Bus Fare Increases

This opinion piece was posted to another story, but it needs some promoting. I'm turning the stuff below into a letter.

Comments have been closed about the MTA fare increases, but it's still possible to do fare strikes, public campaigns, and make a stink in the media. The board went for the increases, despite over 1,200 people showing up in protest, and over 300 people speaking at the microphone, pleading that the fares be kept affordable.

The immediate impact will be felt by the poor majority who make up bus riders... but there's also an impact on drivers like me.

The fallout from these increases is obvious: more pollution and traffic. Bus riders, especially families, are going to make a greater effort to purchase a car, because the cumulative cost of the passes will approach the cost of a car and gas. (That's to say, the cost of a car relative to the cost of fuel, has decreased. Bus passes are reflecting increasing fuel costs, mostly, and also coinciding with increasing fuel costs. So the cost of a bus pass is a lot closer to the cost of a car + fuel.)

Annually, 2 adult bus passes will cost over $2500. That is the cost of a used, economy car. Annual fuel costs would be around $1,400. Insurance would be around $700. Households with two low incomes, with schedules that match, will buy cars, and use them for commuting. The annual cost plus the amortized cost of the car is less than the bus.

Likewise, at a rate of over $1,200 per year for an individual bus pass, few drivers will be motivated to shift to using the bus. Despite what the "conventional wisdom" is about drivers in LA fearing the bus, and only accepting trains, it's simply not true among immigrant and lower-middle-income communities. I believe the vast majority of these drivers, even in a city like Rosemead, have some bus experience, and some will view it as a viable commuting option, if the price is low enough, and service is available.

We already spend a considerable amount of money maintaining special "HOV" lanes for buses, carpoolers and people who buy hybrids. Increasing commuter use of buses would leverage this existing investment, and reduce the impact of traffic on the non-HOV lanes.

Increased use of bus passes among car drivers would also relieve some of the parking problems, too. A driver with a bus pas can park farther away from a destination, and take a bus in. This is a viable option in Downtown LA, and along the coast, where parking fees exceed $10 per day. (I've already done this. It's a viable option.)

Low pass prices can be subsidized by a small gasoline tax -- one that remains small because most of the cost of bus travel is still borne by the rider. It can also be funded by altering the way our gas taxes are calculated (see Times article below).

These tax changes could also be imposed on the entire region, so a bus pass for one system should entitle a rider to a discount fare on other systems. This would be a positive step toward a single-payer/multiple-provider scheme for transit.

The only thing missing from this equation is courage on the part of the MTA board to demand these progressive changes that would benefit everyone.

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