By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority Thursday approved a program that will give free bus and train rides to students and those with low-incomes.

A Metro line train in the downtown Los Angeles on March 8, 2021. (Getty Images)

The Metro Board of Directors approved a 23-month pilot program that will make Metro buses and trains free for students starting in August, and for all low-income riders starting in January.

Under the pilot program, K-12 students and people enrolled in community college of all incomes will be the first to ride Metro fare-free, with that phase expected to begin in August.

Low-income riders, who make up 70% of Metro’s ridership, will be phased in starting in January 2022, although outside funding — likely federal — will need to be secured for the second phase.

Metro currently offers fare discounts to people who make $39,450 a year or less, people age 62 and older, veterans and people with disabilities, K- 12 students and people in college or vocational school.

The 23-month pilot for K-12 and community college students is expected to cost over $49 million in lost fare revenue, according to Metro officials. Fare revenue pays for transit operations and maintenance, but Metro receives additional funding through sales tax and state and federal grants.

Additional funding options for the pilot identified by Metro officials include advertising revenue, cost-sharing and grant funds through the Traffic Reduction Program.

According to an agency survey released in the summer of 2020, the median household income of Metro bus riders is $17,975, and $27,723 for Metro rail riders.

Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington expressed confidence that the federal government under President Joe Biden would provide funding for the pilot and permanent funding for a fareless Metro system in the future.

He noted that L.A. County is the most diverse county in the United States, and the Metro system has the highest percentage of low-income riders in the country.

In a survey with about 46,000 responses, L.A. Metro found that 86% of Metro riders and 80% of non-Metro riders support going fareless.

The pilot — which will end on June 30, 2023 — will allow Metro to test the feasibility of permanently eliminating all fares on Metro trains and buses.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)