February 18, 2008
It's not about the fares, it's about the service

Christof and former City Council member Carroll Robinson have an op-ed in the Chron that's a response to the Bill King piece that called for Metro to do away with the fare box. They make some excellent points.

Eliminating the fare to ride Metro buses and the light-rail line will not increase options for transit riders, improve service or necessarily reduce congestion. Even if transit ridership were to increase, there is no evidence that every new rider would be someone getting out of their car to ride a bus or the rail line because it was free. Metro is already less expensive than driving.

Moreover, a significant portion of the commuters using the Metro Park & Ride buses already ride for free. Their fare is fully or partially subsidized by their employer, so it is unlikely that Park & Ride ridership will increase significantly by making Metro "free." Many university students can also ride for free. As Metro moves to an electronic fare card it is making paying to ride easier and reducing delays.

"Choice" riders -- the ones with a car at home -- won't ride transit simply because it is cheap. They also want high-quality service.

On the matter of being cheaper than driving, consider this. At $3 per gallon for gas, if you get 18 MPG in the city, a trip of just six miles each way costs you the same $2 that a roundtrip on Metro would cost. When you factor in the cost of parking, which for most destinations along the Main Street line is significant, Metro is an easy win. And the cost of gas isn't going to go down any time soon.

As our region continues to grow, even if there is no cost to ride Metro buses or rail, there will be more cars on our roads and highways. Over the next seven to 27 years, we will add 3 million people, and most will own a car. Without the option of an integrated regional rail and bus system, they will add to congestion.

We also need to look at congestion more holistically by adopting public policies that balance protecting our neighborhoods with enabling and managing increased residential and commercial growth in the neighborhoods inside Loop 610 and Beltway 8. These neighborhoods are already becoming densely developed. Without an integrated light-rail and bus system in Houston and the increased mobility it will provide, local roads will soon become as congested as our local highways.

As you know, I agree with that.

Anyway, read the whole thing. Christof has more here. I'm glad to see this dialog take place. I hope it continues.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 18, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

People vastly overestimate how attractive cost savings are anyways - once you consider that time has a value. I've explored this a few times, most recently here:


In short, people vastly overestimate the variable costs of driving (and underestimate the fixed costs) by incorrectly assigning depreciation to the "variable" bucket just because that's the only way the IRS can handle it.

Obviously higher-quality service changes the equation, but not because of monetary cost - it lessens the TIME cost.

Posted by: M1EK on February 19, 2008 10:25 AM