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November 30, 2009

Comments

Nate:

Transit as infrastructure is exactly the right way to frame the issue. Thanks for the comment!

Good idea - it reminds me of a chapter in FREE! by Chris Anderson where he talks about Amazon.com when they instituted free shipping at all their subsidiaries but France, where it was 1c. Sales skyrocketed around the world - except France. That one penny was enough of a psychological barrier to keep people from pulling the trigger.

I think there is the same effect applies in mass transit. Even though riding Transit -especially for routine commuting - makes total rational sense, the fare creates a mental barrier to just hopping on.

Politically, it is hard to sell, though, because people think that riders should pay for the service. This is true as long as Transit is thought of as a service instead of as infrastructure - such as roads, or pipelines.

Once Transit is re-framed in the public mind as infrastructure, then maybe we can remove the fare box, and then a virtuous cycle takes off where higher rates of ridership justify better and better service, in addition to lowering external costs for everyone at the same time (road maintenance, pollution clean up, etc)

I think we can see this already here in Athens on the campus of UGA (I work for Campus Transit). Students pay a 'subscription fee' each semester for the Transit infrastructure. The upfront subsidy allows for full levels of service to be offered without having to slowly ramp up service, which could cause a vicious cycle of declining ridership to take hold. Having no farebox induces more people to 'hop on,' and hop on more often, thus actually decreasing the marginal cost per rider for the whole system.

I think cities - even Athens - could and should have a form of subscription fee via commuter tax or surcharge on something, so that they can offer a full level of service to create that virtuous cycle. But first we have to rethink mass transit as infrastructure - not as a service.

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