L.A. Tests the Free-Transit Waters

Also: The governor of Maryland stiffs Baltimore transit riders again, and more in this week’s Mobile City.

(Photo by Jonathan Riley)

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Just how powerful is the idea that mass transit should be a free service? This powerful: even cities that say they can’t afford to make all their transit free are running trials with selected populations. The latest to climb aboard the bandwagon: Los Angeles, which has plans to offer fare-free transit to local students.

Meanwhile, up the road in Sacramento, a bill is now working its way through the legislature that would establish a state authority charged with making sure every new car, truck and bus sold in the state is emission-free by 2035.

No East Coast state has set that ambitious a goal yet. But in the meantime, the electric- and diesel-powered trains that move many in the Northeast around need to be kept in good running condition. Baltimoreans, who by now have gotten used to indifference from Annapolis to their concerns about mass transit service, got another helping of it when Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would have provided money to rehabilitate aging Maryland Transit Administration rail lines, trains and buses.

LA Metro Proposes Free Transit for Students

Nearly 10 months after its just-departed CEO first urged the subject be studied, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) is ready to go ahead with a fare-free pilot for students. But, as Mass Transit’s story on the move notes, the resolution approved unanimously by the LA Metro board requires that certain conditions be met before the project can proceed.

The chief condition that must be met: figuring out how to pay for it. LA Metro staff had previously estimated that the pilot program, which would allow elementary, secondary and community college students to ride the system for free for 23 months, would cost about $321 million, including the cost of implementing it on the other local and municipal transit systems in Los Angeles County.

The second commitment the board sought was that the program not harm Metro’s current service or its ability to keep its system in a state of good repair.

If the pilot is successful, advocates hope it will be expanded to low-income riders countywide. About 70 percent of LA Metro riders make $35,000 or less a year, and the free-transit initiative is seen by many, including former CEO Phil Washington, as an important move towards equitable transportation in the region. Washington, who first proposed this pilot program last August, stepped down as CEO on May 27.

Even though stakeholders LA Metro surveyed expressed concerns about issues such as safety, they strongly supported this initiative: 86 percent of riders surveyed and 80 percent of non-riders said they supported making transit free to ride.

No date for the start of the project has yet been set while LA Metro officials look for possible funding sources. If the conditions are met and the pilot takes effect, LA Metro will be the largest transit agency in the country to have implemented a large-scale free-transit program.

Bill to Accelerate Vehicle Electrification Advances in California

Metro Magazine reports that the California State Senate has approved a bill that would establish a state authority to ensure that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s target date of 2035 is met for phasing out the sale of new non-zero-emissions vehicles in the state.

Senate Bill 551 would create a California Electric Vehicle Authority in the governor’s office. The agency would coordinate, provide financing, and work to ensure equitable outcomes as the state transitions its car and truck market to zero-emission-vehicles exclusively.

The bill’s chief backer is the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) and its affiliated Transportation Electrification Partnership (TEP). Matt Peterson, CEO of LACI and chair of the TEP, had this to say about the bill in a statement released after its passage in the Senate: “Transitioning to 100% zero-emission cars, buses, and trucks is a transformative and achievable goal that will require a whole-of-government approach to make it happen. The urgency of the climate crisis and the disproportionate burden of air pollution upon disadvantaged communities forced to breathe unhealthy air means we need an all-hands-on-deck plan to move to zero emissions. The EV Authority can ensure that California’s government agencies and leaders make that promise a reality.”

Maryland Governor Vetoes Bill to Fund Maintenance of State’s Public Transit System

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan ran on a promise that he would make fixing the state’s roads and bridges his top priority. The way he has gone about keeping that promise, however, has rubbed many Baltimore residents the wrong way.

Beginning with issuing a map that showed how his transportation plan would “provide infrastructure improvements to every single county in Maryland” but had a hole where Baltimore City should have appeared, continuing through his axing of the proposed Baltimore Red Line light metro while allowing work on the Purple Line in suburban Washington to continue, and including a reworking of Baltimore’s bus service that got off to a rough start and failed to deliver on its promises of better, faster service, the Hogan administration appears to have worked assiduously to piss off Baltimore elected officials and transit users.

Now comes a report from WBFF (Fox 45) in Baltimore that Hogan, a Republican who enjoys wide approval in heavily Democratic Maryland, has poured fresh salt into the wound.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Hogan vetoed several bills passed by the Maryland General Assembly, both houses of which Democrats control. One of them would have provided funds for the Maryland Transit Administration, a unit of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT MTA), to maintain its buses, trains and rail lines and bring them back up to snuff. MDOT MTA operates the bus, subway and light rail transit lines serving metropolitan Baltimore and the MARC commuter trains serving both it and Washington.

“There was a more than $2 billion backlog of maintenance infrastructure for our light rail, our MTA subway and MARC train and we have to get in front of this or we will be in the same situation we’re in when we see some of our bridges are in unfair condition and the crumbling of our infrastructure,” State Sen. Cory McCray, a Baltimore Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, told the station.

Republican Delegate Kathy Szeliga, who represents an outer suburban district north and northeast of Baltimore, backed Hogan’s action: “Governor Hogan made the right decision here in making sure our money is directed towards roads and highways where we really need it,” she said.

McCray, however, has vowed to keep the issue of adequately maintaining MDOT MTA’s system alive, either through a special session of the legislature or action when the next session begins in January of next year.

Know of a development that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #mobilecity.

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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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Tags: public transportationlos angelesbaltimoreelectric vehicles

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