Saturday, July 13, 2013

Why Isn't It Free in the First Place?

This just in: According to the Star Tribune, Twin Cities Metro Transit is going high-tech to catch bus riders who don't pay their fares. The story is vague about what that means, but clear on several other points.

  • 96 percent of bus riders pay their fares, but the 4 percent nonpayment rate is a problem. Light rail and Northstar Commuter trains don't have a fare evasion problem, because they have a 99 percent compliance rate. So the difference between 96 and 99 percent is a "problem."

  • Metro Transit's annual budget is $300 million, of which a third comes from fares. So in other words, we could have free public transit for $100 million a year -- one fifth of the public cost of the new Vikings stadium, or about $30 per person annually in the metro area. Probably not much more than the $10 charge per car they're talking about as a "wheelage" fee.

  • It wouldn't even cost $100 million to replace the lost fares, since there's a substantial cost to collecting fares and enforcing their collection. As they say on

    "Having a fare, any fare, requires a basic fixed cost of collecting the fare. Accounting costs, printing transfers and passes, selling and collecting. These people could be working on cleaning and security. Large transit systems actually have more fixed fare-related costs, but they put them in another accounting bucket: security. Do you see all those stainless steel turnstyles and all the caging and fencing to prevent fare avoidance. They cost a bundle."

  • Collecting fares also wastes a lot of time for riders. A recent Economist story cited a New York MTA study that found fare collecting took over 16 minutes of the total route on one bus, more than a quarter of the time spent on the entire run.
The bottom line is we have to stop driving so much, and use what fuel we (the people of Earth) can afford to burn safely to run public transit.

The way to encourage transit use is to make it free; charging a carbon tax or wheelage fee on cars would be an added incentive.

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