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26. Tap, tap, tapping . . .

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Consider the many scales of public transit in L.A.: long-distance heavy rail (Metrolink), medium-distance light rail and subway (all the colored lines), express and local bus service (red buses, orange buses, DASH buses, blue buses).

All of these transit services are different. Some are operated by different regional agencies or by individual cities. They all have different equipment, fare structures, and their own rules about transfers within and without their particular system. (Think Europe before the EU)

In the future, if public transit is be a real substitute for the solo driver, how will hundreds of thousands of new riders pass from one scale of transit to another . . . from regional to local, from heavy to light, from steel wheels to tires on asphalt? And then back again at the end of the day?

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Well, here's one ominous forecast. It won't be seamless or easy . . . and it probably will come with additional costs at each "border crossing" when riders pass from one transit principality to another.

Here's just one example: Steve Hymon in the Los Angeles Times reports that Metrolink customers who transfer to Metro's buses and trains in Los Angeles County will have to pay a second fare next year on top of the regular Metrolink ticket price.

When Metro installs gates and turnstiles at its rail stations (ostensibly to cut the number of passengers who ride without paying), fare-paying Metrolink customers also will be shut out. The tickets Metrolink uses at its stations won't work in the turnstiles Metro is installing.

Metrolink staff members recently told their board that passengers would need to buy a Metro TAP card "? an electronic fare card that will eventually replace the tickets dispensed at Metro stations.

One fallback is being considered. The Metrolink board could consider offering TAP cards to its monthly pass holders at a discount "? $20 to $30 for a Metro monthly pass that currently sells for $62. "To put it in more blunt terms," Hymon notes, "Metrolink passengers who now transfer for free would have to carry two tickets and pay $240 to $360 extra annually to transfer to MTA buses or trains."

And riders can expect more of this cost creep, despite Measure R's moratorium on higher regular fares (postponed until 2010) and senior, student, and disabled fares (until 2013). Beginning in the 1980s, county voters tied transit funding to sales tax revenue "? great idea in boom years and a disaster in a depression. As a result of declining sales tax revenue and losses in state funding, Metro continues to realign bus schedules and may cut 160,000 hours of bus service later this year or next.

[Line 256 through Pasadena, Altadena, El Sereno, Monterey Hills, and other neighborhoods is an example of an essential line that Metro has sought to cut and probably will.]

Degrading the quality of service for low-income riders and tapping into riders who already pay a significant cost for transit are perverse disincentives, if public transit is supposed to become pervasive in a new, urbanized Los Angeles. Making the system bewildering to navigate and wildly inconsistent is equally perverse.

Those who must ride out of incapacity or poverty, ride. Those who have flexible working hours or simple commutes (and a high tolerance for casual abuse), ride out of conviction or to pinch pennies. And for everyone else . . . transit remains something they strongly favor . . . but only for everyone else.

The image on this page was taken by Flickr user Metro Library and Archive. It was used under a Creative Commons license.

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