Public transit fee hikes put progress in reverse
Posted April 21, 2010 at 7:58 pm in Opinion
Californiaâs budget is a mess. In the coming year, the government expects to face a $14.4 billion gap between spending and revenue. In order to combat this veritable canyon, the government has been cutting spending in a variety of areas, from education to the arts. However, fixing the deficit is not only a matter of spending less: It is a matter of spending smarter.
That is precisely why the Metropolitan Transportation Authorityâs plan to hike public transportation fares is a mistake. Although dire economic times might make the decision seem smart, the hikes will not bring in revenue. In fact, they are likely to backfire.
The hike will go into effect July 1. At first glance, it does not look substantial: A one-way pass will go from $1.25 to $1.50, a daily pass will go from $5 to $6, and a monthly pass will go from $62 to $75. However, when examining these numbers, one must take the income of the typical transit user into account. On average, people who make the most use of public transportation make $12,000 to $17,000 a year, according to the Los Angeles Times. The 2009 Federal Poverty Guidelines states that a family of three surviving on that kind of income is well below the poverty line â not to mention families larger than this.
Whatâs more, the monthly passes will experience the greatest fee hike. A typical transit user is likely to buy a monthly pass, the more prudent alternative to buying numerous one-way passes. Although all passes increase by a uniform 17 percent, in the case of the monthly pass, that increase translates into an extra $13 a month. For someone making minimum wage, $13 is no joke â itâs the result of nearly two hours of work. The hike hurts the socioeconomic class that needs the money the most.
Moreover, the numbers show that even relatively modest fee hikes could translate into people skimping on trips.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the MTA says one of its biggest problems is a decline in ridership. But if fewer people are able to use public transportation, fewer dollars will flow into the MTA. For example, people already have an incentive to ride the Metro without paying because they generally know they wonât get caught. Wouldnât a fee increase only add to that incentive?
Simply put, the hike has the potential to be extremely counterproductive.
The hike could also drive Los Angeles farther down the path of eco-unfriendliness. Groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition, Coalition for Clean Air, Transportation for America Campaign and California Public Interest Research Group have all opposed it.
They have good reason.
Residents who avoid public transportation â even those who are environmentally conscious â call it unpleasant and less reliable than owning a car. If an already-flawed system starts costing more, the motivation to use it becomes even smaller.
Although L.A. streets are already the source of much pollution, rising public transportation fees will encourage people who might have considered relying on public transportation to disregard it as a plausible option.
As if traffic isnât bad enough already.
Perhaps California should try cutting where it doesnât hurt groups that are already hurting. Anything from increased advertising to cutting out the small televisions present on many buses could help.
Itâs a matter of creative problem solving â something the government needs to learn a thing or two about.
Maya Itah is a freshmanÂ majoring in communication and international relations.