Monday, September 15, 2008

Different Approaches to Mass Transit

Very interesting story in the NYTimes today about the transit system in Rochester, New York. It seems the Rochester transit system just cut fares, thus increasing ridership and ultimately making more income.

"The Rochester system, which expects to run a surplus for the third year in a row, has been able to reduce its one-ride fare in part by eliminating some low-trafficked routes, avoiding debt and aggressively raising revenues from other sources. The fare fell to $1 from $1.25 on Sept. 1."

Concurrently, the Rochester system made some creative arrangements with local public schools, colleges and private businesses, all of whom have students or employees who use the system extensively, to help subsidize transit operations.

In contrast, this morning King County Metro announced that it will be adding new bus routes and more frequent service to keep up with rising transit demand, and “revising” bus service for 22 other routes. To support the service expansion Metro has already had to raise fares 25 cents, and another 50-cent increase is in the works. As Rochester's approach demonstrates, higher fares lead to lower ridership, bringing lower revenues, which launches us once again into the vicious cycle of crowded buses, unreliable schedules, and a less pleasant bus experience.

Obviously there are great differences of scale - Rochester’s Regional Transit Service carries 15 million riders a year, which is a fraction of the King County ridership. But as economic hard times have reduced tax revenues and increased demand for government transit subsidies, Rochester's unusual approach to transit may provide valuable lessons for larger cities that are having trouble balancing increasing demand with reasonable fares. Like Seattle.

Thanks to RocBike for the sweet photo taken on a Rochester bus.

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