Angels Flight closing for repairs, may raise fares when reopened

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Brian Watt/KPCC

Angels Flight rail car descends Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles

For decades, Angels Flight offered the steepest ride for the cheapest fare. But the Angels Flight funicular in downtown L.A. may double the cost per trip after a temporary shutdown for repairs that starts Tuesday, Jan. 10.

The little railway travels only a block — but it saves a lot of steps on Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill.

The quarter it costs to ride Angels Flight up or down the steep incline at Hill Street is more than the penny fare operators charged a century ago — doubly so, if a proposed fare hike to 50 cents goes through. That's still less than the DASH or L.A. County Metro buses.

The California Public Utilities Commission, current operators of the train, maintain that its steel tracks and two handcrafted wooden train cars need an overhaul. But routine ridership and special uses like a cameo in the new movie “The Muppets” don’t bring in enough revenue to keep the non-profit attraction in top shape.

Its president says Angels Flight wouldn’t turn down a big philanthropic donation to keep the fare as is, and he adds that he hopes to at least maintain the 25-cent cost for Metro pass holders.

Whether that’ll happen will become clear when the train resumes service in a few weeks.

The debate has been going on for years. The Los Angeles Times interviewed John Welborne, president of the Angels Flight Railway Foundation, about a potential hike in 2010.

"We do everything we can to raise the money to fill the gap," Welborne said at the time. "But our donors often ask, 'Why don't you raise the fare?'"

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