How Los Angeles Plans To Fund Free Public Transit

Los Angeles imagines transforming itself from a carpocalypse into a transitopia, with free public transit gliding past traffic in dedicated bus lanes. Two kinds of motorists will pay for it.
Long known for gridlock and air pollution, Los Angeles faces worsening conditions, said Joshua Schank, chief innovation officer for L.A. Metro's Office of Extraordinary Innovation.
"More and more people are purchasing vehicles, more and more people are driving, more and more there are challenges in operating transit in that environment. And that’s why we’ve got to do something drastic to change that situation," Schank said in Chicago.
"So what we’re looking at is could we use congestion pricing to introduce the concept of free public transit and better public transit."
Congestion pricing isn't a new idea in Los Angeles. Transportation experts have long suggested that's the policy that could solve the city's traffic woes.
"When I first came to Los Angeles, I remember having a conversation with a professor at UCLA, and he said, 'Congestion pricing is the only solution for LA, but every time I talk to the Board of Supervisors about that they say, you’re out of your mind, it will never happen,'" Schank said at the Shared Use Mobility Summit. "Well, now it’s happening."
LA Metro's board of directors approved a study of congestion pricing in February to find out where it would work in Los Angeles, and "what it would look like to develop support for such an initiative," Schank said—and how it might improve mobility, equity and the environment.
Congestion pricing simply means charging higher prices for public services under high demand, such as the access to LA's most crowded streets. Those fees could offset transit fares.
"If an alien landed from outer space, they would say what a minute, you’re charging the poorest members of society $1.75 each way to use your transit system, but everyone else just gets to drive for free wherever they want, whenever they want? It absolutely makes no sense."
But as LA Metro seeks to liberate transit from the fare box, congestion pricing is not the only ace up its sleeve. Transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft are also crowding the city's streets.
"TNCs are using public infrastructure to generate what theoretically could eventually be a profit. So it is not necessarily a fair thing for them to do when they’re contributing so many negative externalities," Schank said at the Shared Use Mobility Summit.
"The studies continue to demonstrate that, that they are contributing to congestion, that they are contributing to negative environmental outcomes. And our responsibility to take care of those things. So we have to study it, we have to look at it and we have to figure out, are there appropriate regulatory measures and fees that we could impose that could potentially remedy the situation?"
And there's a third ace Schank believes will make transit more attractive to commuters:
"Even if we have congestion pricing and TNC fees, the way we allocate street space makes absolutely no sense. The way we allocate it is on a first-come, first-served basis no matter what the outcome. And then our buses are sitting in the same traffic as all those cars. It makes no sense. So finding ways to create bus lanes in Los Angeles County, exclusive bus lanes in Los Angeles County has to be the third leg of that stool.
"That’s what we’re working on," he said. "It’s an exciting time to be in Los Angeles and to try to tackle these big issues."

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