17 Reasons to Make Transit Free

The Tyee, an independent online pub in British Columbia, weighs in with the first in a series of editorials making the case for free transit in the province.

NoFares1.pngCiting the wishes of big city mayors (Michael Bloomberg and San Francisco’s Gavin Newsom) to eliminate the fare box, and listing a slew of cities that to some extent already have (including several in the U.S.), The Tyee says it’s time to put an end to the age of the "Pampered Car":

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute has estimated
that in 2000 the government subsidy to each private vehicle owner was
about $5,378 in Canadian dollars

In that year, the average cost of providing each trip taken by
transit in Vancouver was approximately $5. The equivalent subsidy for
transit users would have been 1,075 free trips.
Few of us could even
use that many.

In fact, if the subsidy given private car owners were simply handed
over to each car-free transit user, bus riders would make money for
taking transit!

The story goes on to list 17 benefits of free transit, arguing that tying transit funding to the fare box is a great way to guarantee a forever-struggling system:

Let’s imagine that you are in charge
of a transit system. You feel pressure to increase service or to
maintain service despite increasing costs. You need to raise more
money. Politically and practically, for most systems, the easiest way
is to raise fares. But soon after, ridership goes down. It drops 3.8
per cent for every 10 per cent increase in fares, researchers have
found (Cervero, R., 1994). Which means you either haven’t gained much
new revenue, or worse, you’ve started spiraling downward.

Sound familiar? Of course, in an attempt to put forward something, anything, as an answer to congestion pricing, New York state legislators floated their own version(s) of transit fare relief some weeks ago. Unfortunately, for all the bluster, they seem to have disregarded another rule, also cited by The Tyee:

Making transit free of charge won’t in itself allow huge numbers of people to abandon their cars.

For that, you need a PlaN

Image: thetyee.ca 

  • ddartley

    What I read from Chris X Brodeur bears repeating (again): the administration of the COLLECTION of the fares is often the most costly operation that transit organizations have to perform.

  • Buzz

    No, make public transit low cost, not free. If it’s free it will be abused.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    From the Blog en commun, here are some pictures from a recent action in the Paris Metro, where demonstrators taped open the gates in one station and gave out bogus tickets that said things like “Freedom of Movement.”


    I don’t necessarily agree with their goals or their methods, but they’ve got a sense of humor.

    That said, the controleurs often have surprise ticket checks in the subway corridors. If anyone that they let in gets caught without a validated ticket, they’re in for a fine of $25 or more. I don’t think the fake tickets would satisfy the controleurs.

  • v

    since when does bloomberg want free transit?

  • "If you were to design the ultimate system, you would have mass transit be free and charge an enormous amount for cars," Mayor Bloomberg.


  • Two reasons for user-fees: 1 – get legislation passed. 2 – discourage use.

    When transit is free it will enable the gradual elimination of the auto and sprawl (autosprawl) and allow us a chance to save the biosphere.


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