CA: LA Metro’s e-ride van service facing fare hike, possible route cuts in January

Jan. 4, 2024
Metro’s ride-hailing, on-demand, e-taxi program faces some significant changes, including a big fare hike, possible service area cutbacks  and even elimination.

Metro’s ride-hailing, on-demand, e-taxi program — the most costly service per ride offered by the Los Angeles  County transit agency — faces some significant changes, including a big fare hike, possible service area cutbacks  and even elimination.

LA Metro’s MicroTransit runs nine-seat blue vans that pick up individuals at their location and drop them off at the rider’s designated spot, all short rides within limited zones. The flexible service can be ordered using an app on a smartphone, from the agency’s website, or by dialing up a ride — similar to what private, for-profit companies such as Lyft and Uber offer — but Metro service offers it at substantially lower rates.

Metro Micro costs the transit agency $42 per ride, for a total of about $31 million annually, according to Metro. In comparison, Metro subsidizes its buses at about $8 per ride and its bus riders make up 80% of about 950,000 total weekday boardings across the system.

While many people have never heard of Metro Micro, it has been operating for three years and covers 165 square miles in 27 cities and 12 unincorporated county areas. It serves eight zones including North San Fernando Valley; North Hollywood/ Burbank; Highland Park/ Eagle Rock/ Glendale; Pasadena/ Altadena/ Sierra Madre; El Monte; UCLA/ Westwood; LAX/ Inglewood; and Watts/ Compton.

Metro has kept the Micro fare at $1 — an introductory price that was supposed to run out. The general fare on a fixed-route bus, or on Metro rail, is $1.75.

While the Metro board extended the service for another year on Sept. 29, the agency is giving the public an  opportunity to weigh in on the program during several Metro Service Council meetings in January (see list below).

After the public meetings, the question of what to do with Metro Micro will be brought to the Metro Operations Committee meeting on Jan. 18, and then to the Metro Board of Directors meeting on Jan. 25.

On the table is a rate change to $2.50 per ride. The staff proposal keeps the fare at $1 for customers with student and senior/disabled TAP cards. Those in the Low Income Fares is Easy (LIFE) program could ride at a discount and use their allotment of free rides on Metro Micro. Transfers from the e-ride service to Metro bus and rail would  be free.

But even with these changes, it might not change the minds of some board members. Fourth District L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn called the program “a money loser” in July. At the September board meeting, Hahn said, “It is providing a very valuable service to a lot of people. But I don’t know how much more we can sustain it at over $40 a ride.”

To balance its budgets, the agency has exhausted pandemic bailout monies sent from the federal and state governments in the past three years. The upcoming 2024-2025 fiscal year budget will be much tighter, said CEO Stephanie Wiggins.

“There are some elements of our operating structure we need trade-offs for. Stay tuned for that for 2024,” she said on Dec. 28. Whether Metro Micro gets chopped remains uncertain, and Wiggins would not say what programs would be affected by trade-offs.

A report in October said the agency’s operating cost growth of 6.5% is increasing faster than sales tax and operating revenues (2.6%). Labor, insurance, running various transit services and expanded rail operations are becoming more expensive, as well as costs for enhancing safety and cleaning.

“I think it is a big waste of money. I don’t think it has a lot of potential because it can’t serve a lot of people,” said Joe Linton, editor of Streetsblog L.A. on Friday, Dec. 29. “It is much more efficient to operate a fixed route bus.”

The MicroTransit program is intended to provide rides to connect people to other Metro services, but it is also used as a dial-a-ride service to go directly to shopping, to doctor’s appointments and other activities.

In September, L.A. City Council member and Metro board member Katy Yaroslavsky noted that a large concentration of seniors in Westwood use the service to get to and from the hospital and the VA.

The Watts Labor Community Action Committee, as well as L.A. County Second District Supervisor and Metro board member Holly Mitchell, support the program. Mitchell had said the Watts/ Compton zone had the highest percentage of Black and Latino riders, 80% of whom do not own a car.

Metro MicroTransit meetings
Comments can be left in person or through the livestream at upcoming Metro Service Council meetings. Email: [email protected]. All comments must be received by Jan. 12.

• San Fernando Valley, Jan. 3, 6:30 p.m. Marvin Braude San Fernando Valley Constituent Center, 6262 Van Nuys Bl, Van Nuys, 91401. Zoom link: Zoom meeting ID: 844 8686 4773. By phone, dial: 213-338-8477 or 888-475-4499 (toll free).

•  San Gabriel Valley, Jan. 8, 5 p.m. Metro El Monte Division 9 Building, Third Floor Service Council Conference Room, 3449 Santa Anita Ave. ( Santa Anita Avenue and Ramona Boulevard), El Monte, 91731. Zoom Link: Zoom meeting ID: 876 9545 1647. By phone, dial: 213-338-8477 or 888-475-4499 (toll free).

• Westside/Central, Jan. 10, 6 p.m. Metro Headquarters Building, 1 Gateway Plaza, 3rd Floor Board Room, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Zoom link: Zoom meeting ID: 868 0072 4592. By phone, dial: 213-338-8477 or 888-475-4499 (toll free).

• Gateway Cities, Jan. 11, 5 p.m. Salt Lake Park Community Center Lounge, 3401 E Florence Ave., Huntington Park, 90255. Zoom Link: Zoom meeting ID: 878 3912 9126. By phone, dial: 213-338-8477 or 888-475-4499 (toll free).

• South Bay Cities, Jan. 12, 9:30 a.m. Residence Inn Conference Room, 2420 Marine Ave., Redondo Beach, CA,  90278. Zoom link: Zoom meeting ID: 874 5516 3517. By phone, dial: 213-338-8477 or 888-475-4499 (toll free).

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