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