Fair Fares

(Edited version of an unpublished op-ed, originally written for the Los Angeles Times.)

The MTA's proposal to restructure fares has brought the usual amount of protest from those yellow-shirted "protectors of the transit-dependent" ... the Bus Riders Union.

What continues to astound me is their insistence that the MTA do things their way, else they go to the Special Master, claiming violation of their precious Consent Decree. In this case, that insistance is truly laughable as the Consent Decree contains a provision to adjust fares based on the Consumer Price Index -- a provision that the MTA has not exercised for cash fares since 1993 and which they have never, until now, exercised for passes (the last increase in pass prices was in 1989, under the RTD) -- a provision that will expire this November, before the restructuring takes effect.

For the moment, I will set aside the obvious question: If the BRU didn't want any fare increases, why did they sign a legally binding agreement that gives the MTA the right to do so?

Instead, I will presume that the MTA had adjusted fares every year, as they were allowed to do. Using the inflation calculator at http://www.westegg.com/inflation/, I readjusted the current (1989) pass prices into 2004 dollars. Here's what those passes should have cost now:
Put into a different perspective, the new $52.00 monthly pass is worth $34.26 in 1989 dollars. The new $3.00 daypass is worth $1.98, or less than one round trip under the $1.10 cash fare that was in effect in 1989. The reduced $1.10 token costs less in 1989 currency -- 72 cents -- than the 90 cents it has cost since that year.

Now for a little more reality: Most of the BRU's "constituency" -- which they define as the transit-dependent poor -- don't purchase monthly passes. Simply put, they can't afford them ... not now, not then, not after January of 2004. Most, if they don't pay cash or use tokens, use weekly or semi-monthly passes. Those passes have only been available since 1993, and guess what? A $14.00 weekly pass is the equivalent of $10.94 in 1993 dollars, and a $27.00 semi-monthly pass similarly equals $21.09 ... almost perfectly adjusted for inflation.

The difference, of course, is that in keeping the face value the same over as long a period as the MTA has, the agency has lost actual value, while attempting to improve service (also as mandated by the Consent Decree). The Bus Riders Union, naturally, wants it both ways, and in their world inflation never happened.

In editing the original article I wrote, I must include a fact brought out at the MTA board meeting where the restructuring was debated -- mostly by the BRU -- and approved. The average monthly passholder takes 109 trips per month, according to the MTA staff report. At $52.00 per month, that makes the average trip worth 47.7 cents. Seems to me that the BRU finally got the 50-cent fare they have been demanding all these years!

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