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Thread: Free public transportation

  1. #1

    Free public transportation

    greetings....does anyone have info on paying for free urban transportation?
    Bonds? Increase taxes? Federal subsidy? Big Businesses?

    At the Univ of Cal at Berkeley all the students have taxed themselves, thru extra fees,
    so that some of the students can use free passes on the local public bus system.
    Any other experiments like this other places?

    Thanks,

    Axel

  2. #2
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    I have started a website to collect this info... I will post it as I get it.
    http://www.freepublictransit.org

    Why do we have to scramble and scrounge to fund public transit? Could it be that clean, efficient, no-fare transit would solve practically all of our land use, global warming, drainage, congestion, parking, pollution, [...on and on...] problems? But it has one teeny drawback....it threatens oil profits.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 18 Apr 2007 at 3:33 PM. Reason: double reply

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wre1027 View post
    Why do we have to scramble and scrounge to fund public transit? Could it be that clean, efficient, no-fare transit would solve practically all of our land use, global warming, drainage, congestion, parking, pollution, [...on and on...] problems? But it has one teeny drawback....it threatens oil profits.
    That's the easy answer. So you are what, a grad student with no immediate family? Transit won't work unless it meets the needs of its users. As a single mom, no, I won't use transit unless it is reliable, frequent, and cost affordable. In college, yeah, I always rode the bus, it was cheap, on time, etc. Our jurisdiction is just starting up commuter rail to be active in 2 years but in off-peak hours it's only running every 2 hours. Sorry, won't work if my kid gets sick at school. I'll keep driving.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I think the idea is that if there's no fare, ridership will skyrocket, prompting improved service in response to demand. Unfortunately in a fareless system it would be incumbent upon the government to provide the increased funding necessary to expand service, and I think we all know how likely that is to happen.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    Considering how little of the typical transit system's capital program and operations are paid for with the farebox, I'm not sure how much additional funding would be necessary. Collecting the few bucks and maintaining the systems and independent police forces to catch scofflaws seems hardly worth the trouble in most cases.

    But I don't think a free system would necessarily increase ridership to a great degree. The few bucks a day is usually about last on the list of priorities for anyone with a job, anyone apt to start taking transit is obviously getting where they need to go without transit now, transit is not meeting their needs now. Anyone currently riding transit is already getting a huge welfare handout for each ride, why make it worse by eliminating the small fee they pay?

  6. #6
    Quote Originally posted by wre1027 View post
    Why do we have to scramble and scrounge to fund public transit?
    Mass transit gets billions of dollars in funding. Unlike other transit modes, it is mostly paid for by public subsidies rather than user fees. The amount of funding it gets is grossly disproportionate to the small percentage of transit trips that are made using it.

    So... I agree with you that it'd be nice to invest more in public transit. But I don't think it's fair to say we have to "scramble and scrounge" for table scraps on public transit. And of course, although it is de mode to blame everything on "oil profits," it is a completely ludicrous accusation.

  7. #7
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    And of course, although it is de mode to blame everything on "oil profits," it is a completely ludicrous accusation.
    Wasn't it the 40's or 50' when a General Motors president became federal transportation cheif and systematically reduced funding for streetcars nationwide and promoted busses, cars, highways, etc. I think a special interest group(s) is served by keeping cars on the road even to this day!

  8. #8
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Portland has "fareless square"

    Pittsburgh has free transit downtown.

    Seattle experimented with it.

    People don't storm the system and overwhelm it. It's usually cheaper than driving anyway. All that happens with free transit is that you get overrun with bored teenagers and the homeless looking to keep warm in the winter time.

    Most major transit systems are +/- 50% operations recovery at the farebox. That's about $500 million a year for SEPTA. Hardly small change.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  9. #9
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    During my school days at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI I was a student driver for the Universities internal transit system, which consisted of mostly just transit size busses (like this transit bus) and a smaller collection of "short buses".

    It was a free system that mainly circulated from South to Central to North Campuses which was spread throughout the city pretty well. I never really had a problem with homeless hanging out on the bus or teenagers for that matter, and there were certainly alot of homeless in Ann Arbor and the campuses are certainly not isolated from the rest of the City.

    I'm not exactly sure how the system was funded, but I think it was through Federal and State grants, local transit funds and student fees.

    It works quite well, and it was real fun being a bus driver, too.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  10. #10
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    I know a lot of cities have homeless populations but a city like Seattle or Boston is a lot different from a place like Ann Arbor. We also have university shuttle services here but it's an exclusive service and riders must show university ID when boarding.

    We already have a problem with the homeless on transit vehicles and especially in the subway concourses. We also have problems on transit vehicles between 2:30 and 4pm when school lets out.

    Another problem that would become worse here is the people who use busy bus corridors as cheap livery. Rather than walk 4 blocks or take a taxi for 8 blocks they take the bus. A lot of it is the elderly, infirm, and obese - many of whom already ride for free. The buses stop at every block and what should be a 5 minute ride can easily turn into 15 minutes. Open that opportunity to everyone and they'll gladly take it, regardless of how much it slows down the system and the costs associated with maintaining the same headways on a route that now takes 25% longer to complete.

    All of these problems are a source of contention from the general ridership and people constantly cite it as a reason to avoid using transit outside of rush hour.

    GIving everyone unfettered access to all parts of the system, at all times, and at their discretion would make the general riding public extremely unhappy. As someone who has sat in a urine-soaked seat before and as someone who often finds himself on a bus with 40 screaming teeangers jumping on each other and throwing things I can say, without a doubt, that if that sort of thing happened more often, I would use transit a lot less - and that's coming from someone who has been intentionally car-free for 7 years.

    $1.50 or $2 cash fare is enough to discourage people from using transit as a toilet on wheels or a rolling playground. People of modest means are already transit-dependent. If you want to better serve them offer slash prices on weekly passes by 25% and on monthly passes by 50%. The people who choose to drive everywhere aren't concerned with the cost, only with the convenience and the experience.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian the north omaha star's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    During my school days at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI I was a student driver for the Universities internal transit system, which consisted of mostly just transit size busses (like this transit bus) and a smaller collection of "short buses".

    It was a free system that mainly circulated from South to Central to North Campuses which was spread throughout the city pretty well. I never really had a problem with homeless hanging out on the bus or teenagers for that matter, and there were certainly alot of homeless in Ann Arbor and the campuses are certainly not isolated from the rest of the City.

    I'm not exactly sure how the system was funded, but I think it was through Federal and State grants, local transit funds and student fees.

    It works quite well, and it was real fun being a bus driver, too.

    UM's internal transit was free!?!? I wish that was the case at KU. KU's bus system is integrated with the City of Lawrence. Due to a lack of a budget for a transit pass one semester, I made my own and successfully rode the bus, or I would sneak in the back door.
    I am recognizing that the voice inside my head
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  12. #12
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jresta View post
    Most major transit systems are +/- 50% operations recovery at the farebox. That's about $500 million a year for SEPTA. Hardly small change.
    That's pretty good, but still only operations, not infrastructure. Local example DART is only $46M operating revenue (including $9M advertising income) for $427 operating expences. To be fair they do police the HOV system, although I think the maintenance must be done by TxDOT. I would love to know how much DART's pocket police force costs them, but the annual report doesn't break anything out.


    Edit: curious, do you know off hand SEPTA's daily ridership?

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    I suggest that homeless folk and bored youth on buses should be looked at not as an inherent consequence of low/free fares, but as a symptom of other problems in the community, those being not enough homes for the penniless and a lack of engaging and appealing activities for teens. A fareless bus just makes them more visible by being a condensed public space.

    As to the cost effectiveness of it all, auto transit involves ever-increasing billion-dollar road maintenance and construction costs funded by Joe driver's taxes, and that's in addition to the huge individual expense Joe incurs from owning and maintaining a private vehicle.

    Any way you cut the cheese, transporting groups of people on buses is less expensive to society than transporting individuals in cars.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Um, if smelly and unruly people are intimidating the other riders, then toss them out and make them walk. Restaurants don't let unwashed homeless people sit around for an hour yelling and causing a scene while they warm up, so why should buses?

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    That's the bad part of the "public" in "public transportation". Not a free reign, but people can get away with alot more than on a vehicle or property that is actually owned by someone, with the attendant responsibilities and pride of ownership. I'm all for private transit though, an easy start by allowing jitneys and getting rid of the caps on taxi numbers and price fixing of fares.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian njm's avatar
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    Just for fun:

    This is the "society" that is fighting for free transit in Stockholm by, no surprise, NOT PAYING!

    Granted, free transit in Stockholm would probably look quite different from the US. Still enjoyable as a conversation starter.

    http://www.planka.nu/eng

    For those who want to take a crack at the real site with lots of philosophizing (på svenska.)

    http://www.planka.nu/
    What luck! A random assemblage of words never sounded less intelligent.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    We all understand that free buses don't create a homeless population or unruly kids.
    We should also understand that most people are using transit to take care of necessities like getting to work or grocery shopping. Without serious policing at the outset and long-term maintenance free transit is likely to have the opposite effect unless it's limited to a downtown zone.

    RTG: Regional average weekday totals fluctuate significantly between winter and summer. Looking at it on an annual basis it's about 1 million rides a day. SEPTA's share of that is about 950,000 with PATCO taking just over 40,000 and South Jersey buses handling a bit over 10,000.

    There's no way this city or region is going to come up with another $500 million a year for transit. It's completely unreasonable. If we could even come up with that over the next 10 years we'd be using it to build the Roosevelt Blvd. extension I would think, with all of the defered maintenance in cities like San Francisco and Chicago and in places like Boston and New York that are still putting out big money for new projects that they're not going to give up that money either.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

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    Our Planners?

    I fear our future. You guys are planners? You should be able to think big and not focus so much on what is convenient for you, personally. Has anyone heard of global warming? Subsidies? Subsidies? Carbon dioxide is being pumped into the atmosphere at an alarming rate at NO charge. How many billions of subsidy is that? Roads are built by the taxpayer. What kind of subsidy is that? The poor worker in the city is riding the subway and generating profits for people collecting dividends on investments and living in sprawl and wasting resources. What kind of subsidy is that? The taxpayer pays to address the drainage issues caused by the acres of asphalt road and shingle caused by sprawl. What kind of subsidy is that? The list goes on and on... The auto is the MOST subsidized mode of transport.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    As I recall, the figures Shoup collected indicated that subsidy for parking alone was roughly equivalent to the sum total of every dollar collected through property taxes. And I agree that it is annoying to hear of the impossibility of getting millions for public transit, when people throw billions around for highway projects without blinking.

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    Thank you, jz. We need to have a place to collect the figures and show the economic case for public transit. I believe http://www.freepublictransit.org is trying to do that.

    Public transit should be free (paid thru general revenue) because it is the best way to begin the slow process of undoing the automobile. We may have a few years before irreversible damage is done.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    Irreversible damage has been done. We're at the point of trying to keep things from getting to a panic crisis do-or-die state.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian njm's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wre1027 View post
    I fear our future. You guys are planners? You should be able to think big and not focus so much on what is convenient for you, personally. Has anyone heard of global warming? Subsidies? Subsidies? Carbon dioxide is being pumped into the atmosphere at an alarming rate at NO charge. How many billions of subsidy is that? Roads are built by the taxpayer. What kind of subsidy is that? The poor worker in the city is riding the subway and generating profits for people collecting dividends on investments and living in sprawl and wasting resources. What kind of subsidy is that? The taxpayer pays to address the drainage issues caused by the acres of asphalt road and shingle caused by sprawl. What kind of subsidy is that? The list goes on and on... The auto is the MOST subsidized mode of transport.
    I think this subject has been hinted at already... but the problem is not that the cost of transit is too high; the cost of car ownership is too low. We could PAY people to take transit, and it would still not have the same impact as increasing the cost of automobile transportation to its actual price (or something even remotely close to it.)

    Here in Stockholm, the free transit debate is not terribly evident, but moreso than the US. Still, they're in the process of spending 2 billion (USD) to build a rail tunnel for commuter trains in through the city at the same time they're spending about 1.2 billion (USD) for a road tunnel of only 5 km that will reduce traffic congestion for only a fraction of the daily commuters that an equal investment in transit would have. SL has a genuinely good transit system, there are NEVER threats of reduced service (despite dismal ridership on some lines), yet automobile miles travelled in the Stockholm metro continue to creep up. And they pay 2x for automobile insurance, 1.60$ per liter of gas (so ~6.10$ per gallon), and they will be re-introducing congestion pricing this August. The US has a long way to go before free transit will be able to take a real bite out of car culture. Still, I hope I can see it in my lifetime.
    What luck! A random assemblage of words never sounded less intelligent.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    Here's what I think is going to happen:
    We're going to hit peak oil. They're already essentially solving that, but I think we'll still have a hiccough in between, with rise in food prices as well because of it. At the same time, we're going to have enough destruction from climate change that people finally start noticing all the research on how to make mass transit work and looking down on people for driving cars.
    At that time, we're going to see a push to implement. I want to be entrenched and have lots of information out there on what to do when that time comes.

    The other thing I find both amusing and disturbing is, well... you know how much war and strife is happenning in the middle east where the oil reserves are? What happens when Canada becomes the big oil-producing nation in the world with its tar sands?

    Didn't we used to make jokes about invading Canada because of how silly the idea was?

    I'm reminded of the SNL skit that made fun of the absurdity of a double blade razor by postulating a triple-bladed razor. Now they're up to five. o.O
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 21 Apr 2007 at 11:04 AM. Reason: double reply

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    Snowball effect

    As more people use public transit more buses will be needed. As more buses are added, service will be more frequent. As service is more frequent, more people will ride. As more people ride... well... I hope you get the idea.

    Free public transit is a serious threat to oil/auto profits. That is why you can expect furious opposition to the idea. But we have few other ways to save ourselves. Electric and bio-fuel cars are non-solutions that will mis-direct a lot of honest people into useless effort.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    I'm going to play the libertarian card here:

    Doesn't "Peak Oil" make pushing fareless transit less important? I mean, as the oil supply falls (assuming new sources aren't found and tapped at a sufficient rate), at some point people are forced by market forces to cut down on car use. Why not just let capitalism do its job here?

    Why spend gobs of public money on making glitsy LRT's to accomodate suburban park-and-riders when they would be moving in closer and riding the bus soon enough? Well, maybe not with electric vehicles.

    Why are electric vehicles a non-solution? They don't use oil as fuel, the electricity they use can be generated with minimal pollution, and they fulfill a need for private, individual, personal, and freight transportation between specific destinations. Auto manufacturers are getting back on the ball about electric vehicles, and gas prices aren't even high enough to keep people from driving less yet. They're anticipating the need, which means that market is doing its job.

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