Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A BETTER FARE …or (smf’s 2¢) Taken for a Spin

by Tamar Galatzan in the Galatzan Gazette, The Online News Source for Tamar Galatzan's Board District 3 in the San Fernando Valley |

Tuesday, November 15, 2011  -  They said it couldn’t be done -- two large bureaucracies, negotiating in the best interests of our children.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School Board voted to approve a new contract with the MTA that will save the district nearly a half million dollars, with potentially greater savings in the future.

Two years ago, the School Board was asked to rubber stamp an annual $3 million contract with the MTA to purchase student bus passes for the 60,000 LAUSD students who ride MTA buses to school every day. The MTA charges LAUSD a reduced rate of $24 for a $72 monthly pass.

Many large metropolitan areas, like New York City, fully subsidize the fare of any student who takes public transportation to school. “Why not us?” I thought.

I was even more irked when I found out that some of our students—including foster, refugee, homeless and some special education students—could get steeper discounts purchasing bus passes directly from the MTA.  If those students applied to the MTA, they could buy monthly passes for just $18. Why couldn’t LAUSD qualify for the same discount those students could get on their own?

The district looked at setting up a non-profit to buy the cheaper passes. I talked to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who sits on the board of the MTA and cares deeply about public education, and asked him to weigh in.  I lobbied MTA board members. Superintendent John Deasy wrote letters to the Mayor and the head of the MTA. And the school district brainstormed other ways to save money.

LAUSD and MTA staff began a series of meetings.

As a result, the MTA has agreed to charge the district $18 instead of $24 a month for low income students who qualify for the Rider Relief Program, as the special discount program is known. In addition, the district is working with LADOT to see if students can ride DASH buses, saving the district more cash. (56 schools could potentially use DASH.) Finally, the Mayor and Superintendent are continuing to work with the MTA to find additional discounts.

“There has been more movement in the last two months, than in the last two years,” said Donald Wilkes, Director of Transportation Services Division for LAUSD. “The next step, basically, is free.”

Free is where I want to be. But in my ongoing mission to cut unnecessary waste, I am proud of the work and cooperation by all who have worked to save the district at least $400,000. That money goes straight back into the general fund—towards what matters most: teachers and students.



2cents smf:  This is progress?

The result of “two large bureaucracies, negotiating in the best interests of our children” is to get the MTA to stop overcharging LAUSD and instead only charge the District the regular amount for Rider Relief transit passes?

$18 a student is not a discount – it’s what anyone and everyone is charged who qualifies for a Rider-Relief student Metro transit pass.  LAUSD buys 60,000 of them a month – pays for them with a single check - and they don’t get a discount?

  • After Ms. Galatzan lobbied MTA board members?
  • After Superintendent Deasy wrote letters to the Mayor and the head of the MTA?
  • After the school district brainstormed other ways to save money?
  • After LAUSD and MTA staff held a series of meetings?

Maybe LAUSD should get AARP to negotiate, seniors only pay $14 a month.

Tamar is right, in New York City student bus passes are free – it’s one of the reasons the New York City Schools can offer open enrollment at all their schools.

Public transit and museum admission in San Francisco is free for SFUSD students. The City/County government pays the subsidy.

If you check this document – which is laden with bureaucrat-think (If we had a public hearing in 2005 about fare increases [when we didn’t raise fares], we don’t need another in 2010 [when we did].) and some misstatements of fact (How much do they charge for a bus pass?) – you will see that Metro claims it costs them $2.39 per passenger-trip and they only get 44¢ from a student with one of these passes – which equals a 82% subsidy. (Seniors get a 93% subsidy)

Metro, like the schools, is not a business – it’s a public service. Breaking even is not the goal. Maybe the public would be better served with a 100% subsidy for students? Especially as it looks like all school bus transportation may end as a result of cuts this year*.

* How many new school buses did we buy last year? How much did that cost?

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