17 Reasons to Make Transit Free

The Tyee, an independent online pub in British Columbia, weighs in with the first in a series of editorials making the case for free transit in the province.

NoFares1.pngCiting the wishes of big city mayors (Michael Bloomberg and San Francisco's Gavin Newsom) to eliminate the fare box, and listing a slew of cities that to some extent already have (including several in the U.S.), The Tyee says it's time to put an end to the age of the "Pampered Car":

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute has estimated that in 2000 the government subsidy to each private vehicle owner was about $5,378 in Canadian dollars.

In that year, the average cost of providing each trip taken by transit in Vancouver was approximately $5. The equivalent subsidy for transit users would have been 1,075 free trips. Few of us could even use that many.

In fact, if the subsidy given private car owners were simply handed over to each car-free transit user, bus riders would make money for taking transit!

The story goes on to list 17 benefits of free transit, arguing that tying transit funding to the fare box is a great way to guarantee a forever-struggling system:

Let's imagine that you are in charge of a transit system. You feel pressure to increase service or to maintain service despite increasing costs. You need to raise more money. Politically and practically, for most systems, the easiest way is to raise fares. But soon after, ridership goes down. It drops 3.8 per cent for every 10 per cent increase in fares, researchers have found (Cervero, R., 1994). Which means you either haven't gained much new revenue, or worse, you've started spiraling downward.

Sound familiar? Of course, in an attempt to put forward something, anything, as an answer to congestion pricing, New York state legislators floated their own version(s) of transit fare relief some weeks ago. Unfortunately, for all the bluster, they seem to have disregarded another rule, also cited by The Tyee:

Making transit free of charge won't in itself allow huge numbers of people to abandon their cars.

For that, you need a PlaN

Image: thetyee.ca