Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More confirmation that transit fare and level of service and level of quality decisionmaking should be (but isn't) a regional issue

I haven't mentioned that Montgomery County plans to slash heavily their RideOn service. See "Montgomery wants to cut Ride On routes to ease budget gap" from the Post and "Leggett proposes $70M in midyear budget cuts" from the Gazette.

According to the Post article, the service has 30 million trips per year and the proposed cuts will eliminate about 1 million trips.

This will cover about $2 million in cuts. But a small increase in the fare, less than 10 cents, would cover the budget reduction.

I don't know the composition of RideOn's direct farebox revenue. It is a function of at least three sources: single trips, for which the fare is $1.35; all-day passes, which are $3.50; and monthly passes, which aren't very much, $30.

But as I mentioned in testimony to WMATA on service cuts vs. fare increases in April of last year ("Testimony on proposed bus service cuts in the Washington region"):

Because the transit services in the region follow WMATA’s lead in terms of setting the price of base fares, the decision to not consider fare increases has cascading and increasing impact on other non-Metrobus public transit service provided within the region.

Because of similar financial problems, Montgomery County's Ride On, Fairfax County's Fairfax Connector and Alexandria's DASH are planning cut backs in transit service also, in addition to the bus service cuts planned by WMATA.

This likely would not be the case, if a slight fare increase were on the table for WMATA, because suburban transit services would have “political cover,” to adopt a fare increase in tandem, thereby limiting the need for service cuts.

(Also see "How DC decisionmaking impacts bus service cuts in the suburbs.")

The lack of proper pricing of base fares for transit on WMATA trickles down and has the potential to cripple the local bus services.

Clearly, at 30 million trips, a 5 cent increase in fare would cover the $1.2 million in cuts that are proposed, eliminated the need for cuts at all.

As I mentioned in the blog entry "WMATA and budget cuts--we're not asking the right questions about LOS, LOQ, and maintaining a robust network ," the issues of:

1. how much service (hours of service, routes);
2. frequency of service; and
3. the robustness of the transit network in the region

are regional planning issues, even though the decisions impact WMATA specifically.

By extension, these matters concern all of the operators of transit service in the metropolitan area, which is provided by a myriad number of separate services including WMATA, and local bus services provided by DC, Prince George's County, Montgomery County, Alexandria, Fairfax County, the City of Falls Church, Arlington County, Prince William County, bus commuter services in Maryland and Virginia, plus the MARC and VRE commuter railroad services.

Even though we as transit users have to fend with each separate service, ideally all the services work in an integrated and seamless fashion (of course they don't and that is a serious problem for transit users).

Probably the base fare for bus service in the region should be $1.50. That would allow for a discount for SmartTrip users of say 10 cents, making the trip cheaper for that group of users. Alternatively, a peak service surcharge could be added to bus fares as well. As came up in the interview "Chris Zimmerman answers the rest of your questions" in the GGW blog:

Arlington: Why aren't there more bus routes that go into DC during off-peak hours? Too many buses stop at Rosslyn and Pentagon and make it harder to get to the going out areas of the district. It would be better to offer an alternative to going out, having drinks, and driving home.

CZ: This goes back to the development of Metrorail. As the system was opened and expanded, it was thought that the train should replace bus service, and that "redundant" service should be deleted. Eventually, this led to the elimination of almost all bus service over the river, even at peak times. In more recent years, with transit ridership booming and the rail system getting choked at peak hours and key points, there has been a new appreciation of the benefits of "complementary" service. (E.g., The 38B as "Orange line with a view.") A few years ago, Arlington initiated the first new Metrobus service across the river since the advent of the rail system, with the 16Y (which runs from Columbia Pike over to Farragut and Macpherson). This has proven immensely popular, and led to the introduction of the 3Y (connecting Lee Highway to the District). These of course are rush-hour services.

The simple answer to your question, however, is the same as to the more general question, "Why aren't there more buses?" It costs money. Initiating any new bus service is very difficult, given the inherent biases that are built into our transportation finance system. When it is possible, it is almost always in places and times that will have high demand — which means that it is almost always for peak times. If that does well, sometimes we can get extensions into off-peak. Of course, in the current economic and fiscal climate, those are the very services that will be targeted for cutting, as "inefficient."

But if there were regional standards for LOS and LOQ and completeness for the "metropolitan transit network" (see "The Meta-Regional Transit Network") this would be less of an issue (the specific costs of a route that is a fundamental link in the network), especially if farebox revenue was greater.

Probably the base fare for subway service should be $1.75, in order to reflect that the quality and frequency of service on the subway is superior, is a premium service, should be recognized as a premium service, and should be priced as a premium service.

And probably there should be additional tranches of tiered fare pricing beyond the relatively simplistic "rush/peak" and "off peak" fare schedule that is used today.

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