Lessons for MetroSorry for not posting late last week. I was on a business trip to NYC for a conference and had extremely erratic internet access. Right before I left, I was disappointed to see that Metro is raising fares in the face of a worsening economy. While their logic of cost inflation is fair, and supported by the Chronicle, the fact remains that a scaled-back/delayed light rail plan such as I recently proposed would give them the budget room to hold the line on fares while radically increasing commuter services to meet the surge in demand. In 2003 Metro was facing a surplus, with plenty of money and little demand for commuter services, so it was decided to focus that surplus (and much more) towards expanding the core light rail network. In the new reality of expensive gas (albeit temporarily backing off with the recession) and a huge spike in demand for commuter service, that surplus would be better deployed holding (or even rescinding) fares while increasing P&R commuter services, including maybe a little commuter rail on freight tracks.
The NY Times had an good story recently on Rochester's transit system, with some interesting lessons I think Metro could learn from:
At a time when public transportation systems around the country are struggling with soaring fuel costs and pinched budgets, the bus system in Rochester has done something that few others would contemplate: This month, it lowered its single-ride fare.Is it too much to ask for a little learning and adaptation by our public agencies? Take a poll. Better yet, take a vote. I'm sure the results would reflect the changed needs and desires of Houston's citizens: delay some light rail, more commuter services now, and stable or lower fares in the face of a looming recession.
But as economic hard times have reduced tax revenues and increased demand for government transit subsidies, its experiences may provide valuable lessons for larger cities that are planning fare increases, like New York, Minneapolis and Cleveland.
The Rochester system, which expects to run a surplus for the third year in a row, has been able to reduce its one-ride fare in part by eliminating some low-trafficked routes, avoiding debt and aggressively raising revenues from other sources. The fare fell to $1 from $1.25 on Sept. 1.
It has, for instance, reached agreements with the local public school district, colleges and private businesses to help subsidize its operations, warning in some cases that certain routes might be cut if ridership did not increase or a local business did not help cover the cost. In recent years, income from these agreements has equaled or exceeded the income from regular passenger fares.All the while, ridership has increased by 7.4 percent over the last two years in an area where the population has remained stable. And while only about 1 out of 6 customers pays the single-ride fare (the majority use daily, weekly or monthly passes), the transit service expects further ridership gains now with the fare cut in place.
...the accomplishments in Rochester are notable. Efficiency has improved, with buses driving fewer miles, carrying more passengers and generating more revenue in fares. The transit agency has installed a satellite locator system in its buses to track whether they are on schedule. Next year, it will install electronic signs in some bus stops to tell riders when the next bus will arrive.
...the Rochester authority has no debt
...The authority has banked its surpluses and now has $19 million in cash reserves.
...The Rochester authority has also helped itself by working out subsidy agreements with local businesses and educational institutions.