Would you ride the train if it was free? The Metro is looking at eliminating fares as a way to fill the trains, post-pandemic, and keep the transportation system busy. Metro staff reported to the Metro Board of Director’s Executive Management Committee that they are looking at a potential January 2022 start date for a pilot program, and August 2022 start date for testing how to go fareless for K-12 students.
The pilot program would conclude June 30, 2023.
The fareless system initiative, as laid out in the staff presentation, could save Metro passengers $1,200 each annually – a substantial benefit for the agency’s core constituency. Metro estimates that 70 percent of its regular passengers have annual incomes of less than $35,000.
From The Source, Metro staff stressed that the FSI study is still very much a work-in-progress and many details still need to be ironed out. But the project team is aiming to bring a firm proposal for the Metro Board to consider in May 2021.
The leading proposal is to offer free fares to low-income passengers and K-12 students. Also under consideration are scenarios limited to 1) peak or off-peak hours; 2) bus lines; 3) rail lines; 4) certain geographic areas; and 5) a full fareless system.
Should the pilot program move forward – a schedule which is contingent on the containment of COVID-19 – Metro would launch the pilot for low-income riders in January 2022 (one year after originally anticipated), and then expand the offering to students in August. The pilot program would conclude at the end of June 2023, after which point it could be continued or expanded should Metro secure financing.
The proposed pilot would be limited to Metro’s buses and rail services. Municipal operators – such as Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus and Culver City Bus – would not be included, nor would Metrolink’s commuter rail network, Metro bike share, and Metro’s micro transit program.
Metro plans to conduct public outreach meetings on the pilot project in March. The fareless system task force hopes to present its proposal to the Metro Board for a vote in May 2021.