Since it dropped right before Thanksgiving, I worry not everyone saw Alon Levy’s excellent piece in Streetsblog on fares and fare enforcement. The proximate reason for the piece is New York’s plan to spend a bunch of money on fare enforcement that’s disproportionate to the actual loss of revenue involved. As per usual, the piece has lots of international comparisons and some good lessons for Seattle.
First, from time to time some Seattle observers have suggested that Sound Transit ditch the current proof-of-payment system and install fare gates at Link stations. This would be expensive, impractical for open-air stations, and wouldn’t work at all for RapidRide. Also, New York has fare gates and, well… see the previous paragraph. Levy writes:
New York itself may have an excuse to keep the faregates: its trains are very crowded, so peak-hour inspections may not be feasible. The question boils down to how New York crowding levels compare with those on the busiest urban proof-of-payment line, the Munich S-Bahn trunk. But no other American city has that excuse. Tear down these faregates.
What’s more, the fare inspection should be a low-key affair. The fine in Berlin is €60. Inspectors who can’t make a citation without using physical violence should not work as inspectors.
Levy also argues that agencies should “make it easy to follow the law…by offering generous monthly discounts,” thereby ensuring that fares are already paid in advance. In the Puget Sound, that would mean getting as many people as possible into a monthly prepaid ORCA pass. Our region is pretty good at this: we have ORCA LIFT for low-income residents and ORCA Opportunity for high schoolers, as well as a fairly successful ORCA Business Passport program. But we could go much further: ORCA for All, as the Transit Riders Union is proposing, for example.
We could also make a monthly pass more of a deal: currently it takes 36 rides to break even each month on a $2.75 pass (in Zurich you’ll break even after just 20 rides, Levy notes) . Today’s fares are somewhat higher than historical averages. Dropping the monthly fee by 20-25% would add more monthly riders and save money on fare collection and enforcement, while bringing fares for monthly riders back in line with pre-2008 norms.
As they used to say, read the whole thing.