The Road to Transit Equity: The Case for Universal Fareless Transit in Los Angeles

May 10, 2023

By SAJE Staff

Recent news about LA Metro has portrayed a public transit agency in crisis as it struggles to address safety concerns and a failure to restore ridership to pre-pandemic levels. A report from Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) and Alliance for Community Transit (ACT-LA) proposes a bold solution for the agency’s myriad challenges. The Road to Transit Equity: The Case for Universal Fareless Transit in Los Angeles makes the case that implementing a universal fareless policy—eliminating the per-use fee to ride public buses, trains, and shuttles—would streamline LA Metro’s operations budget, increase ridership, improve safety, and help the agency achieve its equity goals.

“While it may be tempting to dismiss fareless proposals as unrealistic or too costly, it is imperative that we take a closer look at the true costs of the TAP fare system,” said Chelsea Kirk, lead author of the report and SAJE research and policy director for Built Environment and Transit. “Charging fares isn’t just bad stewardship of public money—it’s a serious roadblock to improving equity for working-class Angelenos.”

The report estimates that for every dollar LA Metro earns from fares, the agency spends at least 75 cents on the TAP fare system. To make this sliver of profit, LA Metro is harming the majority of its riders, who are low-income people of color, by burdening them financially, limiting their mobility, and targeting them with fare citations.

“Like the majority of people in the community, I depend on public transit to get to the grocery store, to take my children to school, to visit the doctor, and for many other necessities. Cost is always on my mind. A universal fareless transit system would be a giant leap forward in guaranteeing mobility and access for families and workers all over Los Angeles County,” said Isabel Tecum, a transit rider from Watts and SAJE member leader.

The report concludes that the small amount of revenue LA Metro may lose by implementing a universal fareless policy could be recouped by eliminating TAP and divesting from fare enforcement. The authors urge the agency to use these savings to fund alternative safety approaches for its riders and employees—approaches that are not predicated on fare screening.

You can read the full report here.