Whether free LA Metro rides make for a better transit system

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LA Metro, the transportation agency operating LA County’s rails and buses, wants to make future rides on all its vehicles free. Metro is exploring the idea of dropping all fares by 2021. It’s a lofty agenda item for an agency that’s reeling from low ridership during the pandemic, and who's struggled to entice Angelenos out of their cars to begin with. Could going without fares be the right move?

“This does feel very much like a PR move in many ways,” says Alissa Walker, Urbanism Editor at Curbed. “But I do think we are very uniquely positioned as an agency to try this. … Our fare recovery rate is 13%. That means the percentage of our operating budget that comes from the fare you pay when you use your TAP card. That’s very, very, very low compared to other cities, other transit agencies that really rely on people riding the buses and trains to keep them going.”

She continues, “You would see things like ridership would go up, and people would have access to things that they didn’t have access to before. All those things are critically important when you’re trying to recover from a crisis like this. People don’t have a lot of money. People don't have an easy way to get to jobs. Hopefully they have a job. This could really make a difference in people’s lives.”