Over the last few years, transit agencies have created incentives to take transit to New Years’ celebrations. Trains run later, and in 2017 Metro was free for the first time. While it’s worthwhile to provide attractive, safe alternatives for people, I’m sad to say that these improvements haven’t shown up in the accident data, courtesy of SDOT:
The collision count is from 5pm in December 31st of the listed year to 5am on January 1st.
Of course, there’s missing context here. The city’s Department of Special Events didn’t respond to my request for crowd estimates, which is the denominator of the numbers above. Metro said 160,000 people boarded a bus on NYE 2017, compared to 170,000 in 2016 and 300,000 in 2015. But that difference is almost certainly due to 2017 being a Sunday, while 2016 was a Saturday and 2015 a Thursday. The 160,000 figure is “about 17 percent more than average Sunday-service ridership in fall,” according to spokesman Scott Gutierrez.
The nice thing about no-fare days during major events is that we get a lot of the benefits of free transit without the downside (significant lost revenue). No one is going to skip buying a pass because of the holiday, but riders don’t have to deal with a flood of new (and drunk) users struggling through fare payment. If there were a way to make buses like a newspaper paywall, where the first few trips of the month are free, that would be a revenue and operations sweet spot. But quite aside from the safety impacts, it’s good to take advantage of these sorts of opportunities when they occur in the calendar.