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Paying the Fare on Metro is Costly

April 16th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, now known as "Metro" is a humongous agency that the public entrusts to bring us modern, clean and swift public transportation, plus maintenance of our highways and other assorted transportation related jobs for the 10.4 million people who reside in the county’s 1,433 square mile area.  Metro borrows funds from the private sector, but the really big money comes from program fees and taxes paid by county residents—sort of like an unending equity line of credit.

The primary sources of countywide transportation funds are local sales taxes, a portion of the 18-cents per gallon state gasoline tax, a portion of the 18.4-cents per gallon federal gasoline tax and the California sales tax on motor vehicle fuel.  Voter-enacted initiative, Proposition A and Proposition C are local sales taxes that flow directly to Metro and other agencies linked to their programs and assorted state and federal transportation-related taxes. Metro estimates total revenues available from 2005 to 2009 at around $22 billion, with 54% coming from us locally, 29% from the state (our tax dollars at work) and 17% from federal sources (gosh, that ’s us, too). 

Locally, we provide ¼-cent from the state 7.25% statewide retail sales tax collected in L.A. County.  Those funds (enacted through Proposition 42 in 2002) are due to be distributed this year to such programs as Public Transportation Account (20%) and the State Transportation Improvement Program (40%) and 40% to local streets and roads.  Federal programs set up in 2005 authorized, but not necessarily appropriated, $241 billion nationally to be distributed between 2005 and 2009 in an 80:20 ratio of highway to transit funding. 
Early this week President Obama announced $787-billion economic stimulus plan that now has Caltrans salivating over an anticipated $625 million with Los Angeles County to receive $125 million for a rehab project on the Golden State Freeway from Hollywood Way to San Fernando Rd., and to repave a short stretch on the Long Beach Freeway between Florence and Slauson.  

Metro has budgeted $3.4 billion for fiscal year 2009 with $2.2 billion from various sales tax receipts, $748 million from federal, state and local grants, $350 million from passenger fares and $120 million from "other" sources.
It will spend the money on $600 million for highway projects to include construction of carpool lanes, sound walls on freeways plus street-widening, traffic signal coordination, grade separations at railroad crossings, bikeways, ride-sharing initiatives, shuttles and more.  This budget is $268 million, or 8.5% higher than last year due to increased subsidies to the 88 cities in the county and unincorporated areas and additional funding of paratransit services, Metrolink Commuter rail, and municipal bus operators.  Metro funds 16 municipal bus operators including, locally, Arcadia Transit (Dial-A-Ride) and Foothill Transit.  More funding is in store for Metro as Measure R, passed this last November, allows for a ½-cent increase in the current 9.25% sales tax, to 9.75%, laregly to fund the "Subway to the Sea" rail line from Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica.  Measure R received a majority vote even though it was strongly opposed by cities in the San Gabriel Valley which registered complaints that all the sales tax money contributed by our cities might not benefit residents here, such as with the contruction of the Gold Line Foothill Extension connecting the Sierra Madre Villa terminus with Arcadia, Monrovia, and, eventually, Ontario Airport.  Now with increases in sales tax at historic levels, who would blame our city officials if they were inclined to say, "I told you so!"

Among public transportation funding, Proposition A programs receive ½-cent from County sales tax. About 75% of Proposition C’s ½-cent sales tax money is used to benefit public transportation for such items as security, operation and maintenance of Metrolink, park-n-ride lots and others.  The Transportation Development Act receives ¼-cent from the statewide retail sales tax and is parceled out to Metro’s municipal bus line partners.  The Red Line receives property tax assessments levied on commercial properties within ½ mile of certain stations along its route.  Fare revenues are direct contributions to the Metro budget and used in the operation of the various lines.  Metro also receives $4 of the annual $6 vehicle registration surcharge made by the South Coast Air Quality Management District which is designated for any project that reduces motor vehicle pollution, i.e., public transportation.  The Public

Transportation Account derives revenue (along with State Transportation Improvement Program) from sales and use taxes on diesel fuel and gasoline: 4¾% sales tax on diesel fuel; 4¾% sales tax on 9-cents of the state excise tax on gasoline.  State Transit Assistance aids Metro in accomplishing its goals in short-range transit and transportation improvements, among other things.  The Surface Transportation Program gives about 10% of its funds to Metro to strengthen the cultural, aesthetic and environmental aspects to enhance the interface of transportation systems. 

Section 5309 funding is a federal share program on an 80-20% basis that funds purchases of buses, maintenance, terminals, computers, garage equipment, bus rebuilds, passenger shelters, rolling stock and other items needed for maintenance and repair of rail systems.  A new section of Section 5309 is preserved for large, new, heavy rail, light rail and bus rapid transit systems.  Section 5339 is a federal share program earmarked (yes, earmarked) for San Gabriel Valley Gold Line Foothill Extension corridor study.  Section 5307 and 5311 allocates funds to L.A.-Long Beach-Santa Ana Metro rail operations.  It must be noted that many of these programs share highway funding programs and that there are dozens more designed only for highway, bridge, and associated projects.

Somewhat startlingly, in spite of the length of the list of revenue sources and the new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 stimulus package, outgoing Chief Executive Officer Roger Snoble wrote, "We are seriously short on funding."  Snoble retired this year.  On April 6 by Arthur T. Leahy assumed the duties as CEO of Metro.

A review of our local bus and rail lines does not show the public overly enthused about using these services in increasing numbers.  The Metro website provides average weekday boarding figures for Metro bus lines and its Gold, Green, Red, Blue and Orange rail lines for the period February 2007 through February 2009.  Information was taken from the current posting and figures that were previously available in the same format with average weekday boardings from May, 2006 to May, 2008.  In almost all instances, ridership from May of 2006 to February, 2009 are flat showing no growth.  Peak ridership occurred mostly in June and July of 2008, when gas prices were at record highs, and the low point in most cases was December of 2008, according to the data
Average weekday boardings for Metro bus lines were highest in May, 2006 and March, 2007 with about 1.3 million boardings.  Lowest reported was December, 2007at about 1.1 riders.  The February, 2009 count is 1,150,190, systemwide.

Metro records show that the Gold, Green, Red, and Blue rail lines all reached their highest ridership in June and July of 2008.  The Orange line peaked in September, 2008.  The Gold line, other than the two peak months of around 24,000, remained between 18,000 and its February, 2009 boarding figure of 22,271.  The Green line has risen from a low of about 34,000 to a peak of some 43,000 but has been declining since October 2008 to its average weekday boarding of 34,766 in February, 2009.  The Red line, as a transfer point to other lines, accounted for half of all average weekday boarding figures at 141,815 in February, 2009.  Although the Red line peaked like all the others in June and July of 2008 to nearly 160,000 riders and a low figure of around 120,000 in August of 2006, it has remained flat since September 2008 through February, 2009.  The Blue Line had 74,271 boardings in the month of February, 2009 and while it peaked in July, 2008 to some 84,000 boardings it, too, has remained stable in the 75,000 range.  The Orange Line likewise has remained stalled, ending February, 2009 with 21,633 boardings — just about where it has been for the entire three year period.
With fare prices averaging $1.12 per boarding (fare revenues in 2008 were $341,100,000 and ridership 380,073,888) and the boarding cost at $2.44, citizens subsidize all riders and pay a wide assortment of taxes on the building and maintenance of the Metro system.  It is a low-cost system for riders only.    

By Bill Peters

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