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Transportation

Los Angeles Passed a Historic Transit Tax. Why Isn’t It Working?

Voters who supported L.A.’s Measure M may like transit, but they don’t seem to want a city that’s built for it.
A transit bus makes its way under a freeway in Los Angeles, California.
A transit bus makes its way under a freeway in Los Angeles, California.Mike Blake/Reuters

In November 2016, Los Angeles County made history. A whopping 72 percent of voters approved Measure M, a sales tax measure set to generate $120 billion over 40 years to expand rail, rapid bus, and bike networks. With it, the L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority promised to “ease traffic congestion” and “transform transportation” across the region.

But that promise is likely to remain unmet, judging by history. Between 1980 and 2016, L.A. passed three major transit sales tax measures and built 110 miles of rail. Yet ridership on L.A.’s transit system has been slipping for years, while the number of miles traveled in private cars is rising. Other American cities that have passed major transit measures are facing the same conundrum.