By Tom Rubin
I’ve studied the current Metro 28 by 2028 Plan – and it is pie in the sky.
To give a bit of background, Metro has a very long and consistent history of promising everything to everyone and then, when the plan crashes, everyone is worse off – yes, a few (nowhere near what was promised) rail lines get built, but transit ridership goes down due to the cost overruns – and the fare increase and bus service cutbacks to try to pay for them. Then, another sales tax to pay for what was promised last time is proposed, and passed.
Metro now has one quarter-cent and four half-cent sales taxes that will bring in about $3.8 billion this year – and the fourth sales tax, passed in 2016, includes some of the same rail lines that were in the first, passed in 1980.
The LA Mayor is running for President. He wants to run on the great “success” of what he is doing in LA, specifically, all the rail lines he has built and the wonderful things that have occurred. Now, when Measure M passed in 2016, the plan was to have the fastest rail construction program in history, 20 new projects to being service by 2028 (well, a couple of those were road projects). Speaking as someone who has studied LA transit in great detail for decades, it is utterly unbelievable that this will occur.
So, of course, the plan is, let’s go for 28 projects by 2028, with the extra eight being among the most expensive on the entire 40-year plan list. No chance in hell.
So, how to pretend that this is viable? A new revenue source is needed, and not another sales tax. So … congestion pricing.
There are three flavors discussed. The smallest, which would be the “easiest” to implement (that is a relative scale, compared to the other two, not an absolute one) would be a congestion corridor around the Los Angeles Central Business District, now shown as brining in $1.2 billion per year, beginning July 1, 2020.
OK, to start with, the schedule in beyond impossible. At a minimum, it would need new legislative authority from Sacto to even being essential to even begin. Then, because it is, arguably, a tax, because the collections from the vehicles entering would be used for transit, not roads, it would, some say, need a two-thirds, not a 50%+1 majority, to be enacted (we’ll know a lot more when the current RM3 case, raising the tolls on the Bay Area bridges to fund transit, is decided). There will also be huge public relations, work with interest groups, etc. – and setting up the charging system will not be something that can be done in a few weeks.
OK, $1,2 billion/year. Let’s compare that to the London Zone, which is going on two decades in use, is significantly larger geographically, and has multiple times the population and, more important, jobs. It netted $198 million last year – charging $14.53 per day. Someone want to explain the math?
Then, we have the most desirable option, vehicle mile travelled (VMT), which would bring in $10.35 billion a year, again, show as starting on that same July 1, 2020. OK, you might note that this would be about 270% from the sales tax revenue on the largest county in the U.S. It is also about four times what the entire State of California paid into the Federal Highway Transit Fund – hell, it is 25% of what the entire nation paid into the HTF.
Also, not only would this require State legislation, but it would also require Federal legislation – and, why would Metro think that it would get all the money from this? Good luck on that. By the way, again speaking as someone who has been watching this for a long time, trying to come up with a way for LA County to collect this without the rest of the U.S. putting it in is pretty much impossible.
So, while I think that Congestion pricing is the way to go in the long-term, and there really isn’t much of an alternative, it will take a LONG time to get there and, I have very great confidence in the ability of the elected officials at all levels to delay and screw this up beyond belief.
Good luck with that.