Free rides, pretty boy?

Asheville, North Carolina, is one of several cities with a movement to have “free” (i.e., no fares charged to ride) public transit.  Evidently, some folks are particularly annoyed that the bus system is contemplating a fare increase to help fund improvements that won’t arrive on the schedule they were promised.

I’m not sure where I stand on fare-free transit–I certainly think it would boost ridership, reduce traffic congestion, and increase quality of life in many (if not all) cities, but it’s a politically tough sell in many of those cities.  Of course, the argument that “those who ride should pay” is a tough sell when you consider how much everyone pays to ensure that roads are built and maintained, regardless of whether they use the (non-toll) roads or not.

My ultimate aim is to see all transit systems provide frequent, reliable, easy-to-navigate service at affordable (and perhaps free) prices so that the public has every reason in the world to choose transit.  Given that many “fare recovery” ratios for transit systems hover at or below 10% (i.e., the transit agency makes 10% or less of its revenue on fares), it stands to reason that many could find a way to go fare-free, at least when the economy recovers and sales tax proceeds increase (if that’s the funding stream, as it is here).  But my goal would be to create the efficient system, with greater frequency and reliability of service, competitive with driving, and eventually to create and engender public good will to absorb the costs of a fare-free system.

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