Fare-Free Transit Findings

28 Jun

Washington has long been a leader in fare-free transit policy. In 1987, Island County became the first community to offer a complimentary bus service for its residents. 20 years later, the free transit system is still in place.

A number of communities nationwide have since looked into the prospect of free transit services in order to reduce road congestion, use of single occupancy vehicles, increase mobility and make better use of public resources. Yet in many of these cases, a fare free program was short-lived or resulted in negative externalities.

What makes Island County’s model successful? Could this system function elsewhere?

A report on Transit Ridership Efficiency as a Function of Fares by Gerrit R. Moore concentrates on rider performance and farebox recovery parameters for counties within Washington state. Listing each county’s operating costs, farebox revenue, ridership, population, population served and median income, the report provides a much-needed look at the ingredients needed for a transit-free system to successfully operate: strong support in a relatively small community.

Proponents of fare-free transit argue that it eliminates the need for complicated fare pricing policies, driver disputes over fares and serves a wider audience. According to Moore’s presentation, Island Transit had about 543,000 rides in 1994. Had fares been charged, ridership would have dropped to 15,800 rides. The benefits of free transit stem from the belief that transportation is a basic and necessary public good that should be available for all member of society regardless of income, age or reduced physical abilities. Moore argues that in collecting fares, Island County would have lost money if fares were charged. He cites fare boxes, which cost an average for $4,500 each, as well as personnel costs for two state employees that must count the revenue every night, as mandated by state law.

Ridership across the nation is at an all-time high yet 85% of transit agencies nationwide will undergo service reductions and eliminations over the next few years. When the price of oil peaked in 2009, ridership increased and buses became a viable choice for commuters with other transportation options. Challenges to free transportation include crowding, possible misuse by some social groups and increased stops due to the fact that people that would otherwise walk shorter distances will catch the bus. In essence, crowding will likely generate more ride complaints, but the removal of fare boxes is expected to reduce conflicts between drivers and problem riders. Similarly, gains in average boarding times will likely be offset by higher ridership, which may lead to slightly increased aggregate boarding times.

Free transit has been successful in other Washington communities, including Chelan-Douglas County, Mason County and Skagit County. Many people in this area depend on this service for their daily commute. Although larger systems such as King County Metro refuse to forego fare revenue, communities with free transit support the service through local, federal and state tax revenue. In the case of Island County, the free buses are financed through a local sales tax equal to 6 cents on every $10.

News for week of 06 21, 2010

28 Jun

Rethinking Public Transit

25 Jun

Have an idea for making public transportation more efficient or enjoyable?

Slate is calling all transportation creatives to use their voice and vote for reader initiatives that would reduce traffic congestion, minimize environmental impacts and allow people to travel in a systematic and safe manner.

Development ideas submitted so far include rethinking land use policies, parking restrictions and establishing national transportation investment priorities. Other submissions focused more on cost-efficiency call for better use of buses, rethinking the need for bigger rail systems and establishing bike rental stalls – or laundromats – in an attempt to improve the levels of ridership in a cost-efficient manner.

Fare Free Transit

22 Jun

Fare-free transit has been implemented in a number of settings in Washington and beyond. Some examples of communities that have free transit systems include Microsoft and Island County.

A 1994 study by WSDOT examined the potential and problems associated with fare-free transit policy and found that fare-free policy does make a difference and that smaller communities in particular benefit from policies promoting free transit. The study found a strong link between free fares and increased ridership:

The cost of adopting fare-free policy is minimal. Half of the transit systems in Washington return less than a 10 percent fare box recovery rate. Our analysis demonstrates that once the costs of collecting fares are deducted (usually from 2-7% of operating costs), little, if any, net revenue is generated. The gains in ridership from fare-free policy would increase at least 25-50%. New fare-free systems have found ridership to be three to four times that predicted under a fare policy.

Much success of fare-free transit systems rests on institutional commitment and a well-defined strategy that accounts for the increase crowding on vehicles. The study stated that “fare-free policy has the potential to either improve or detract from the quality of transit operating service, depending on both the geographic context (size of the community) and institutional context (degree of commitment to the fare-free policy from management and the rest of the agency).” The success of fare-free transit relies on clear objectives, organizational commitment, communication with the community, education programs and increased security systems to handle problem riders and the substantial increase in ridership.

News for the week of 6-11-2010

18 Jun

From our Twitter Feed:

Related Metro News:

  • Crosscut.com: Can Metro Transit make the tough calls?
    In addition to the serious fiscal problem, Metro has a big political problem. That’s because existing policy direction — embraced years ago by the King County Council and the Regional Transit Committee.
  • The SunBreak | News | King County Metro Explores Buses Costing …
    With King County Metro looking at a huge, hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars deficit over the next few years, everyone’s donning their bean-counter hats. 70 percent of Metro’s operating revenue comes from sales taxes, … Ideas for 2011 include raising fares to $2.50-$3.00, eliminating off-peak discounts, and ending free transfers. A fare of $3.00 seems aggressive, in that Metro reports a cost-per-boarding of $3.67 and cost-per-passenger-mile of just 80 cents.
  • Crosscut.com: The Metro task force gingerly starts down a long road
    The latest test of our famous local “stakeholder process” asks: Can 25 stakeholders define a new mission and course for the King County Metro transit system? The exercise kicked off last night (April 20)

Metro Wage Levels

16 Jun

Metro has some of the highest top pay for drivers compared to other bus systems.

King County bus drivers are among the highest paid in the nation, according to a Crosscut article published in early June. Information posted by Metro, the county bus system, indicate that experienced drivers at the top of the wage scale made $28.47 an hour, not including benefits. According to the article, the five-year growth rate for Metro’s top wage scale between 2004 and 2009 was 3.9% per year, outpacing growth in the Consumer Price Index.

via Metro Wage Levels.

News for week 5-28-2010

4 Jun

Related Metro News:

  • Bus fares to increase Tuesday
    By June 2011, fares will be consolidated so all adult fares will be $2.50 for trips within a county, equal to the rate for Pierce Transit or all 2011 King County Metro Transit peak service, and $3.50 for all trips that cross into …
  • ST Express Fares Up Tuesday – Seattle Transit Blog
    Perhaps to better match King County Metro’s senior fare for two zones? Reply to this comment. Comment by Michael Arnold. 2010-05-28 20:33:45. This is great, I love it! Once the entire region has fair standardization, it’s going to help …
  • Metro Transit loses $3.2 million per year to fare evasion
    PubliCola had the scoop on a King County Metro report showing how much fare evasion costs the transit agency. More media are reporting Wednesday on it.
  • Is Seattle’s downtown Ride Free Area in jeopardy?
    Seattle’s downtown Ride Free Area is again under the microscope as transit officials examine how much it contributes to a multi-million-dollar problem with fare evasion. King County Metro Transit officials also have sat down with city …
  • Crosscut.com: Can Metro Transit make the tough calls?
    In addition to the serious fiscal problem, Metro has a big political problem. That’s because existing policy direction — embraced years ago by the King County Council and the Regional Transit Committee for a situation nothing like the …. Fares would have to approximately quadruple to recover 100%. I doubt you’d find many people who’d go from paying $5/day to $20/day to take a crowded bus. Instead, they’d be flocking to the freeways, whose drivers are subsidized as well …
  • Why Vancouver buses get more riders than Seattle’s
    $1.50, youth rate of $1, and a senior-disabled fare of 50 cents. Also, on June 13, Sunday service will be suspended, and certain weekday trips will be reduced. King County Metro Transit increased fares earlier this year. …
  • Metro’s policy on ORCA transfers in Ride Free Area
    Both Sound Transit and King County Metro Transit are aware of the problem, but they’re taking different approaches in addressing it. I reported Sound Transit’s solution last week and need to clarify what Metro’s policy is. …
  • RapidRide A, other Fall Service Changes Now Official – Seattle 
    RapidRide has of course been in the works for a long time, but the King County Council last week formally approved the October 2nd Metro service change, which eliminates the venerable route 174 and replaces it with RapidRide A from TIB …
  • King County Metro changes take effect Jan. 1 | What to know 
    With the new year just around the corner, King County Metro Transit is alerting riders of several changes that will take effect beginning Jan. 1, 2010. Those changes will affect transit fares, pass products and how riders transfer …
  • Feds Propose $2 Billion for Transit Operations « PubliCola
    Both King County Metro and Sound Transit would qualify under those criteria. Metro faced a $213 million shortfall in the 2010-2011 biennium, which it closed, in part, by making service cuts and raising fares, and Sound Transit faces a …
  • Community Transit: Fare Increase June 1; Memorial Day on Sunday 
    Everett Transit, King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit bus service will continue to operate on Sundays and holidays. Community Transit is committed to restoring Sunday and holiday service as soon as economically feasible. …
  • Ride Free Area Future in Doubt? – Seattle Transit Blog
    King County Metro Transit officials also have sat down with city officials to revisit an outdated agreement under which Seattle pays to offset fares that would otherwise be collected inside the zone. “That may lead us to determine to …
  • Sound Transit Board approves Fare increase
    Zone boundaries within King County will be eliminated. Adult fares will go up by $0.50 in June 2011, with the exception that there will be no fare change for trips that are currently two zones trips within one county. … Yes, I am a driver for Seattle’s King County Metro. Videos? Yes, over at YouTube, the link is in the “my other areas” section below. Videos is how this started for me. I actually tried out the camera, recorded a few things, and some of you loved it. …
  • Sound Transit ends paper transfers, Metro raise fares – Issaquah 
    King County Metro bus riders will notice is a 25-cent increase in the standard fare for adult and senior/disabled fares, beginning Jan. 1. Youth fares will remain unchanged. The new price for a one-way, two-zone trip to Seattle during …

Hello world!

3 Jun

Greetings! Welcome to the Northwest Economic Policy Seminar Blog. Here you will find news, reports and other information on public policy issues affecting the Pacific Northwest. We have been up and running since July 2008 and have since addressed a range of topics, including the recent headline-grabbing passage of Seattle’s “Green Fee” (which aims to place a 20 cent tax on all disposable paper and plastic bags, as well as banning styrofoam food and drink containers). You can view our analysis on the tax here.

We are also currently looking into the possibility of a free transit system throughout the greater Seattle area. Why? Because each year, according to the 2006 Metro Transit Facts posted at the county’s official website, King County Metro generates a mere $87,929,462 in revenue while spending a whopping $433,108,247 on various expenses.

We ask that you review our reports, letters, and articles to develop your own well-formulated opinion on these matters. Thank you and enjoy browing. Should you have any submissions or inquiries, please feel free to contact us.