Getting Riders Back on Transit
Chicago Transit Authority recently proposed reduced fares to lure riders, leading me to ask, what are transit agencies thinking about?
Transit was hit hard by the pandemic. With a complete shutdown of all travel, the emptying of subways, buses, and railways occurred virtually over night. It is going to take significant effort and time for transit ridership to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
Heightened concern the subway system spread coronavirus throughout New York City has continually been proven false, but fear lingers about riding in close quarters. Federal mask mandates on public transit and the likely endemic nature of the disease won’t make things better. On top of that, continual service disruptions due to staffing shortages or maintenance problems will only worsen rider sentiment and public perception.
This week we look at some of the issues affecting transit, what some transit agencies are thinking, and with a focus on free transit programs, the interesting read asks if those programs achieve their policy goals.
Paradox: Boost Service to Lure Riders, but Ridership Recovery May Take Years
Metra spending to bring back trains while projecting riders will take years to return Daily Herald (Suburban Chicago)
To Boost Ridership, Chicago Plans to Slash Transit Fares Bloomberg/CityLab
A New Service Model for Transit Agencies
Maintenance Issues and Staffing Shortages Impede Recovery
CHART OF THE WEEK
Weekly NYC subway turnstile entries totaled about 5.5 million prior to the pandemic and were only 2.5 million on October 15: about a 55% decline.
Think of transit users in three broad categories: residents, commuters, and tourists (tourism being educational, business, and leisure). With return to office plans continuing to change and international tourists only starting to return in November, it’s difficult to predict the subway’s ridership recovery.
However, the subway did reach a recent milestone. Governor Hochul announced a new pandemic-era subway ridership record of 3,236,904 customers on Thursday, October 14, surpassing the previous high set on October 7 by nearly 50,000 riders. It is important to note variations in the days people return to the office will increase volatility in daily ridership numbers.
What People Are Saying:
Nevertheless, the recovery in MTA service utilization has been slightly faster than anticipated so far in 2021, and congestion pricing, once it is operational, could incentivize some additional riders to use mass transit.
… with ridership down dramatically and little expectation that pre-pandemic levels will be achieved anytime soon, the MTA’s long-term reliance on fare box revenues as a principal source of operating revenues needs to be re-evaluated.
MTA Finance Committee (via Bloomberg)
“I don’t think, at this time and place, raising fares on any New Yorkers is appropriate at a time when we need to encourage and increase ridership,” [Larry Schwartz, who chairs the agency’s finance committee] said during a finance committee meeting on Monday. “Raising fares does the opposite. It’s going to be an encouragement not to increase ridership and possibly decrease it.”
Free Fares Policies: Impact on Public Transport Mode Share and Other Transport Policy Goals International Journal of Transportation (2012)
The Issue: Cities are adopting or considering adopting free transit around the U.S., but is it the best option to achieve their goals?
Although free public transport at a first glance may seem attractive both from economic, social and environmental perspectives, the message learnt from a number of schemes is that free public transport offers poor goal achievement in all these respects, and at a high cost.
Any opinions expressed herein are those of the author and the author alone.