Saturday, February 13, 2016

How Best to Support Los Angeles County Transit

Your tax dollars at work expanding the Metro Rail system.  Image: Metro.

I sometimes think about how best to support Los Angeles County's transit system financially as it undergoes a dramatic and exciting expansion.  This system has the potential to lower greenhouse gas emissions and open up new opportunities to build badly needed housing in walkable neighborhoods, while giving us an alternative to the purgatory of bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic.  LA County has three half-cent transportation sales tax measures that largely (but not completely) go to pay for public transit: Prop A, Prop C, and Measure R.  These measures, plus the 7.5% sales tax that goes to the state, make the sales tax rate in most cities in LA County 9.0%.  Metro has a nice primer on the LA County transportation sales taxes on its website.  25% of Proposition A is returned to local cities and the rest pays for transit.  20% of Prop C is returned to local cities, 25% pays for highway programs (e.g. carpool lanes and Freeway Service Patrol) and the rest pays for transit.  20% of Measure R funds go to highway projects and 15% is returned to local cities, while the rest pays for transit.  Thus, for every $1.00 of taxable sales in LA County, about 0.98% goes to pay for public transit in LA County.  This does not count portions of the sales tax that go to the state and may come back for transit projects.

In short, for every dollar you spend on something that owes sales tax in LA County, about one cent goes to pay for public transit.  To put that in perspective, Metro's one-way fare is $1.75.  So, how much would you have to spend on taxable products in LA County to contribute the equivalent amount of money to riding the system just once?  Yay, an algebra problem!

.0098x = $1.75

x = $178.57

In other words, for every $178.57 you spend on taxable items in LA County, you have made the same financial contribution to transit that you would have made by riding the system just once and paying the full fare.  So, if you are concerned about how best to provide financial support to LA County transit, actually riding it and paying the fare has amazing bang for the buck.  Making a round trip on the system to buy a cup of tea has about the same financial impact in support of transit as buying a small television!  Plus, transit boardings are a kind of political currency that allows Metro to say: "Look, people actually use this, so don't take away our money!"

Don't get me wrong, in a county with around ten million people, all of those pennies from the sales taxes really add up (to about $2.3 billion in 2014 for example), but if you're like me and impatient to accelerate the pace of change, almost nothing beats getting your butt in a transit seat and paying your fare.

No comments:

Post a Comment