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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tickets Please - Fair Transit Fares

Fair Transit Fares

Transit fares are a subject that can bring about much discussion around the dinner table... or any other table... or park bench or field or...

Most people who live in a city have some idea on what would be a fair sort of fare or way to figure out what that fare should be for people making use of the public transit system or for that matter not making use of it. Some discussions can get quite heated.

There are many points of view with some having firm belief in a user pay the whole way system where like the airlines or inter city bus lines the total revenue of the system should be born by the traveller, perhaps subsidized slightly by freight or something. Other people just as firmly believe that a public transit system should be a part of the city infrastructure just as water, sewer, and indeed the sidewalks, roads, and bridges are. In between and perhaps included are those who believe there should be incentives to get motorists out of their cars and commuting by public transit.

On a recent survey one question had to do with the possible introduction of "smart cards" for transit users which would calculate the fare based on how long the passenger was using the service. The question involved whether the metropolitan area should continue to use a three zone system where you paid a larger amount for crossing more zones. You could buy 1, 2, and 3 zone fares and passes.

Some people figured this to be fare and others unfair. Many citing it as unfair spoke of the short trips that just happened to cross a zone boundary and there are a number of places where this might happen. Some people who thought the three zone system should be dropped for a single zone system and others thought the smart card system should be brought in.

Arguments were varied but some were:

o People travelling from the extreme areas of the city travel far longer on the transit system and should pay more than those in the more central areas who are just making 5, 10, or 15 minute trips.

o Multiple Zones create complexity in administering fares.

o Smart Cards would mean people having to remember to swipe off the bus as well as on and it would be possible to track people's travels.

o People living in the suburbs get much less frequent service and the routes cover less of the area and so they shouldn't have to pay as much.

o People downtown have a better transit network and so should have to pay more for their service.

o In order to encourage people to get out of their cars for the long commute on bus into the city, lower fares should be tolerated on the longer runs.

o The longer the trip the more fuel burnt and the more driver hours spent so the higher the fare should be.

There is logic to what was said and I have only included a bit over a handful of the answers I saw in the survey results here - not having the survey for reference. I thought I might write about my own views which I came up with after having done the survey and having read the results and comments on it.

I think that they should do away with the Zone System for public transit and go to a simple fare structure. I think this simple fare structure should encourage frequent users. I think a smart card should be looked at, but not as a matter of clocking how many miles a person rides, but rather as a way to make it simpler for passengers.

The passenger would be able to pay for their fares from home or store or even cellphone or to be able to cancel their card if stolen or lost and replace them even to the point of entering their Name, Some ID number, and a PIN at a machine and having a duplicate issued even while rendering the stolen or lost one invalid. In this way if someone had left their card at home or work -- perhaps not knowing they would need it -- they could still access the card. Perhaps it is a fantasy idea and it only would work because a computer could cancel the old card at the instant the new one is activated hence nobody could be easily giving their friend a card and using the replacement.

My reasoning behind the single fare rate is that the people who live in the core areas have the best service. They have in effect a premium service with more frequent buses and routes that are closer together -- perhaps even having to chose between routes because they are a block on either side of their destination or one goes closer to the front door and another closer to the back. Their trips are shorter, but they might be more inclined to just hop on the bus for a short trip because the bus actually is convenient and they don't even have to plan their route.

When you get farther out, the buses become less frequent and the routes are spaced farther apart. You have to walk further to a route and stop and when you get there, the bus doesn't go by as often. The destinations might be a bit farther away as well so when you do get on the bus you are on it a bit longer.

When you get yet farther out again, the buses become much less frequent and stop running sometimes early in the evening or not in the evening at all. They may or may not run Saturday or Sunday or are very restricted on some routes. The routes of course are farther apart and rather than counting blocks to the bus you are counting kilometres. When you do get onto a bus you likely will be on it for a much longer trip because places are farther away.

I am thinking that the increase in service would balance the increase in distance travelled somewhere in the scheme of things. If the buses in the suburbs came as frequently as in the core and the routes were as convenient then perhaps the length of trip might be an indication of a higher price. But as things look to me, the longer trips are the more arduous and come from the areas with poorer service.

It is just a different way to look at it and perhaps when the structure of our cities change so that people will be working closer to where they live and thus we will have multiple cores, then it would make more sense to have more zones. But when large chunks of the population live in poorer serviced areas, then I think the poorer service balances the longer distances. Isn't that in part why the service is poorer in the first place? The people in the outlying areas shouldn't be burdened twice to take public transit. They should have to pay more for less service while the people in the core pay less for more service.

I do think in future there will be better transportation systems and it will be easier to get around without a car. I do think there is a need to encourage folk to take transit to work rather than drive. I think this regardless of the price of a barrel of crude.

Anyhow I think those single zone fares would be fair.

~ Darrell


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I really should do a column on this sort of thing...