The Case for Free Public Transit

It’s a trend that Connexionz US Sales Director, Brain Garrett, supports.

“In my view there are three quite compelling arguments in favour of fare-free public transit,” he says.

“It’s better for your pocket, it’s better for the environment and it’s much better when it comes to the question equity – can everyone who needs to ride public transit – and most are low-income earners – afford to do so?

“We certainly hope so because it’s part of our role at Connexionz to develop systems and technologies that make transit as accessible and convenient as possible, especially for those who may be disadvantaged or whose transport options are limited.

“Yes, we need to get people out of their cars for environmental reasons, but we also need to make other, cleaner transport options readily available, and importantly, affordable.”

Added to the advantages of fare-free travel, he says, are the benefits to transit agencies which have to fork out for hugely expensive fare collection systems and technologies and then spend even more time and money collecting fares that go nowhere near offsetting their operating costs – in fact, the opposite is true.

Brian says fare box recovery usually only amounts to between 25 and 35 per cent of an agency’s operating expenses, and many probably incur more costs collecting fares than they would if they opted for a fare-free model.

“You have to question the wisdom of that.”

Brian points to what General Manager of Valley Transit (a Connexionz customer) Angie Peters says about her fare structure.

She says Valley Transit’s costs per passenger on its average five-mile loop fixed route are around $17.00 now.  The fare per passenger is .50c. [refer to related article]

In support of the fare-free model, data shows that as more Americans migrate to larger cities, public transportation use is up. Since 1997, public transportation ridership has increased by 21 per cent.

The New York Times estimates that 100 cities around the world offer free public transit, with many of them in Europe.  But recently, cities across the United States have begun to consider it as well.

Olympia, Wash., implemented a fare-free trial after studying results of a similar project run by Connexionz customer Corvallis, Ore.  That approach generated a two thirds increase in ridership over time.

And Olympia saw similar results.  After just one month of fare-free travel that city saw a 20 per cent increase on ridership compared to the previous year, a number equivalent to over 60,000 more riders.

Even a long time Connexionz technology customer, Corvallis Transit, was the largest transit agency in the Pacific Northwest to eliminate fare collection systemwide when it made the change in 2011. In its first year of fareless operation, Corvallis bus system ridership increased nearly 38 per cent, according to the city government.


Related Article

Angie Peters: Passionate about Public Transit as a Community Service

DASH will become the first transit agency in the D.C. area to end fares



Angie Peters:  Passionate about public transit as a community service

Like many of her industry counterparts around the country, Angie Peters readily admits she fell in love with the transit industry years ago.

For her, public transit is an integral and vital community service that benefits people from all walks of life and it should therefore be highly valued as a public service.

And she brings that ethos and mindset to her role as General Manager of Valley Transit, a Connexionz customer headquartered in Walla Walla, Washington.

With a staff of 52, Valley Transit services an area with a population of 50,000.  Pre-Covid-19 it supported 700,000 passenger rides a year across 8 routes covering Walla Walla and College Place that were serviced by 19 diesel and four electric buses, and 10 CNG and four demand-and-ride vehicles.

Ridership is now well down as a result of the pandemic and despite incremental increases in 2021, isn’t expected to return to ‘normal’ levels until around 2025.

Hailing from a rural Oregon town of just 180 people (“we had a wheat field across the road from my school”), Angie has a private sector background in operations management and logistics, skills that she finds very relatable to the transit sector.

And as a dyed-in-the-wool public transit supporter (albeit a relative newbie to the industry, she admits) she’s seen a trend of many transit authorities move to a fare-free model. This has gained popularity during the pandemic, when many systems (including Valley Transit) went fare free as a safety mitigation related to close contact with people and/or money.

She acknowledges this will mean more government funding, but she sees this as an issue the industry and government needs to deal with collaboratively as part of recognizing the value of public transit to the community.

“We are seeing more and more smaller authorities adopt this strategy,” she says.  “And I can definitely see why.

“Transit is a public service just like the police, or your local library or the fire department; you don’t pay for those public services and nor, following that train of thought, should you have to pay for public transit.”

She adds to the logic of a fare-free model but citing the economics of public transit.  Valley Transit’s costs per passenger on its average five-mile loop fixed route are around $17.00 now.  The fare per passenger is .50c.

“If we are already heavily subsidizing the trip there is very little ROI in fare collection.” she asks.  “Why spend the money and the staff time to collect a fare that doesn’t cover anything useful?

“Especially as we are not in it for the profit.  We’re here to provide a public service to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to travel options for a variety of reasons, including health issues, financial constraints and mobility issues.”

Another industry issue she sees as needing urgent attention is that of investing in technology.

She says the industry does a good job of the basics, but hasn’t always kept up with the developments in technology that other industries and sectors have leveraged successfully to their advantage and to the benefit of their customers.

“Real-time GPS information should be a standard tool right across the sector by now,” she says, “but it isn’t.  We have some providers who don’t even do ‘static’ information capture. This is due largely to the need for staff capacity to create General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) files, and budget capacity to install hardware that can provide real-time updates on vehicle position.”

Angie, who says she’s lucky to work with a sophisticated intelligent transit solutions provider in Connexionz, believes tech, upskilling across the transit industry – and early adoption of new technology – will be a battle, but an important one to win.

“If most of us are here to support and benefit our riders, and to make the rider experience more pleasant and efficient, then we need to be using all the technology that’s available to us to do that, and in my experience of working with Connexionz, there’s plenty of tech that will generate tangible outcomes.”

As part of their role with Valley Transit, Connexionz also hosts the iTransitNW website, a regional platform for trip planning in southeast Washington and northeast Oregon.

The site services eight transit providers, offering both static and dynamic information flows.

Connexionz started working with Valley Transit in 2017.

We asked Angie what she does in her spare time and got an interesting insight into the pastime of creating food pun cartoons (google it!).  When she’s not indulging that particular passion, she can be found with her partner, and her ‘furbaby’ ‘Theo’, a two year old chihuahua, beagle, dachshund cross, lovingly referred to as a “Chauweagle.”

Angie’s furbaby “Theo – a Chauweagle”










Related Articles:

The case for free public transit – exploring a popular topic

DASH will become the first transit agency in the D.C. area to end fares

Say hi to Connexionz staffer, Danielle

Connexion has a head office in Santa Clarita (Cal.) where its operations and delivery teams are based, and a sales and support team based in Denver (Col.).  But we also have a development team based in Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island.

New Zealanders are often called Kiwis (we are named after a flightless bird) and in this issue we introduce you to one of our Kiwi team, Danielle Whanau, who works as a Tests and Q&A Analyst.

Tell us about yourself, Danielle

My name is Danielle Whanau.  I was born in Christchurch where we had that massive earthquake about a decade ago and I’ve been raised in a few different places around New Zealand.  Dad was in the NZ Army.

For those of you with a geography interest, NZ also has a North Island, a Stewart Island (right at the bottom of the South Island) and the Chatham Islands (about 800km or 500 miles) off the South Island’s east coast.  NZ is in that part of the world colloquially called ‘Down Under’, and it’s where the Lord of the Rings films were made.

Growing up I played any sport I could – rugby (our national sport), softball, squash, athletics, swimming and touch rugby.  But I was most successful at basketball, representing the province of Canterbury and the NZ Koru team.

Nowadays I prefer to do cost-free activities like running, biking, and hiking around our beautiful scenic hills. I have a secret passion for organising “things”, be it kitchens, bedrooms, garages – I love taking a mess and making it look tidy.

What do you do in your spare time?

As you can tell, I enjoy being active, seeing and experiencing new places, catching up with friends at a nice cafe or eatery and travelling.  But my favourite thing to do is spend time with my family. We often have family dinners that are filled with good food, good banter, and plenty of laughs (mostly at my expense as I can be a bit of a clown).  I guess you could say I enjoy making people laugh. 

What do you like about working for Connexionz?

I like that I am learning a lot about a bunch of new things. I’m a big believer in surrounding myself with bright minds so I can learn new soft and technical skills while hopefully also adding my uniqueness to the company.

Do you have a personal philosophy?

I think my biggest personal philosophy is treating people the way I’d want to be treated and meeting them where they’re at. I try to foster this culture wherever I go as I believe you get the best out of people when they feel cared about and respected.

Thanks, Danielle.  We’ll feature another of our Connexionz team in our next issue.


Related Articles:

New Employee Highlight: Paul Stevens

Connexionz transit technology sees fast growth in sales and operations

August 20th, 2021

With increasing sales, smarter transit solutions provider, Connexionz ( has opened a new sales and marketing office in the heart of tech friendly Denver, Colorado. The 2nd US office for Connexionz will host a growing team of dedicated business development staff.

Connexionz US Sales Director, Brian Garrett, says the business growth has been driven by numerous competitive wins in recent months, plus existing clients purchasing additional product options/features, and recommitments from clients for service and maintenance on current bus technology systems.

“It’s been a very busy and productive 2021 for us so far, with new systems being installed in California, Wisconsin, Washington, Tennessee, North Carolina, Oregon, and Puerto Rico,” Garrett says.

The company has increased sales staff threefold while also expanding its project management, support, and vehicle technician teams.

He says among the company’s recent wins in the deployment of tracking and dispatch system for a 35-vehicle transit agency in the City of Racine, Wisconsin. “Racine is an exciting win for us, partly because the competition was so robust, but we also knew that our established CAD/AVL and tracking technology and experience integrating with Automatic Passenger Counting (APC) systems would make a real difference for both Racine’s transit team and the passengers they serve, “Garrett says.

Also new to the Connexionz portfolio is a project designed to enable Vallejo (CA) based transit agency, SolTrans, to undertake ‘platform loading’, a process that requires a highly accurate solution.  SolTrans, an agency with nearly 60 fleet vehicles completes over 1.4 million passenger trips per year.

The company selected Connexionz from among seven competitors, saying they know of only one other company providing anything like the Connexionz platform loading system.  “We’ve done this specific kind of dynamic transit center work before so were well placed to develop and implement the kind of specific innovative solutions SolTrans required,” Garrett says.

Connexionz continues to increase bandwidth while bidding on important integrated transportation technology projects that improve lives for millions of public transit riders across the globe.

iTransitNW regional real-time passenger information network continues to see popularity among rural transit providers

In 2018, Valley Transit management in Walla Walla Washington began a project procuring a real-time technology system which was regional in nature and collaborative in design. After a highly competitive process, Connexionz was selected to develop the iTransitNW system. The initial system managed and supported seven partner agency fleets, with potential to scale and link up to 18 separate transport operators across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Interest in the regional system continues to grow. In the last year, Connexionz has welcomed cooperative purchases off the contract from Grant County Oregon (People Mover), City of Pendleton, Asotin County PTBA & Lewiston Transit System, and Kayak Public Transit; each launching their own system in early 2021.

Angie Peters, Valley Transit General Manager says, “Prior to the iTransitNW project there was not a comprehensive resource for any potential passenger to use to plan trips or discover services in nearby towns. The regional system has made a difference in helping passengers understand available services and connections. This technology is extremely impactful in rural areas where service frequency is lower.”

“The cooperative purchase contract which continues to see popularity in the region has been very simple to buy in to due to the range of products and services available for purchase.”

Brian Garrett, Connexionz Sales Director says: “The benefit for rural agencies is the appeal of purchasing into an ecosystem that is already in place. There are numerous options available to member agencies such as static GTFS integration onto the portal or a complete implementation featuring APC, AVA, and multimedia. The state transit departments have indeed been supportive of funding projects under this contract which has proven to economically deliver the latest transit technology solutions to rural agencies.”

Connexionz looks forward to continuing their effort to grow the iTransitNW project. Angie Peters added, “Connexionz is committed to being a good partner, and we have definitely seen growth over our relationship.”

Connexionz network continues to expand with successful agency launches and sustained growth


Connexionz has proven to its customers that it is a leading and capable provider of intelligent transit solutions for essential passenger communication, real-time bus load management, and service monitoring, even during the tough pandemic economy. In the last 14 months, Connexionz has launched 6 new systems for small and medium transit agencies.  Among those agencies are Yamhill County, Oregon and Stanislaus County, California.

For Yamhill County Transit, Connexionz delivered an economical approach for a real-time system: Software for vehicle operators along with fixed route management software for the dispatch office, deployed onto tablets already owned by the agency. Yamhill purchased the system for a capital expense of less than US$100k for nearly 20 buses and launched in late 2019.  Although Yamhill’s initial purchase was small, they are growing the system by adding integrated ADA compliant automatic annunciation systems and engine diagnostics to new buses being delivered by Complete Coach Works in early 2021. 

Cynthia Thompson, manager for Yamhill County Transit says, “We were really pleased at the speed of which Connexionz was able to deliver the real-time and dispatch system for our agency.  Connexionz listened to our needs in relation to providing our own hardware.  This has allowed us to deploy a system at a great value while having local hardware support and quick swap spare units.” Cynthia says, “the Connexionz system has been fantastic and an outstanding tool for customers.  It increases customers’ sense of YCT as a reliable and dependable service.”

A much larger scope of technology was successfully delivered in March 2020 to Stanislaus Regional Transit in California.  START were provided a fully integrated intelligent transit system across nearly 50 fleet vehicles, including real-time systems, dispatch software, multimedia content, and automatic passenger counting alongside partners Urban Transit Association, which provides full NTD data support. Connexionz delivered this system nearly four months ahead of scheduleStanislaus Transit Manager Letti Ortiz shared her feedback on the solution’s effectiveness for their operations, saying “The system has been really useful for passenger engagement, whereby now passengers are utilizing SMS systems for accurate arrival times. It has saved our customers time.  The onboard multimedia systems have been very helpful because they are keeping passengers informed and meeting Title VI requirements without the clutter of physical flyers or posters inside the bus.  We’re happy with the Connexionz systems and the quick deployment and dedicated support we continue to receive.”

These successful projects, along with the company’s enduring service and maintenance programs, enabled Connexionz to grow its operation in the United States by bringing on board a new Operations and Project Manager and securing a lease on a larger office space in Santa Clarita, CA. Griffin Lauerman joined Connexionz in June 2020 with a strong background in Project Management. Griffin has hit the ground running with Connexionz, developing good relationships with the team and customers, and taking on management of a major project delivery in the Tennessee region.  

Connexionz Smart Transit systems will continue to provide mission critical services to essential transit operations during this difficult time.  “Now, more than ever, transit technology services which connect riders and agencies are necessary.  With buses running at lower capacities, technologies like Connexionz Real-Time load monitor allow agencies to adhere to local restrictions and keep serving riders who depend on them,” Said Brian Garrett, US Sales Director.  “Even with ridership down, we’re seeing a resurgence of agencies who are taking time to invest in these types of technologies, holding out faith that we can eventually get our people back on the bus.  Connexionz is happy to remain focused on serving small and medium agencies, as we always have”.

SWTA Annual Conference & EXPO

When: February 23 – 26, 2020

Where: Shreveport Hilton Hotel and Convention Center, LA

More info:

New Employee Highlight: Paul Stevens

Connectionz is proud to welcome Paul Stevens to the team. Learn more about him through the quick interview below.

Professional and academic experience:

Armed with a Diploma of Photojournalism I headed into an early background of developing an automated chemical processing plant, through to owning and running a software company over many years. My solution was implemented around the world and is still in use today.

Focus at Connexionz:

My main focus initially is to create an environment which will allow Connexionz to design and develop the next generation of intelligent transport solutions.

Why you are happy to be with the team:

We have a great team of people that are passionate about the technology space we are in. Moving between software, firmware, and hardware takes me back to the early days of my career – Great memories!

Share some of your hobbies and any personal tidbits:

I became the youngest qualified referee in England at the age of 12. Later on, in my teens, I represented Hong Kong at 2 Golf World Championships. Following on from that we emigrated to New Zealand where I found the world of endurance adventures. Be that running 100 miles over mountains or being by myself and finding unmarked tracks in the Southern Alps then climbing to the high point and skiing back down.

What does ‘mobility’ mean to you?:

The ability to move or be moved freely and easily.