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Should Transit Charge More During Peak Hours?

7:25 AM PDT on May 7, 2010

338846804_cb792de790.jpgShould peak-hour Metro commuters pay a surcharge in the most congested part of the system? (Photo: roboppy via Flickr)

This morning on the Streetsblog Network, there’s a lively and intelligent discussion going on at Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit over the question "Should fares be higher during peak hours?"

The Human Transit post was sparked by an earlier discussion at Yonah Freemark’s blog, The Transport Politic,
about the possibility of peak surcharges on Washington, D.C.’s Metro
system (it already costs more to ride Metro at peak times; the proposal
in question is for an additional 50-cent charge in the most congested
part of the system).

Walker thinks such charges could be a good thing:

There’s also an argument for peak surcharging that connects with
urbanist goals for transit. People who have the option of traveling
off-peak should be encouraged to do so, because off-peak capacity is
usually abundant, while peak capacity is naturally scarce and costly
for the transit agency. This strategy helps build off-peak patronage,
which supports more all-day service, which leads directly to transit
that is more relevant to the entire life of the city rather than just
the commute. All-day frequent service is the only type of service that
can support transit-oriented development and thus change the shape of
the city in more sustainable ways.  From an urbanist perspective, then,
a gentle but persistent effort to shift demand away from the peak makes
sense.

I have trouble even seeing a social justice argument against peak
surcharges, as the average peak-period traveler usually has a higher
income than an average midday traveler (because lower-paying jobs,
mostly in service industries, are less likely to start and end on the
usual peak). So insisting on flat fares all day could actually be seen
as regressive.

Be sure to check out both original posts for a well-reasoned debate on the topic.

More from around the network: Totcycle proposes a "Bike to School Across America" competition. Seattle Transit Blog previews Mayor Mike McGinn’s forthcoming "Walk Bike Ride" initiative. And Broken Sidewalk
has a little snippet about a college basketball player who wouldn’t get
into a car during March Madness — because he recognized how dangerous
it can be.

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