January 25, 2008, another great post from Eric: 

      

Chicago Tribune - Change of Subject

Maybe the best answer here is to can all the distinctions and let everyone ride free.  San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom asked his  Municipal Transportation Agency last year to study the idea last year, and though that report is still pending, a $100,000 study (.pdf) released Thursday by the Nurture New York’s Nature Foundation argues that it can be and should be done.

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Originally posted: June 7, 2007 - Chicago Tribune                                  
No fare! A better idea than $3.25 rides on the CTA

CTA president Ron Huberman has been saying that unless state funding comes through to help the transit agency plug a $110 million budget deficit, fares may have to rise to $3.25 during peak periods.

I'd like nothing better.

Nothing as in free -- no charge to ride the buses and trains.  Throw the fareboxes, turnstiles and card-machines into the landfill. Make every day New Year's Eve (when rides are free).

A radical idea? You bet. CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said that about half of the CTA's roughly billion dollar annual budget comes from fares, so lawmakers would have to raise taxes and fees significantly to cover the shortfall.

A new idea? No. According to our news archives, in the fall of 1991, Ald. Bernard Stone (50th) proposed just such a plan to be financed by a "a small, insignificant income tax."

"If public transportation is available to all the residents of the metropolitan Chicagoland area, then why should not the cost of such a system come from income earned in the metropolitan area and all fares be free?" Stone asked.

No one ever really answered Stone's question, though Gaffney says someone or other raises the idea at nearly every CTA public meeting.

In March, the San Francisco Chronicle reported:

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said today that he has asked the Municipal Transportation Agency to look into the possibility of providing fare-free public transit in the city.

He told The Chronicle that when all the costs associated with collecting the fares are factored in, the idea of letting people board for free may not be a big financial stretch.

Today, the New York Daily News columnist Michael Daly reported that, in an interview on transit issues this week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg--

allowed himself to imagine an ideal that is not likely ever to come to pass: "I would have mass transit be given away for nothing and charge an awful lot for bringing an automobile into the city," he said.

An impossible idea? Again, no. Free Public Transit, an organization devoted to, well, you know, lists seven success stories, though all in far smaller markets than ours.

People who really know the transit business would have to crunch the numbers and do the analysis, but on the back of my envelope it says:

Advantages of free public transportation:

  • It  would make Chicago a more attractive city to visit and to operate a business.
  • Because of vastly increased ridership, there would be more buses and more trains running more often and along more routes, making the CTA a more efficient and attractive transportation option.
  • It would reduce traffic congestion and pollution (see Fare-Free Mass Transit: A Case Study of What Is Now, and What Can Be In
    Any Large Metropolitan Region of the USA
    .pdf file -- by California State Univeristy at Long Beach math professor John Bachar)
  • It would reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.
  • It would allow the CTA to divert resources now spent on enforcing, collecting and accounting for fares into such areas as enforcing platform, bus and train safety.
  • It would be of the greatest advantage to those who are currently disadvantaged -- low-income workers who now pay fares and have lengthy commutes on public transportation.
  • Like education, police and fire protection, and access to roads, transportation is a basic essential of life that government should provide.

Disadvantages of free public transportation:

  • It would cause economic harm to taxi drivers, parking lot owners and the automotive and petroleum industries.
  • Half a billion dollars (probably more given the transition costs and the increased equipment and maintenance costs) ain't chump change.
  • Without increased security and some sorts of restrictions, it might turn the CTA into more of a mobile homeless shelter than it is now.
  • It isn't the way we've always done it!

What else, pro and con?

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