Fare wars at MetroYou may have read in the Chronicle about the tiff between the Mayor and the Chairman of Metro over whether or not to consider eliminating fares. I've been a proponent of fare reduction or elimination for a while to maximize ridership and reduce traffic congestion, especially considering that fares are less than 20% of revenues at Metro (Bill King also had an op-ed advocating this a while back, predicting a possible 50% increase in ridership). The reality is that it would definitely postpone or eliminate much of the light rail plan without that revenue to cover the huge capital costs. But here is the argument on plus side, courtesy of my friend John:
- Fares are only a small part of a budget that is mostly subsidy from the 1% sales tax.
- The real measure of Metro's efficiency should be how many people they move per public dollar spent.
- Eliminating fares would directly encourage ridership because of the lower price (and 'Free!' gives an extra bump).
- Eliminating fares would also speed up trips by eliminating the delays as people pay during boarding, further encouraging ridership and allowing more rides for the same budget.
- Eliminating fares would reduce expenses for fare collection, managing those rider cards, dealing with transfers, etc.
- Thus, there is a plausible case for elimination of fares resulting in an increase in rides per dollar spent.
John concluded his email, "Obviously the actual strength of the argument depends on how the numbers work out, but it should totally be looked at." And I agree. I'd like to see an independent third-party - like maybe the Mayor's Metro committees - ballpark what might be possible with the elimination of fares and what the benefits might be. I think we could keep the Universities line, convert the other lines to free and frequent signature buses, and still be able to accommodate the increased demand from fare elimination, especially on express commuter buses - which would also reduce freeway traffic congestion. The benefits may be well worth the cost.