Are Free and Low Cost Transfers the Key to Fixing Metro’s Operations Mess?

Without some shocking turn of events, 48% of Metro passengers (seniors and students are exempted…this time) will see a fare increase this July.  For whatever reason, last Saturday’s "Special Board Meeting" held at Metro’s headquarters was sparely attended.  Perhaps because the hikes were viewed as inevitable, perhaps because the hearing was on a Saturday, or maybe because the "Special Board Meeting" was widely derided as a dog and pony show; but for whatever reason there wasn’t as much energy at the Metro Board room to fight a fare increase as there was to celebrate trains a couple of hundred yards away. 

Dana Gabbard reported on the event in the Comments Section for anyone wanting more details on the hearing.

Just because excitement for Metro’s attempt at public outreach was low; doesn’t mean there were a lack of ideas.  After proving that the Times’ business writer doesn’t understand what "farebox recovery ratio" means; David Lazarus went after Metro for not providing free or low cost transfers for one way trips.  While advocates often bemoan this, and other local transit agencies provide transfers, it’s rare for an operations issue to get play in the mainstream media.  However, the lack of transfers means that for many passengers making one way trips, Metro’s low fares aren’t as low as they might appear.

In other words, if I have to take a trip that requires me to switch buses or switch modes of transit, it doubles the cost of my trip.  That my base fare is lower than a base fare in New York doesn’t mean much, since the total cost of my trip is higher than that of a New Yorker who has to take multiple buses.

Apparently, Steve Hymon still reads the Times.  At The Source, he posted a poll asking people what kind of transfer system makes the most sense for Metro to look into.   Nearly three-quarters of respondents suggested some sort of "transfer" plan for single trips.

While it would certainly be a nice gesture to riders; I have to admit I’m skeptical that allowing transfers would make a big change in either ridership or Metro’s budget picture.  After all, the agency is facing a $181 million deficit (or $82 million if the state comes through with the promised $99.8 million in transit operations assistance) and the fare increase is only expected to raise $24 million.  That transfers would allow the agency to attract enough new riders to close the gap, without requiring more service that would in-turn increase the deficit, is about as likely at the Utah Jazz playing in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals.

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