In November 2016, voters in Los Angeles County resoundingly approved a ½ cent sales tax increase to finance local transportation called Measure M. Measure M’s passage marked the fourth time since 1980, and the second time since 2008, that LA County voters approved a sales tax increase to finance their transportation program. The measure is expected to generate $120 billion over forty years to fund 50 transportation projects.

Public transportation in Los Angeles has long been a vital social service for people with few transportation options. Those with more options overwhelmingly choose to drive. Measure M aims to upend this status quo. It includes funding for road and freeway improvements, but its primary focus is expanding public transportation. Over 65 percent of the measure’s revenue goes to transit and construction of new rail and bus rapid connections. When the Measure M project list is fully built, the county’s rail network will have doubled in size.

Measure M is an unquestionable political achievement and its victory holds important lessons for other auto-oriented locales. Some of these other regions also use the ballot to finance and encourage more use of public transportation. As Los Angeles shares both goals and attributes with these places, Measure M holds potential lessons for them, as they embark on their own processes of trying to change transportation at the ballot box.

The purpose of this paper is to situate Measure M in a larger discussion on transportation finance and politics, and to more critically explore the tensions and tradeoffs that ballot box transportation planning creates for transit advocates. The intent is that these lessons provide a perspective on Measure M’s victory and a window into what successful transportation ballot campaigns require.

This paper is part of a multi-year Eno initiative to comprehensively catalog, analyze, and assess transportation measures at the ballot box. Click HERE for more information.