Los Angeles Metro Profile

Customers wait to board a subway train in Los Angeles. Hollywood breathed a sigh of relief when L.A.'s subway opened, as movie production crews no longer had to travel to New York to film subway scenes. www.metro.net

Profile of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is composed of two distinct sections. The first section acts as the local Metropolitan Planning Organization for purposes of distribution of federal and state funding. The second section plans and operates the third largest public transit system in the United States after the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Chicago Transit Authority.

Network

As of July 2010 Metro operated 2,635 buses on 191 routes (including the Bus Rapid Transit Metro Orange Line) serving a total of 15,967 bus stops in a service area of 1,433 square miles. Metro also operates four rail lines serving a total of seventy stations. As of June 2010 combined bus and rail daily boardings totaled 1.4 million weekdays, 958,000 Saturdays, and 734,000 Sundays.

Funding

Like most transit operators, Metro relies on a variety of governmental funding sources as well as fares to pay for both operating and capital requirements. Three major funding sources are local sales taxes, the State Transit Assistance fund, and the state Transit Development Act fund. They are described as follows:

  • Local sales taxes: a total of 2% sales tax passed by county voters in three distinct measures, most recently Measure R, which is described in greater detail later
  • State Transit Assistance (STA): a fund generated in a complicated manner from the interplay of sales taxes on gasoline and gas taxes. Due to the California state budget crisis the STA has been eliminated for five years, although in FY11 transit systems will receive a small amount of money from this fund
  • Transit Development Act (TDA): a 1% sales tax collected statewide dedicated to transit

The FY10 budget expected revenues from the following sources (all numbers in millions):
  • Local Sales Taxes, STA, and TDA $2,146.8 56.1%
  • Federal, State & Local Grants $1,207.6 31.6%
  • Passenger Fares and Advertising $ 363.1 9.5%
  • Net Proceeds from Financing $ 7.9 0.2%
  • Other $ 101.4 2.6%

The FY10 budget expenditures would be disbursed in the following manner:
  • Countywide Bus $1,661.6 43.4%
  • Countywide Rail $ 732.4 19.1%
  • Sales Tax Return to Local Jurisdictions $ 321.4 8.4%
  • Streets Highways and Other Planning $ 666.8 17.4%
  • Debt Service $ 329.0 8.6%
  • Other Governmental $ 115.6 3.1%

Note how little money Metro generates from fares. Metro's low farebox recovery has exposed them more than some other transit systems to the much lower than expected sales tax revenues that have occurred as a result of the economic recession. Also note that Metro spends more than twice as much money on bus service as it does on rail service. Many detractors of Metro believe the agency spends too much money on its light rail projects, thus depriving bus riders of adequate service. In fact, due to an increase in rail ridership the subsidy per rail passenger is now lower than the subsidy per bus passenger - seemingly making investment in rail a more prudent use of tax money.

 

Projects

Thanks to the passage of Measure R (which inaugurated a 1% sales tax dedicated solely to improving transportation (mostly transit) in Los Angeles County) in November 2009 Metro has an astonishing array of projects currently in the planning and construction phase.

The passage of Measure R is especially noteworthy because passage required a supermajority of yes votes - the fact that Los Angeles County, an area which is viewed by most of the country as a place where people will not give up their cars and ride transit, voted by a 2 to 1 margin to tax themselves for transit shows that Los Angelenos are willing to try a different way of moving around their city. Some of the notable projects currently either under construction or are in the planning stage are:

  • Expo Line light rail: a light rail line which will eventually extend from downtown Los Angeles to downtown Santa Monica with stops at USC, Culver City, and other places
  • Westside subway : a subway line which will eventually extend from the current terminus at Wilshire and Western to at least UCLA and the Veterans Hospital, with a possible extension to downtown Santa Monica
  • Regional Connector: a short light rail connecting the 7th / Metro Center station in the heart of the financial district to Union Station; when it is done it will be possible to travel from Long Beach to (potentially) Ontario Airport or from downtown Santa Monica to downtown Whittier without transferring trains
  • Crenshaw Corridor: a light rail line connecting the Mid-Cities section of Los Angeles to the LAX airport area
  • Orange Line Extension: an extension of the Metro Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit line north along the west side of the San Fernando Valley to the Chatsworth Metrolink Station

In addition to the above list, Measure R also provides for improvements of key freeways and local roads in the county.

 

Metro's Innovative Funding Strategy: A Model for Other Regions

Currently the Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaragosa, is lobbying the federal government to fund his so-called "30 - 10" plan. Under this plan, the government would loan Metro the entire sum of money the Measure R sales tax will generate in 30 years up front so that construction of the above projects can be accelerated to the point where all of the projects specified in Measure R will be operational in ten years. Instead of spending the Measure R money as it comes in, the plan will have all of Measure R's money spent up front and as it comes in it will be sent to the government to pay back the loan. Because the recession has caused construction bids to come in as low as 60% of the normally expected price, the "30 - 10" plan has the potential to make final project construction costs lower than originally estimated. However, the federal government has never made such a loan before and it is unclear at this point if the federal government will agree to the plan.

 

Overall ease of getting around Los Angeles without a car: 6/10.