Why Free?

Why should we advocate for free public transit instead something like low-cost, or more-efficient public transit. This is an important point. There is a critical difference.

If you have ever been a working-poor urbanite, you will recognize the difference right away. You have to wait for everyone to pay as they get on the bus, often missing the green light. You have to be concerned about having exact change, keeping your transfer handy, and not letting it expire. You cannot easily jump on and off a bus if you decide on an errand. Every time you embark or disembark you usually have to pay, or use up your transfer. You can buy a monthly pass, but that can be a large lump sum and is difficult for you, even though it will probably save you money by the end of the month. You may have to wait in line to get a token at the subway and miss your train. Collecting fares and handling transfers is a burden on the bus drivers and is an unsafe distraction. Also, bus drivers have to be cops an yell at the kids walking on backwards at the back door. The CTA in Chicago is going to spend $25 million on a computer system to prevent bus "bunching" -- caused by the delay in boarding of fare collection and transfer issuance. We riders know!

For the economists there are also many reasons. Having a fare, any fare, requires a basic fixed cost of collecting the fare. That is why many of the examples of success stories on this site are small rural transit systems. They found the cost of collecting is too high a percentage. Accounting costs, printing transfers and passes, selling and collecting. These people could be working on cleaning and security. Large transit systems actually have more fixed fare-related costs, but they put them in another accounting bucket: security. Do you see all those stainless steel turnstyles and all the caging and fencing to prevent fare avoidance. They cost a bundle.

With free transit, more people will ride. It is a proven fact (it's even intuitive). It will also be more convenient and easier on the employees and more economical for the operation. 

fpt editors - 2007 - no rights reserved.

Waiting while someone fumbles for exact change.

"If buses were free, we could get on at both doors."