All-Door Boarding Works. Why Won’t the MTA Commit to It on Every Bus?

The results are in: M86 buses are moving 8 to 11 percent faster since SBS implementation. Image: DOT
The results are in: M86 buses are moving 8 to 11 percent faster since the implementation of all-door boarding. Image: DOT

Buses on the M86 are moving faster and people have noticed — ridership on the crosstown route is on the upswing again after declining for years.

The improved performance is due mainly to two changes the MTA and DOT launched last year: off-board fare collection with all-door boarding, and “queue jumps” at two locations that let buses move up to the front of the line at traffic lights. With faster boarding and less time in traffic, buses are traveling eight to 11 percent faster, and ridership is up about 10 percent from the previous year, according to the agencies [PDF].

These are the same kind of improvements that the NYC Bus Turnaround coalition wants to apply across the whole system. But while DOT has indicated that it supports more queue jumps, the MTA has refused to get behind the idea of all-door boarding on every bus.

Faster boarding is a big deal because the current boarding process, where riders dip a MetroCard or pay in cash one by one, significantly slows down buses. On the B44, for example, buses used to spend more than a quarter of the time stopping to pick up and drop off passengers. After the implementation of all-door boarding and off-board fare collection, that process became 40 percent faster [PDF].

As the MTA considers bids for its new fare payment system, advocates have called on the agency to ensure the system has the necessary technology for all-door boarding. That technology, electronic proof of payment, would allow riders to “tap-and-go” at bus stops or as they board.

Addressing the topic at yesterday’s City Council hearing on bus service, however, MTA staff would not commit to universal all-door boarding.

“We must exercise diligence in considering all the operational and cost implications, in addition to the benefits, in evaluating a possible future decision to expand [all-door boarding] beyond SBS routes,” said New York City Transit Executive Vice President Craig Cipriano. He added that the agency was particularly concerned about fare evasion.

Experience in San Francisco and right here in New York proves that fare evasion is not the problem the MTA makes it out to be. The SF MTA implemented all-door boarding system-wide since 2012. Not only did fare evasion not increase, it continued on a downward trend that began before all-door boarding was implemented. In New York, fare evasion consistently declines after the launch of SBS routes with all-door boarding.

The only thing holding back all-door boarding on every route, it seems, is the MTA’s own reluctance to go the extra mile for bus riders.

  • Larry Littlefield

    This was an interesting discussion.

    Interesting discussions: how much toll evasion results from gate free tolling, to convenience motorists, and how does that compare with the savings from not having toll takers? How much time is saved.

    Vs. the same issues for buses. Presumably if runs were shorter, the MTA would have a choice of saving money (fewer bus drivers) or adding service for the same money. How does that compare with revenue lost to additional evasion?

    As is there an argument for the fare to be higher for the centerpiece of the city’s economy, rail transit, and lower for social service transportation, local buses?

  • Andrew

    Buses used to take dollar bills. That made cash payments a lot faster.

    !!!

  • Andrew

    Your guess is as good as mine. I tend to think enforcement is most cost effective if done during times of heavy use. That’s when you’re a lot more likely to see people sneaking in the back door.

    We’re discussing all-door boarding. Sneaking in the back door isn’t sneaking if it’s permitted.

    I also think fare evasion on buses tends to be overblown. Yes, some people will try to beat the fare by sneaking in the back door but that’s probably a small number anyway. When I see this it’s usually teenagers.

    The question isn’t whether fare evasion is high today. It’s whether fare evasion would be high if all-door boarding, as on SBS, were expanded systemwide without a concomitant increase in enforcement resources. (And the answer, most assuredly, is yes.)

    Cameras placed at the back door could make it easy for the driver to track fare beaters if the MTA were that concerned about it.

    And how does it help for the driver to track fare beaters? A tracked fare beater is still a fare beater. (Drivers can already see who’s boarding through the rear door – buses have mirrors.)

    Whether you have the driver kick the fare beater off the bus or not is an open question.

    No, it’s not an open question at all. Bus operators have been killed for challenging fare evaders, let alone attempting to kick them off the bus. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/03/nyregion/03drivers.html (from 2008, and note the call-out to SBS at the end).

    To me I liken fare beaters to shoplifters. It’s just part of the cost of doing business.

    Stores certainly don’t see shoplifting as “just part of the cost of doing business” – if they did, they wouldn’t go through efforts to keep it to a minimum. Shoplifting is theft, just like fare evasion.

    To some extent we have technological solutions to both problems. I think RFID transit cards issued to everyone could eliminate the issue. They get linked to a bank account or credit card or debit card and they always work when you enter the bus or subway. If the balance goes negative (perhaps because you forgot to add money to the card), they automatically get money from either source. It then becomes the bank’s problem to collect if the person can’t or won’t pay their credit card, or keep their balance positive, rather than the MTA’s. Banks are better equipped to do this anyway. Usually banks get a few percent for each CC transaction to cover overhead like collections anyway.

    People can fare-evade with a new kind of card just as easily as they can with an old kind of card. Whatever problem you’re solving, it isn’t fare evasion.

  • Andrew

    It’s a bit hard to objectively measure bus evasion now, isn’t it?

    Sit at the front of the bus and keep a tally. Keep an eye out for people entering through the rear door, too, or if you’re worried the bus will be too crowded to see, bring a friend along to focus only on the rear door.

    There will be a few questionable cases, but the tally should be pretty close.

    I don’t see bus drivers marking down a sheet when people ignore the farefox – I often find the driver doesn’t even react, and if they do react they tend to back down quickly.

    It’s not the bus driver’s job to mark down a sheet when people ignore the farebox (or even the farefox), nor is it the bus driver’s job to challenge fare evaders.

    The other thing is, it’s far from axiomatic that evasion would increase under POP. It could stay the same, and you could make the case that it’d decrease.

    With adequate enforcement, it would decrease. With inadequate enforcement, it would increase.

  • bolwerk

    The first sort of works, but the problem with it is it doesn’t count underpayment. There is also sneaking on the back. And then there’s sneaking on the back when the bus is too crowded for the driver or anyone else in charge to notice. :-p

    POP, on the other hand, might give us a pretty good objective sample of how many cheaters we have if we can really randomize who gets checked.

    With adequate enforcement, it would decrease. With inadequate enforcement, it would increase.

    The only certain way I can think to increase it is to let it be known there will never be consequences ever.

    For all we know, frequent-ish token fines are enough to keep it roughly where it is.

  • Joe R.

    Just to clarify, the cameras can take pictures of the fare beaters so the police can track them down, assuming that’s what we want to do. As for the card, yes, it eliminates fare beating because it always works and the MTA always gets a fare. If the balance goes negative it becomes the bank’s problem to collect, not the MTA’s. For their troubles the banks get to keep some fraction of the fare payments they handle. The MTA saves money by not needing people to catch fare evaders. The incentive to evade fares in the usual sense no longer exists. Instead, it might be replaced by not paying the credit card bill which pays for your fare card. However, that will directly impact your credit rating, hence giving people some disincentive to do this. Ultimately, the banks could probably garnish wages or welfare payments to get their money. It’s not a perfect system by a long shot, but I think it’s somewhat better than what we have today.

  • Joe R.

    I’m not excusing theft of service, either, but rather understanding the rationale for it. Failure to provide discounted, or even, free transportation to those who need it is what causes some number of people to evade the fare. If we didn’t provide food to those in need, don’t think there wouldn’t be a much larger amount of actual or attempted shoplifting. Transportation may not be as acute a need among the poor as food but it’s certainly a need for it to some extent. People are going to take what they need if they can’t obtain it by legitimate means. That’s been a constant throughout history. I don’t think of social welfare programs as charity. I think of them as a means of social control. They keep the order of society from breaking down.

  • ahwr

    What’s the incentive to bring that card with you? So the MTA can bill you and then your bank can try to garnish your wages?

  • Joe R.

    You could make the fare card and your driver’s license/non-driver’s ID one and the same. As for incentive, consider if you try to beat the fare using your card, you’ll only be on the hook for whatever amount of rides you took. If you get caught trying to beat the fare by not using a card at all, you could have a very large fine.

  • bolwerk

    I don’t even know if I believe that first sentence. It smacks of the “New Yorkers won’t behave unless we police them” meme. But I suppose if we want net-zero revenue loss, we need more enforcement agents – and maybe a higher fine.

    There is nothing terribly wrong with more evasion or more staffing if they’re remedied with higher revenues though. I realize that could be a big if, but it’s not impossible to do.

  • ahwr

    So it’s still dependent on a significant increase in resources devoted to enforcement to check that people have their id cards?

  • Joe R.

    ??? Don’t most people need to carry their driver’s licenses or ID cards around anyway? And isn’t it illegal to walk around without ID in NYC (that’s what a cop told my brother anyway)? “Enforcement” is really easy. People getting on a bus have their ID cards scanned while a camera keeps track of them. With RFID you don’t even need to take it out. When someone gets on without a card, an alarm goes off. I suppose we could do this right now with cameras which scan all the bus doors if we have RFID fare cards or proof of payment.

    Like I said, there has to be a foolproof technological answer here which avoids the need to have people checking for proof-of-payment. We certainly have software capable of distinguishing individual people as they enter a bus. At that point you just need to associate fare payment with each person.

  • ahwr

    Unless I’m driving, buying alcohol, or picking up prescriptions from the pharmacy I usually don’t have my driver’s license or other state issued ID on me. It’s absolutely not illegal to walk around without ID. You do however run the risk of being detained while the cops figure out who you are instead of getting a written summons for some minor offenses.

    Right now the bus driver isn’t writing fines or arresting people who sneak in through the back door. Do you want that to change? Or do you want to hire a significant number of enforcement agents to do that work? The MTA could check your MetroCard against their database to see if you paid if they want to. What problem do you think you’re solving? The need for significant resources to ensure people pay in a more open bus system isn’t one of them.

  • Andrew

    I don’t even know if I believe that first sentence. It smacks of the “New Yorkers won’t behave unless we police them” meme. But I suppose if we want net-zero revenue loss, we need more enforcement agents – and maybe a higher fine.

    Are you aware of any transit system anywhere that charges fares but does not enforce payment in any way? This isn’t a New York thing. Nor is it a New York thing to expect that fare enforcement needs for 10 POP routes won’t be quite sufficient for 307 POP routes.

  • Andrew

    And isn’t it illegal to walk around without ID in NYC (that’s what a cop told my brother anyway)?

    Of course it isn’t. And even if it were, have you ever seen it enforced?

    When someone gets on without a card, an alarm goes off.

    Who cares about an alarm?

    Like I said, there has to be a foolproof technological answer here which avoids the need to have people checking for proof-of-payment.

    No there doesn’t.

  • fdtutf

    In Stockholm — and I consider Sweden a civilized country — the “additional charge” for traveling without a valid ticket is SEK 1200, which is about EUR 125 at today’s exchange rates.

  • Miles Bader

    I don’t know whom you think called for $275 fines, but it sure as hell
    wasn’t me. POP works just fine on bus, light rail, and even metros all
    over the world.

    For POP to work, that is, so that fines make up for lost fare, the fine needs to be the fare divided by the proportion of people checked randomly.

    So if they can check 1% of riders randomly, they need to set the fine at the fare times 100.

    Of course in reality, you also need to add in overhead for paying inspectors, etc, which limits the ways you can do inspections to those that make cost-effective use of the inspectors’ time.

    POP apparently starts to break down when a system becomes crowded enough though, I presume because it becomes harder to make checks truly random and easier for people figure out ways to avoid inspectors by using extreme crowding to their advantage.

  • bolwerk

    I don’t know of any that don’t at least do token enforcement, but I’m not sure enforcing below the rate where you remedy all loses is even that unusual. In one amusing case a Swedish anarchist(?) group set up an amusing insurance system: pay us a regular fee, and we’ll pay your transit fines. Evidently the insurance is cheaper than buying a transitpass.

    Of course this needs to be tested, but I think a key takeaway from other parts of the world is being caught cheating is itself kind of embarrassing. So even significantly underenforcing might prevent “rampant” evasion.

  • qrt145

    My anecdote: living two years in Switzerland and using transit almost daily, I encountered fare inspectors only three times. I don’t remember what the fine was, but I think it was somewhere around $100. The annual transit pass cost about $600. It seems that paying the fine would be significantly cheaper, but I only saw a couple of people get caught. [Insert stereotype about how law-abiding the Swiss are here.]

  • bolwerk

    Right, I’ve more or less said as much in a scattering number of posts.

    This is one of those things where I’m not even sure what the fuck people are even arguing with me about. It might be marshaling political will to do this right is too difficult, something I acknowledged from the get-go, but the efficacy of the concept is not even that open to debate. The usual magick New York economics and physics evidently make it even theoretically impossible though.

    And, yes, I agree that POP doesn’t work well under all circumstances. The subway obviously doesn’t need it because it has effective fare control. A few cases on the bus network are crowded enough to demand (probably still POP) light rail or maybe even a (gate controlled) parallel subway route.

  • Vooch

    in Zagreb, one encounters fare inspectors every 4-5 trips

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