Thursday, April 15, 2021

How Much Funding Does Metro Have for Transit Operations and Building Back Buses Better?

A few months ago, during a presentation on Metro’s latest initiative intended to rescue the failing bus system, a proposal was floated to request $100 million in federal funding for the purpose of improving the region’s long neglected bus stops. Investing in Place has long called for shelters and other components of a safe and dignified riding experience, so it is encouraging to see Metro begin to direct its focus in this area. But it is concerning to hear that this investment is being held out as contingent on federal aid, when Metro has local resources for these purposes.


Improving the bus system is an issue of paramount importance for Metro. While major rail investments will take decades to pay off, the only thing standing between Los Angeles and a world-class bus network is that that has never been a high-priority goal for local decision-makers. Unfortunately, that also seems to explain why existing funds are not being targeted for these improvements, but it is extremely difficult to figure out what is being funded instead.


Understanding where operations-eligible money is going is critical to informing efforts to restore and expand bus service and bus only lanes beyond the pre-Covid baseline, as well as increase shade and bus shelters, reimagine public safety and support fare free transit. In advance of May’s public budget hearing, Metro should commit to providing a clear analysis of revenues eligible for transit operations, and whether funding for operations is being diverted to other projects.


Metro has significant funding from four sales taxes passed by county residents. However, the opacity of budgeting at Metro means that there is no easy way to hold decision-makers accountable to pursuing policies that would make life better for riders.


It is critical that not only advocates and community organizers, but also the Metro Board of Directors, understand whether operations-eligible money is going to support capital projects unrelated to transit operations (such capital expansion). These commitments will provide an irreplaceable boost to the equity of Metro’s budget process, by increasing the ability of community members and organizations to provide informed comment and analysis on agency budget and priorities. And have the potential to lead to seeing Metro develop a 3-5 year funding plan to build buses back better. 


We know we are not alone in the dark about understanding how Metro spends their discretionary funding. Operations funding covers many departments with Metro, including going to the agency’s policing contracts. We need Metro to provide transparency regarding how the different pots of money are being spent so that the public can determine whether those choices will achieve the key outcomes for the region. Metro is largely funded by the people of Los Angeles County – who have voted to tax themselves to provide more transit.


Last month, Investing in Place sent a letter to Los Angeles Metro requesting that the agency approach future budgets through a procedural equity lens. Procedural equity is a tool in which Metro’s organizational structures and policies would be transformed to better serve the marginalized communities Metro provides services to by making it easier for those communities to access and substantially impact Metro’s decision making process. We ask Metro to provide a clear analysis of revenues eligible for transit operations and other spending categories with clear descriptions and activities included in each category.

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