Fareless transit: pro & con
Author: That Bus Guy
Date: 06-10-2021 - 18:15
First, let's dispense with the expression "Free Muni." If passengers can ride cable cars, diesel buses, electric trolleybuses, light rail vehicles and streetcars without paying fares, Muni is still not free. Someone must pay the expenses to operate and maintain the system. Let's go with "fareless transit."
That said, there are, in fact some good arguments for having fareless transit systems apart from social equity/justice concerns. Not having to collect fares would significantly reduce dwell times on heavily used routes. Additionally, there is a huge expenses of collecting money from fareboxes, counting the money and depositing the cash. Furthermore, fareless systems could attract more occasional riders to public transportation as many people are discouraged from using transit due to not understanding how and how much to pay. Moreover, as fare disputes are a major cause of rider violence towards drivers, elimination of fares would eliminate this source of potential and actual conflicts between drivers and some low-lifes.
However, most advocates for fareless transit do not have realistic proposals to compensate make up for the lost revenues when fares are not collected. Such costs would have to born locally, but many (most?) county and municipal governments are already hard-pressed to meet other needs, particularly with sharply reduced revenues due to the pandemic. It would be politically unrealistic to think the state and/or federal governments would pick up the tab, when so many think that transit riders do not pay enough.
There is also the question if transit systems would have the capacity to accommodate everyone wanting to ride if fares were not collected.
Lastly, the author of the article makes a great point that fareless transit would not make systems better. Whatever shortcomings a transit system (except, maybe for speed of service) will not be significantly addressed by suddenly removing a major source of revenues.
I've read some good arguments for fareless transit. However, as a public transportation professional and a transit patron, I find the arguments against fareless transit more compelling.
In my opinion, a more targeted approach of social service agencies issuing fare cards to very low-income and some no-income people is a better approach.