When the Metro board approved fare hikes last May, it also directed Metro to engage experts from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) to study Metro’s fares and look into other revenue strategies. APTA experts completed their review recently, and presented their findings at last week’s Metro board meeting. Though the APTA review recommended approving Metro’s proposed fare increases, many of their findings contrast somewhat with present Metro policies.
The review sheds light on many Metro revenue practices, from fares to parking, and what their implications are regarding serving low-income riders. More details are available at the full review [PDF]; Metro’s summary [PDF], audio from last week’s board discussion (item 56 here), and The Source.
Auditors characterized Metro’s challenges as “meeting state of good repair costs, which are going up as the system ages,” and paying down a “long term and growing debt service burden [due to] building out the system capital expansion program.” To meet these, the APTA panel recommended that Metro approve two proposed 25-cent fare increases, to take effect in 2017 and 2020. In addition, APTA recommended that Metro approve ongoing fare modification to match inflation, as reflected by the Consumer Price Index (CPI.)
The review also supported raising Metro’s student fare, which is currently frozen. APTA recommends that Metro partner with colleges and others to help offset the costs of student discounts. During the board discussion, though not explicitly mentioned in the review, one panelist suggested Metro consider adopting one practice used by other transit agencies: offering a discount fare for youth (such as up to age 18) that is not necessarily dependent on student status.
The review recommended consolidation of all of Metro’s discounts – senior, student/youth, and low-income – into a single discounted fare product. Means-testing for this (deciding who qualifies for discounts) could be done in conjunction with other governmental programs, such as school free lunch programs and/or utility discounts, thereby lessening administrative burdens for Metro and its patrons.
The review recommended trip-based discounts over time-based discounts. Low income riders are better served by, for example, a ten-trip pass than a weekly or monthly unlimited pass. Citing a New York study, the APTA panel noted that thirty-day passes tend to benefit higher-income riders. For example, even transit-dependent riders sometimes get rides in a car, possibly at times when Metro service is lacking. With trip-based discounts, these non-Metro trips save a Metro fare, and hence wouldn’t effectively count against a time-based unlimited pass. Read more…