LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — An exploratory task force will begin working next month on a proposal to eliminate fares for all riders on Metro buses and trains, agency CEO Phil Washington said during Thursday’s meeting of the Metro Board of Directors.

The task force is expected to deliver a plan to Washington, and ultimately the full Metro board, for consideration by the end of the year that includes possible funding sources such as state and federal grants, existing revenues and other sources, though the agency said it was not planning to seek additional sales tax revenue to fund the program.

According to the agency, Washington said he views eliminating fares as an economic development tool that will not only improve mobility throughout the service area, but also put money back in the pockets of those who need it the most — which Metro said was especially important as the county recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

“LA Metro has a moral obligation to pursue a fare-less system and help our region recover from both a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and the devastating affects of the lack of affordability in the region,” Washington said. “Fare-free transit will help essential workers, moms and dads, students, seniors and riders with disabilities. I view this as something that could change the life trajectory of millions of people and families in L.A. County, the most populous county in America.”

According to an agency survey, the median household income of Metro riders is $17,975 for bus riders and $27,723 for rail riders.

The task force for the Fareless System Initiative will study funding opportunities, the impact of fare-less transit on other transit agencies in L.A. County, the cost of collecting fares versus the revenue collected, the impact of a fare-less system on riders — including how it would mitigate allegations that riders of color are targeted for fare enforcement more frequently — and the impact on the region’s homeless population.

In fiscal year 2019, the agency collected between $250-$300 million in fares, which accounted for roughly 13% of Metro’s $1.9 billion operating budget.

Metro said that the creation of the task force is the beginning of the process and would continue collecting fares and enforcing fare payment.

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