In May 19th’s post on Metro’s Fare Evasion Report, Martin made the utilitarian argument that “net revenue maximization” should be the primary goal of fare policy. Evasion rates per se, he argued, are less important than the larger revenue picture to which they contribute; furthermore, enforcement often cannibalizes the revenue it seeks to protect,
“…however unjust it may be, fare evasion in itself is not the problem here. It’s the concurrent loss of revenue, and to a lesser extent the tendency of some fare evaders to disrupt the bus in other ways. As a result, any attempt to address the problem needs cost/benefit analysis to see if it actually improves the budget situation.”
Many commenters passionately disagreed, bristling at cost-benefit analyses when principles of fairness and integrity are at stake. As a brief footnote to that conversation, let me add a cautious word about operators. The conversation to this point has involved two types of operators: (1. Those who follow policy by passively allowing fare evasion in the interest of occupational safety, and (2. Those who for reasons of principle break policy and choose to actively confront evaders anyway.
I suggest a third type of (rare) operator: s/he who actively solicits fare evasion. In the six weeks since I moved back to Seattle, I have experienced three occasions in which operators stopped people about to pay with phrases such as “Hey, don’t worry about it. Have a great night,” or “This one’s on me”. On one memorable occasion, the operator provided free rides to members of her own ethnic group but no others.
My hope is that this happens rarely, and I grant that arguing from such anecdotes is usually unwise. It is impossible to quantify how fairness, policy reliability, and operator integrity contribute to ride quality and the retaining of ridership (and by extension, revenue). But as almost all untapped transit demand lies with choice riders, I suspect that such qualitative considerations make lasting (and potentially pernicious) impressions on the market segment we most need to attract. So yes, as Martin correctly argued, in the end revenue should be our primary concern. But when transit agencies undermine themselves they lose more than money. Tolerating fare evasion is defensible, but contributing to it is not.