Public transportation

Should Public Buses Be Free to Riders?

Kansas City wants everyone except bus riders to pay for bus rides.

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From Midwestern city councils to masked anarchists, everyone seems to be embracing the idea of free public transit.

In late November, fare strikes hit transit systems across the country, with activists hopping turnstiles and vandalizing ticket machines to protest the cost of living, police brutality, neoliberalism, etc.

This was followed last Thursday by Kansas City's government voting unanimously for a resolution that directs the city manager to create a plan for eliminating fares on all city buses. The legislators didn't deploy the protesters' radical rhetoric, but they agreed on this much: Free public transit is better both for the environment and for low-income riders.

"Free bus service is more environmentally friendly, and it provides a transformative advantage for low-income residents who need a ride to work or school," wrote the Kansas City Star's editorial board in an article supporting the elimination of fares.

Free transit, of course, isn't actually free.

Kansas City's bus and bus rapid transit services cost about $75 million a year to operate, according to Federal Transit Administration data from 2017. Fare-box revenue made up about $8.5 million of that, or roughly 11 percent of all operating costs.

That's low, but it's not nothing. Additional subsidies would be required to make the system whole.

But for some officials, finding $8 million of other people's money is no big deal. "That's not a ton of money," City Councilman Eric Bunch told a local NBC affiliate after the vote. "If we want to prioritize public transportation, it's something that we can find."

So long as fares continue to bring in some money, it makes sense to keep them, counters Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation scholar at the Reason Foundation (which publishes this website).

"Whether it's 20 percent of the recovery rate or 40 percent of the recovery rate, it's a lot better than zero percent of the recovery rate," says Feigenbaum. "From a fiscal perspective, you should do it just because you need the funding."

Feigenbaum also argues that transportation—regardless of mode—should follow a "users pay, users benefit" model, where riders pay as close to the full cost of their ride as possible. This gives transit agencies a stronger incentive to provide quality service to riders or else risk losing the revenue that comes with them. Cities concerned about helping low-income riders could just give them transit vouchers, says Feigenbaum, without shifting the cost of everyone's rides onto taxpayers.

The historical experience of transit systems going fare-free is mixed.

It has proven more successful when implemented in smaller resort and college towns, where populations surge on a seasonal basis and where ill-used transit systems have a lot of spare capacity to add new riders.

Larger cities that experimented with fare-free public transit have seen ridership increases, but also overcrowding and significantly reduced on-time rates .

According to one 2012 report, both Denver and Austin saw major increases in ridership when they temporarily abolished fares. Ridership increased 49 percent in Denver and 70 percent in Austin. But as that same report notes, Denver increased service and redesigned its bus routes at the same time that it eliminated fares, possibly explaining much of the increase in ridership. Likewise, Austin's fare-free experiment came right as the city's transit agency extended service to the University of Texas, which also gave students free bus passes.

Both cities eventually abandoned fare-free transit, citing overcrowding, lost revenue, and an increased number of "problem passenger" incidents.

Other large cities' fare elimination strategies have produced more modest ridership gains. When Estonia's capital, Tallinn, made its public transportation service free, it registered only a 3 percent increase in ridership over the following five years.

That's because most riders would rather have a better-functioning bus service than a cheaper one.

According to a 2019 survey of transit riders in seven cities from TransitCenter, a transit advocacy group, most riders—including most low-income riders—said that improved service was a higher priority than lowering or eliminating fares. "If a transit agency had to choose between devoting funds to reducing fares or to maintaining or improving service, most riders would prefer the latter," the organization noted in January.

Kansas City is going in the opposite direction. Time will tell how well that will work.

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  1. why don’t they charge the full real world recovery rate.

    because then no one would ride the bus

    so this is just signaling their virture and eventual control when they outlaw private cars

    Yes

    1. I would agree to full real world recovery if that standard was also applied to cars. States like Wisconsin are going into debt to cover transportation costs because the reluctance of the Legislature to increase the gas tax. Buses require no parking. Car do and in many cases the parking lots are provided at no charge.

      1. in many cases the parking lots are provided at no charge.

        If only there were a solution for that. (I assume you’re talking about state-owned parking lots)

        1. No. Most businesses will provide free parking. We never consider this, but the business must pay for the land and the upkeep of that parking lot. Now the business covers this but to make a profit that cost must be added to the product. So when I bus, bike or walk to a grocery store I am paying for the free parking offered to all customers. I cannot say, “I walked here so can I get a discount?”.

          1. Limit your shopping to places that don’t offer free parking.

            Problem solved.

            1. Better yet, they should just rip the buildings down! Do you know what the utilities and upkeep on a grocery store runs? It would be much cheaper if they just hawked their goods in an open field!

              1. Who maintains the field?

                1. I’m assuming society would collapse before you would have to do anything.

                2. I could probably send one of those kids that’s always knocking on my door asking if I need my lawn mowed. He’d do it for 20.

          2. No. Most businesses will provide free parking.

            Privately owned lot. Not a state issue.

            1. Businesses are in fact paying for “free parking” through the rent they pay,

          3. Far as I know, most building permits require a specific amount of parking, dependent on building size, business type, who knows what.

            The reason businesses don’t put meters up is because they’d be the only ones doing so, and the lookie-lous would steer clear. Businesses want as many visitors as possible, because some portion of them turn into shoppers. Discouraging visitors would destroy their business.

            The case for free buses that I have always heard is that paying fares, checking transfers, and all that micro transaction malarkey seriously slows down boarding. Besides, tickets now pay only some minuscule portion of the total cost, like 20%, so if you make it free, the faster buses might actually make things efficient enough topay that 20%.

            From my experience with metro buses, the arguing over fares and transfers, and people trying to sneak in the back doors, is a major reason why I hated public transit. If the damned things could be boarded faster and get going sooner, they would have been a lot less frustrating.

            1. and around here they require X number of “low emission vehicles”, most of which spaces sit empty.

            2. In 40 years of bus riding I remember very few problems arguing fares or people sneaking on buses. I don’t think this is enough of a problem to warrant changes.

          4. Businesses choosing to provide parking for their customers is in no way a government subsidy of parking.

            The better critique is of building codes that require the provision of a certain number of parking spaces – if you want to allow people freer use of their own property, that’s a good place to start.

            1. Parking lot requirements exist because people have to park somewhere. If a business could fill its lot with nothing but the store and some landscaping, shoppers would have to park on the street or nearby stores, meaning the city and other businesses would be covering those costs while the parking-free business benefits from the increased retail space.

      2. Buses do have depots for storing them, but more importantly, they require much bigger spaces on the street: bus stops.

        1. and hold up traffic, wasting fuel and making global warming worse. not to mention all the man-hours lost waiting at the bus stop.

      3. so get smart and charge the going rate in the area for parking. Most cities, that ain’t cheap.

        Most fuel tax revenues in most venues do NOT go for road maintainance, nor even improvements. Nope. They go for state government general funds. Some years back WE (the people) voted to do away with a draconinan “excise tax” based on the deternined value of the car being plated. We TOLD the state to charge not more than $30 per year for “registration” It was VERY revealing watching the press coming up to the election. What was amazing was how many different state and county programmes would have to cut services or fold because they were getting part of their operating revenue from those VEHICLE taxes supposedly going to fix our roads, Health department,s vaccines, library expenses, (includiung fleet of 30 or so NEW big Ford vans every three years) day care, seniur feeding programmes, recreational programmes at city parks, transit bus operating costs….. WHAAAAATTTTT?
        We voted in the $30 “registration, It took them one year to figure out how to ace us all.. The line item “registration” r remains $30 ten years later. BUT then they add this fee, that fee, some charge here, weight fees, filing fees, etc… so now my “$30 registratin cost me $108 last year.
        We just voted in, by a wide margin, a new bill that CAPS all licensing fees together at no more than $30 per year. Guss what? Our socialist mad powerhungry governor has ordered the legislature to hold off and not allow that bill to take effect, claiming “we need a transportation system” and those lost revenues will destroy what we have. Boo hoo. Yet there is SO MUCH waste and stupid spending plainly obvious at every road constructin site.. like up to four State Patrol cruisers, lights flashing, “driver” asleep or readint a book or surfing online as the cruiser is PARKED off to the side where he couldn’t get back on to light anyone up if his life depended on it. At above $100 per hour, ALL NIGHT and often in the day. That’s $4K per night, at every site in the state…. for sometimes more than a year running. One point two million per year for ONE site.

    2. I think they will have a free ride problem.

    3. Next, Kansas City will break all the windows in the city to eliminate all unemployment.

      1. I like where you’re going with this. Skilled trades!

  2. “Should Public Buses Be Free to Riders?
    Kansas City wants everyone except bus riders to pay for bus rides.”

    This is a typical pragmatic article by @Reason

    Nowhere it the title doe it challenge the rights violation that may take place or already have

    1. What rights are violated?

    2. Perhaps staff at Reason reason that WE who read here are smart enough to realise that by taking from US and giving to THEM (the free riders) OUR rights to the fruits of our labours are violated, as well as the perpetration of what amounts to, simpliciter, THEFT.
      One of the battle cries for the War for Independence was “no taxation without representation”.

      Put the tax increase required to pay for the bus system direct from taxes rahter than even a small offset fro fares collected up to a vote of the poeple who will have to pay the extra tax to feed the busses.
      Some years ago Seattle imposed a signficant invrease in sales taxes in “the stadium district”, where the two new stadia are built They promised we would NOT lose the old KingDome, nor its parking. Nor would it cost anyone anything more in taxes. Well, we all knew that was a lie. We voted it down one time… then we had to vote it down AGAIN. They STILL never listened. That area has the highest sales tax rate in the nation. They built two new stadia, tore down the KingDome AND the parking lot, and have increased taxes to the highest anywhere.

      And they wonder why we don’t trust them any more . And most want to stand for REelection next year. I hope we can deliver some very BAD news to them.

  3. One million dollars in singles would weigh over a ton. So $8 million could be almost 9 tons. If you do it in 100s of course it would only be less than 0.09 tons.

  4. …an increased number of “problem passenger” incidents.

    DOG WHISTLE ALERT: Poor automatically means uncouth?

    1. Let’s just say a large percentage of passengers taking advantage of the free rides will be literal pieces of shit.

      1. It could solve the homeless crisis though, since they’ll be living on the bus.

        1. How many buses will a municipality be willing to purchase, maintain, and operate in order to give everyone a “free” ride? Enough for “everyone”? Gee, socialism is so very sweet and compassionate. Let’s just hope every city is planning for the soon-to-come conversion to electric buses. Oh, the humanity!

          1. Will the buses provide a safe space? We probably need separate buses for women so there’s no fear of eye-rape from the homeless.

        2. Then there would be a problem with more buses needed because they would be full. If you have free buses expect a massive increase in riders.

        3. Google “Hotel 22”.

  5. The mountain is high, the valley is low
    And you’re confused on which way to go
    So I’ve come here to give you a hand
    And lead you into the promised land, so

    Come on and take a free ride
    Come on and sit here by my side
    Come on and take a free ride

    1. Dazed and Confused is a wildly underrated movie.

    2. Funny, I was thinking of the famous Who tune “Magic Bus”:

      We’ll be fighting in the street
      With our children at our feet
      And the morals that they worship will be gone.
      And the men who spurred us on
      Sit in judgment of all wrong
      They decide and the shotgun sings the song.
      I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution,
      Take a bow for the new revolution,
      Smile and grin at the change all around,
      Pick up my guitar and play
      Just like yesterday.
      And I’ll get on my knees and pray
      We don’t get fooled again.

      Oh, wait, that’s not “Magic Bus” at all. Or maybe it is – just like a free lunch there ain’t no magic bus, is there?

      1. i don’t wanna cause no fuss, but can i buy your magic bus?

      2. I was thinking MTA by the Kingston Trio, but I’ve used it too many times here.

        1. Did he ever return? Is his fate unlearned? Sorry! I just couldn’t resist.

          1. Does Charlie’s wife still “go down to the Scollay’s Square station …. everyday at quarter past two”?

      3. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” will be my campaign song if I ever run for President.

        And if I win, “In The Flesh Part II” will be played at my inauguration.

        1. fun. ala Saddam.

  6. I was a bus rider for most of my working career and appreciate the ease and convenience of the bus, especially in winter. That said I do believe that bus riders should pay for the service. I think there are better ways to charge for rides. Debit cards and smart system could charge by the distance, as do some modern subway systems. I also think that poor riders could be provided vouchers. It is also good to explore private public partnerships where employer can provide no cost bus rides to reduce the need for parking lots.

    1. It is also good to explore private public partnerships where employer can provide no cost bus rides to reduce the need for parking lots.

      Like pre-tax transportation vouchers that already exist?

    2. Self driving cars are going to eliminate the need for buses. Because once you can call up a car from anywhere to anywhere, who needs to either own a car or ride a bus?

      1. Don’t think self-driving cars will ever take off because as Frank Zappa put it: “people like to own stuff” and a cat is an extension of one’s identity (or penis for some guys).

        Unless, of course, privately owned non-autonomous cars are banned.

        1. I think driverless cars will be very, very popular. They won’t need to ban private cars, because the convenience of walking to the curb and getting in (on demand) will be just too damned compelling.

          1. All the animals come out at night.

            https://youtu.be/J9PCcx7i4xQ?t=80

            Who would jump in a car like that after it’s been used?

        2. What about privately-owned self-driving cars? There would be plenty of incentive for those, particularly in less densely populated areas

    3. the big tech companies in Silicon Valley all have private bus service for their employees

      1. Commifornia is never a good example

    4. Think about this: When poor people need food, we give them vouchers and send them to grocery stores. When poor people need wheels, we create a whole new mode of transportation that’s inferior to existing modes, which are cheaper, faster, more comfortable, more reliable and readily available.

      In most cases, it would be better for the poor person, and cheaper for the taxpayer, to give the poor person Uber, Lyft or taxi vouchers. Everybody would win except union transit workers, fat cat union bosses, transit equipment suppliers, consultants and contractors. Which is why, boys and girls, the voucher plan would never work. Palms must be greased.

  7. “That’s not a ton of money,” City Councilman Eric Bunch told a local NBC affiliate after the vote. “If we want to prioritize public transportation, it’s something that we can find.”

    “Why, I’ll start the ball rolling by giving up my phony-baloney job.”

    1. The truth is, if you’re already operating at a 90% loss, a 100% loss is not that different. But most people would look at ways to keep costs manageable while extending service.

  8. “Kansas City wants everyone except bus riders to pay for bus rides.”

    Plus, everyone except the mayor, the city council members, and all city employees. After all, they have their third Mercedes Benz to pay for.

  9. We need to get privatization in the conversation about urban transit.

    1. Buy a car, and voila.

      Or, if you’re broke, buy a cheap ass road legal scooter for under $1000. Voila.

      Oh, or do you mean we need to get a crony capitalist deal in place?

      Nevermind.

    2. I wondered about that for hyperloop/high speed rail. There’s no justifiable ROI on a train that costs $10 billion.

  10. more environmentally friendly because the buses would stop running?

  11. No, goddammit! Base the fare on BMI. Free rides for the fit, free bikes and ankle weights for the fat. You show up at the bus stop on a Rascal, you get a guy named Raoul with a cattle prod.

  12. How do fare revenues compare to the cost of collecting them? I’ve often thought that the overall gains in utility would make fare-free worthwhile in many cases. I remember when the bus driver would make change for you; they took away part of the service and effectively made it more expensive (because of the trouble of getting and keeping coins on you) when they made them exact fare only. Now they’re taken cash out of the picture entirely; seems the next logical move is to eliminate payment, speeding everyone’s entry to the bus.

    Also, when figuring the revenue from fares as a percent of operating revenue, why stop at the direct cost of operating the buses, without figuring in the costs of maintaining the streets? And if fare-free causes ridership to increase a lot, isn’t that making more efficient use of the streets?

    1. Not making it more efficient use of the streets if the riders wouldn’t have been using the streets in the first place (ie homeless cruising all day to stay warm/cool).

  13. Teleportation will eventually make this and a great many other problems moot. However, it will require such unexpected breakthrus that nobody knows whether it’ll be a reality in 10 years or take 10 million, so nobody can plan around it. Still, the minute it becomes reality it’ll make a whole lot of previous effort, right up to an hour beforehand, look silly.

    1. nobody knows whether it’ll be a reality in 10 years or take 10 million, so nobody can plan around it

      Fake news. All we need is for the government to mandate that teleportation be available within 10 years, and the science will take care of itself.

      1. Ever see The Fly? With public teleportation you would probably teleport with a roach in the booth and then you’re fucked.

    2. Yeah, if Columbus had waited 440 years, he could have just flown across the Atlantic.

  14. Even if farebox recovery is ridiculously low, buses should ALWAYS charge a fair if only to avoid the obvious unintended consequence of making a bus free.

    What do you think happens when a free, climate controlled, covered shelter with comfy seats becomes free?

    You start getting all the homeless people literally living on the bus all day. And not only does it make the bus system even less efficient shuttling people around all day that actually don’t even want more that a warm comfy place to be in the winter, but it also makes them slower. Pretty soon every stop involves a homeless person with their little cart full of crap needing the handicap ramp lowered and raised.

    This is not hyperbole either. Seattle had a Ride Free zone that this happened all day every day. And that was when they could only ride a couple miles for free. Can you imagine what it would be like if the bus rides were 45 minutes?

    1. Gotta admit I never thought of that one. OTOH, in places with low ridership and high bumfulness, maybe it’d pay to get them off the sidewalk that way. Between that and libraries.

      1. So instead of them pissing and shitting on the sidewalk, they do it all over the bus-a porta-potty with wheels!

        1. They can have buses that move around 24/7 with sleeping bunks, running water, clean restrooms and little hot plates for the hungry. They will be electric buses, of course, to avoid the terrible, terrible global warming impacts.

    2. Commutes in KC are already 45 minutes, whether you take a bus or drive a car. Increasing bus ridership would actually reduce that, as there would be less traffic. Our buses mostly run on natural gas, with a few electric buses, so adding capacity would still reduce emissions.
      As for the homeless, many of them are already riding the bus. Fares are a dollar or two, which they will panhandle from cars at intersections, then hop on the bus to get warm. Eliminating fares is unlikely to increase this appreciably.

    3. Google “Hotel 22”!

  15. Other large cities’ fare elimination strategies have produced more modest ridership gains. When Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, made its public transportation service free, it registered only a 3 percent increase in ridership over the following five years.

    Well golly – a different source – the Economist – that wrote an entire article on public transport in Estonia says 10% increase in ridership with also a 10% decrease in car traffic (both in Tallinn). And since routes there extend into the countryside (11 of 15 counties), they have also reduced depopulation there and increased job mobility esp at the low-end. Methinks they may have actually asked someone in Estonia.

    There are COSTS associated with the mere collection of cash on buses. Direct (fare calc and cash storage, security, etc) and indirect (scheduling delays for everyone else when buses have to collect every new pass fare before starting back in motion; costs of traffic congestion when people substitute modes of transit; job mobility for the lower-end jobs where commute costs are significant).

    It may well be that collecting fares pays off. But the only way to know that for sure is to know what part of the TOTAL spending is FIXED and what is VARIABLE. Whether the good is privately-provided or publicly-provided, the only expectation in a competitive environment is that variable revenues will cover variable spending. If it doesn’t, the solution is to simply eliminate the variable spending in order to reduce total spending. But public transport is overwhelmingly a fixed cost structure – esp once/if you set a schedule.

    Personally I think public transit systems should move more towards ‘slotting fees’ (charged to the vehicle doing the pickup/dropoff) rather than passenger fees (let the operators do that hassle). And eliminate as much of their own ‘operations’ (bus, driver costs) as possible – which is prob most of the cash-cost. That would open up things like bus stops and depots and such to any private operator who saw an opportunity to cover a route of their choice and different vehicle sizes. With public operations only used in a ‘clear network congestion’ mode when there is no private interest or when those private operators go belly up. And would likely lower the total public spend dramatically.

    1. That would open up things like bus stops and depots and such to any private operator who saw an opportunity to cover a route of their choice and different vehicle sizes.

      Good luck making that happen in any large city run by Democrats Unions Progressives Communists, no, wait, I was right the first time. Democrats.

      1. Those guys are already trying to kill existing transit operations that don’t even require bus stops and depots. So, yeah- good luck with that.

        1. Actually entities like Uber or ‘free street parking’ are already exploiting that public space in a ‘tragedy of the commons’ way – which causes congestion, accidents, poor visibility to others, etc. Pricing that public space for pickup/dropoff at selected points will make cities realize how underpriced and valuable it all is for solving traffic/transport problems.

          Some non-residential streets should eliminate parking/stopping altogether. Purely residential (where you have free street parking) should disadvantage moving/thru cars and advantage slower/vulnerable modes instead. With an intermediate tier that has pricing of that ‘stop’ space for all users equally and which connects the city transport grid up for all users.

          The grid system needs to recover that public space that has simply been squatted on and ‘taken’ by the car-subset.

          1. “Actually entities like Uber…”

            Uber drivers don’t pay taxes like everybody else?

    2. “There are COSTS associated with the mere collection of cash on buses. Direct (fare calc and cash storage, security, etc) and indirect (scheduling delays for everyone else when buses have to collect every new pass fare before starting back in motion; costs of traffic congestion when people substitute modes of transit; job mobility for the lower-end jobs where commute costs are significant).”

      Technology has solved these problems. King County Metro (otherwise a model for everything a transit agency should NOT be) has a contactless card system that automatically calculates the correct fare and debits it from your account. You can set the account to automatically reload a fixed amount of cash so as to always have enough to cover the largest possible fare. Boarding takes no time, there’s no cash to store, no change, no inconvenience. The only way it’d be better is if they used a newer version that worked with the NFC chip already in your phone or smart watch.

    3. Yes, because Estonia and the United States are roughly the same size. According to Google, Estonia is 217 times smaller than the U.S. so how efficient are buses going to be here?

      In most American cities, ‘the poor’ live downtown not in the suburbs. How far does a bus line need to be to hit rural area’s outside of the city in the U.S.? 20 miles? 40?

      If I live in San Angelo, Texas how long would I need to be on a bus to get to San Antonio, Texas for a job?

      It’s pretty ludicrous to make such a claim.

      1. Since no one except the strawman in your head is arguing for a federal public transit system, the rel size of the US and Estonia is irrelevant. And even so – Estonia has lower population density than the US.

        Estonia is roughly 4x LA/Orange County area with 1/10 the peeps (a bit more than LA/Orange in 1920) and 1/25 the GDP. That is the scale of their experiment – with no sucking on CA or Fed teat. They have to do a much better job selecting pickup/dropoff points to connect that area than SoCal would then or now. But the fact that they are connecting it all also makes that system a viable way to reduce car commutes and gives poor people in those towns a wider ‘working radius’ without having to buy a car and while remaining homeowners – which golly 90% of them own. And not with subsidies like here. Their munis mainly fund themselves with a true land tax. Which is a big reason they think of infrastructure in geographic terms not as some trough for peeps/corps. Makes them smarter re capital v variable costs as well.

        Estonia is proof that the classical liberal attitude to govt (rather than kneejerk-anti) – and yes land taxes – works.

  16. Taxpayer funded transportation is a human right, add it to the list.

    1. It’s in The Declaration of Independence, right?

  17. You know what would be more transformative? Free SUVs for all. No more waiting around for the bus. No more buses holding up traffic. If you needed a job you could drive for Uber or Lyft. If you lost your house you could stay in your SUV. Probably cheaper than a lot of public transportation plans too.

  18. Get to work SLAVES — the ‘problem passenger’ is “entitled/deserves” a free ride.

    Get to work SLAVES – the ‘problem student’ is “entitled/deserves” a free education.

    Get to work SLAVES – the ‘problem child’ is “entitled/deserves” free ice cream.

    What do you mean the USA has “problems”??? We gave our “problems” a FREE RIDE!!!

  19. Kansas City wants everyone except bus riders to pay for bus rides.

    More accurately speaking, Kansas City wants everyone, including bus riders, to pay for bus rides. They pay taxes, too.

    Feigenbaum also argues that transportation—regardless of mode—should follow a “users pay, users benefit” model, where riders pay as close to the full cost of their ride as possible.

    I’m going to take a wild guess here and assume the transportation wonks at the “Reason Foundation” don’t extend this principle to private automobile usage.

    Both cities eventually abandoned fare-free transit, citing overcrowding, lost revenue, and an increased number of “problem passenger” incidents.

    Victims of their own success, in other words, as well as entrenched biases that ignore car subsidies while attacking transit subsidies. Like we see here!

    According to a 2019 survey of transit riders in seven cities from TransitCenter, a transit advocacy group, most riders—including most low-income riders—said that improved service was a higher priority than lowering or eliminating fares.

    It’s a strangely-chosen false choice you’re presenting here. (Perhaps not so strange, insofar as it supports a pre-ordained conclusion.) Transit is useful to people only if it works. Of course they would prefer service improvements (and greater frequency, and more well-knit networks, and…) to fare cuts. No one wants to pay less for more unreliable bus or train trips. But that hardly means that fully subsidizing transit is a bad idea.

    The point of mass transit is to provide transportation alternatives to privately-owned cars driving on subsidized street, highway, and bridge networks. The degree of subsidy should be viewed as an investment whose benefit is measured in terms of reduced congestion, lower levels of air and noise pollution, and broader economic benefit, as employers and businesses expand their respective “catchment areas” for employees and customers.

    Thus, reducing or eliminating transit fares can make a lot of sense – but the return on investment depends also on smart design of transit networks. Free buses can be great, but they have to get people where they want to go, when they want to get there. That is where most transit systems in the U.S. fail – you make a bus or a trolley free, but all it does is run up and down a commercial corridor or connect some hotels to a tourist attraction. Those are wastes of money and resources. But a truly integrated and interconnected, free transit network that is smartly managed as demand grows can be a great boon for a municipality.

  20. John Cuyle started down the road I would have taken. Fares in Kansas City account for 8% of the cost of running the transit system. Many people–public school and university students, for example, already ride free. Seniors ride for half price. So the number of people impacted is not as great as we might think. Additionally, there are costs associated with collecting and accounting for fares. Add to that the fact that Kansas City has and is doling out millions to subsidize corporate moves downtown (the latest one being $62 million to get a company to move a few miles across the state line) and building parking garages for luxury apartment buildings, among other giveaways, and it seems to me that giving people who actually need a freebie something once in a while is not such a bad idea.

  21. Should be free for old-age people.

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