LA Metro’s Ineffecient Fare System

Although there is little buzz at the moment, the structure of LA Metro’s fare system is  a huge burden to riders of the massive bus and rail system and will soon get worse.

Currently, fares for a single ride are among the lowest in the nation, at $1.50. San Francisco’s fare is $2.00, and New York’s is $2.25. The key difference between the fare systems of these cities is the basic condition of your fare purchase: in San Francisco, your two dollars allows you access to any part of SF Muni’s system for an entire two hours. In LA, your fare is entry to one single vehicle. Even if you only have to go one or two miles, then transfer, your fare becomes 3.00.

The reasoning behind this practice was widespread fraud of transfers. This concern, however, makes casual riders of Metro extremely discouraged from riding. A day pass is available for $6.00 (the equivalent of entering four vehicles), but in order to purchase one on the bus, you must have Metro’s delay plagued, and limited-use TAP card. Metro’s grid-based bus system in Central Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley adds insult to injury by requiring transfers to go pretty much anywhere.

Rail lines are even worse. Unlike the New York Subway, which readily permits transfers between its numerous lines, LA’s Metro Rail requires an additional $1.50 fare payment when you switch rail lines. With the upcoming opening of the Exposition Line, crazy situations will arise – a ride from USC to Pasadena will require a day pass or three separate fare payments. A trip from Long Beach to Mid City will require the rider to walk down the platform at the Pico Station, purchase another proof of payment paper, then return to the exact spot you used to be standing!

Express fares on the few express lines Metro runs are even more confusing. Most bus operators do not know the zone structure and the selective application of zone fees (students/seniors don’t pay it) means that express buses using expensive infrastructure (Harbor Transitway) are empty, while local buses on parallel streets (Figuroa, Vermont, Broadway) are literally packed to the gills. The higher fare on the Silver Line is also unwarranted, and levying the standard fare would increase ridership and network efficiency.

The fare system without transfers is very inconvenient for causal riders, so it would be great if Metro’s RFID fare card TAP could hold a cash purse, and maybe automatically buy you a day pass when you exceed 4 tags in a 24 hour period. Well, TAP cannot do this. I’m no expert on Cubic Transportation System’s RFID fare cards, but if the (*cough* useless) MTC in the Bay Area can coordinate all seven major transit agencies in the Bay Area under Clipper Card, Metro really needs to get its act together with TAP. Speaking from experience, the process to obtain student, senior and disabled TAP cards is very arduous and takes weeks for processing.

Metro should use the opening of the Expo Line to reform its fare structure, implementing a system of transfers for casual riders based on paper TAP cards, or a similar system. Metro should also eliminate zone fares and levy the standard fare on the Silver Line to stop giving riders a disincentive to take express buses, which are cheaper to operate due to their higher speeds. Reducing turn time on TAP cards, implementing a cash purse and automatic purchases of day passes on TAP cards


About Karl Tingwald

Civil engineering student at the University of Southern California with a severe transportation compulsion.

Posted on March 2, 2011, in Los Angeles, Policy and Politics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. i agree with this post. on top of that, being a first time rider i did not read the fine print that there is no free transfer so i bought a one way $1.50 ticket & assumed like in other cities, it is good for all of one direction. at the end of my 2 line trip, a MTA sheriff was happy to slap me with a ticket. instead of just giving me a warning as a first time rider making a honest mistake, he happily wrote the ticket. SF’s Bart has the fare marked on every segment on its map. Chicago’s RTA has clerks taking tickets at every station. here in L A, u wander in with no assistance & free to make a grave error insuring u get a ticket if u really don’t understand the system.

    i still like the train itself, but yes the fare structure not obvious & those who assume free line transfer will also suffer the same humiliation as i have today. i know fines generate income for government & that seems to be the bottom line, not kindness to its citizens.

  2. I also agree with both of your comments. LA metro system is the worst ever. For example,
    according to “trip planner” my 5 mile bus trip tomorrow will require I ride 3 buses and will take 1 1/2 hours; one way trip cost $4.50, RT fare = $9.00. It’s a failed and useless system.
    L.A. really sucks

    San Francisco here I come!

  3. I got stung on the Silver Line to the tune of $1.80 a day… on top of a monthly season ticket. I’m new to the area (originally from London) but I am used to a season ticket being all inclusive and cheaper because you’re paying up front for a longer period of time.

    I’ve worked out it’s actually cheaper to get the $5 daily pass (as that includes all lines) than to pay $75 per month plus the Silver Line penalty I am currently playing each time. If only I could order such a thing on their appalling website once this month is through. So now I have to be yet another person in the ticket machine queue each day.

  4. Although on its website the cash fare was listed as $1.50, this weekend, Aug 2012, Metro has added an additional $1.00 upcharge to puchase on which a fare to ride is recorded. You cannot purchase a single fare and if you’ve just $1.50, as I had.

    Nowhere else in the world I have traveled where one has to purchase a card and fare separately. It is so boneheaded I do not know where to begin.

  1. Pingback: Getting Ready for Expo « Wilshire/Vermont

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