with the Bus Rider’s Union to find a solution that supports both Metro and its riders.
My thoughts: The issue of fare increases has me a bit torn. I definitely see the need for more revenue. Federal funds and sales tax increases have only gotten so far. I’d certainly rather see a more efficient use of current funds. How that can be done is not a question I can answer. As I mentioned, Metro has some of the lowest fares throughout the U.S., so maybe we have been spoiled for all this time with $1.50 fares.
However, a small $.25 increase can have more damage on the finances of low-income families than the decision-makers may realize. The average Metro rider has a household income of less than $20,000. If a single mother, for example, is trying to support her family off the wages of her part-time retail job, that extra quarter is valuable. Over the span of a week, that would be several meals she would have to skip in order to get to work.
I will be honest: I am not the average Metro rider. My decision to go carless was partially fueled by my desire to save money, but was propelled more by my ideologies. Going Metro was a decision that I powerfully made, not an unavoidable circumstance. I work a white-collar job that provides a salary that far exceeds the household income of the average Metro rider. I’m far from living in the lap of luxury, but a rate increase for a rider like myself would mean one less happy hour a month. In fact, I am fortunate enough to work for a company that includes Metro in its benefits package, so I personally wouldn’t take a hit from any increase. But that just takes me back to my ideologies, one of which is that I believe the needs of society as a whole outweigh the needs of any one individual, including myself. I’m just hoping Metro can find a way to close its budget gap without hurting those who depend on its service.