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After initially not allocating no money in their budget for the fiscal year for this, the Metro board of directors reportedly voted to spend millions of dollars to restore transit service that had recently been slashed.
Last year when COVID hit, Metro’s sales tax revenue dropped. Because of this, the agency undertook different cost-saving measures, most notably cutting bus service by 20% in Sept. 2020, which riders spoke out against. As COVID spiked, Metro ridership reportedly declined from a high of 615,000 in Oct. to 475,000 in Dec., but is already rebounding in Jan.
As Metro found that funding was available, since recent sales tax revenue was nearly $300 million more than the agency’s budget projections, staff proposed mid-year budget adjustments adding back nearly $800 million to the remaining fiscal year budget. Much of this funding was initially not allowed to be used to fund operations, given only $58.6 million was available to fund bus service. And yet, Metro’s staff proposal directed none of this to transit operations.
Los Angeles City Council member Mike Bonin even wrote on his Twitter account: “COVID has decimated transit nationwide, but with [LA Metro] revenues looking up and potential federal $$$ on the horizon, our priority has to be aggressive service restoration. Many essential workers are transit-dependent, and they are relying on us.”
But when transit advocates got wind of this, they weighed in urging the Metro board to fund restored bus service. Then, Metro directors Eric Garcetti, Mike Bonin, Hilda Solis, Janice Hahn, and Robert Garcia responded to the public outcry, authoring a motion to redirect $24.3 million towards restoring transit service, giving priority to high-ridership lines and disadvantaged communities.
The motion also called for restoring service to pre-COVID levels by no later than the end of the fiscal year — July 30, — supporting vaccination of Metro’s workforce, ensuring safety for Metro workers, and offering transportation assistance for getting people to vaccination appointments.
In the board discussion meeting, Hahn rebuked Metro staff for not addressing the board’s clearly expressed priority of restoring transit service. Several directors emphasized the need for Metro transit service to support essential workers, especially as the region gradually recovers from COVID and transit ridership returns. The motion was approved unanimously.
However, Metro riders are unlikely to see an immediate uptick in service. The agency’s already-slashed operations have been impacted by COVID, resulting in increased absenteeism and missed bus runs from the operators.