W/S Open Dialogue: Should public transport be free? (v. 1.0)

World Streets is pleased to announce publication in the months and maybe more ahead of  a series of articles and other media to introduce and investigate this idea in-depth in these pages.  We would ask our readers to bear in mind that there is a great deal more to this approach than may at first meet the eye. So let’s see what we get when we stretch our minds together on this perhaps surprisingly important and, we believe, ultimately practical sustainable city concept.

If you have any thoughts on this we invite you to get in touch via email – editor@worldstreets.org, Skype: newmobility, Tel. +331 7550 3788.  For some background on how we organise articles for publication, we invite you to have a look at https://worldstreets.wordpress.com/about/editorial-team/editorial-guidelines-2/.

We look forward to the discussions and your contributions with genuine interest.

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But don’t stop there

Most consulted W/S articles on FPT since 2009 (And not over yet!):

* No FTP without SCR  (Systematic Car Reductions)

* To support Tallinn FTP project, W/S readers comment on FPT

* Free Public Transport! (But hey, are we talking about the same thing?)

* What is the right price for Free Public Transport?

* Free-for-all: Organizations supporting free public transport

* All W/S coverage of “Free” “Public Transport”

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About the editor:

eb-about the editor - 9mar14


3 thoughts on “W/S Open Dialogue: Should public transport be free? (v. 1.0)

  1. Sure it should be. And I guess it is worth discussing in order to get our brains going and thinking about new concepts. But from the practical standpoint of making it happen, it’s a nonstarter. We ain’t got the dough to do it. At least we don’t in cities where there is a great deal of transit ridership, such as NYC, Chicago, Washington, or San Francisco.

    SF did a study a few years ago, but I have never been able to find the actual study, that came to the conclusion that the cost of getting new equipment and additional drivers was unaffordable, given their budget.

    On the other hand, there are examples of areas within larger systems, such as the Fareless Square in Portland, where other objectives–congestion reduction, livability, new development and land use intensification–where it works. But to do so, there is a transit withholding tax on wages, assessed to employers. The fareless square in Seattle is under fire by King County, because the City of Seattle only pays a couple million dollars/year to King County Metro for lost revenue, far less than the cost of providing the service.

    Then there are neighborhood-oriented bus services such as the Orbit service in Tempe. The routes serve multiple neighborhoods in Tempe, and start/end at the Tempe Transportation Center, which has connections to regional bus and light rail service. The Orbit service is free–the regional services are not–paid for by local sales taxes. Declining sales tax revenues have led to serious cutbacks in service. They haven’t started charging, because the initial cost of buying fare collection systems is prohibitive, not to mention budget for the cost of processing fares.

    While I think it’s reasonable to develop proposals for certain types of free transit, e.g., I am fond of the Orbit concept, which I call intra-neighborhood/tertiary transit service, I am not going to spend my time advocating for entirely free transit.

    Instead, I am more interested in pointing out to people how much subsidy is provided to motor vehicles–at least in the U.S

  2. While it is admirable to say that public transport should be a free public service, it is also well known that we get what we pay for. And cost is not the only thing preventing people from using public transport – the problem is that public transport simply does not meet the transportation needs of a large portion of the population. And making those services free will not change that.

    Furthermore, people tend to value things which they pay for, and they are less likely to ‘respect’ things which are available for free. The idea of paying for services is even catching on in the poorest places.

  3. Readers of this site might want to read a recent report issued by the Transit Cooperative Research Program entitled “Implementation and Outcomes of Fare-Free Transit Systems.” The report confirms the comments made by Richard Layman in terms of the difficulties of establishing fare-free policies in larger urban areas. There are at least 40 fare-free transit systems in the United States, but they all fall into three categories of communities: Small Urban/Rural, Resort, or University-dominated. In these communities, fare-free transit makes great sense due to either extremely low fares collected, or the need to be able to board large numbers of people quickly. However, in urban areas, farebox revenue makes up a substantial portion of the total revenue the system relies on. In the case of San Francisco, based on a report completed for the Mayor by Sharon Greene and Associates, the SFMTA would have to come up with almost $112 million dollars to replace lost fares annually, another $72 million for additional service that would be required to handle the additional demand that fare-free service would create (again annually), and another $512 million in capital funds to buy the extra equipment that would be needed. Portland, Oregon looked at the possibilities in 1999 and found that they would need an additional $49 million in operating funds annually. Especially during tight budgetary times, there are no other sources available to replace the lost fares. The largest communities in terms of population that offer fare-free service are the large island of Hawaii and Indian River County, Florida. Both have populations of 175,000. The fare-free system that carries the largest number of passengers
    is Chapel Hill Transit in North Carolina that carries 7,500,000 passengers annually. The research also found no other city around the world that offers fare-free transit that had a population exceeding 200,000. At this point, it appears fare-free transit makes great sense in certain smaller communities, but is not currently economically feasible in larger communities. In addition, smaller communities will tend to have less issues with transient passengers or overly-rowdy teenagers.


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