A look at Metro's fares compared to fares at other major transit agencies

On Saturday, the Board of Directors of Metro are holding a special meeting to update the public on the scheduled fare increase slated for July 1. Here’s a link to the new fare structure.

To put the fare increase in perspective we’ve created a few charts comparing Metro’s new fares to the fares of other major transit agencies across the nation. As the charts show, even after the upcoming increase, Metro’s fares are still lower than most other agencies with similar fare structures.

A few other things worth considering:

  • Metro is facing a $181-million deficit in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The fare increase is expected to generate $24 million in revenues.
  • Fares for seniors, disabled, Medicare recipients and students — 52% of Metro’s riders — will see no fare increase until July 1, 2013 because of a provision in the Measure R sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008 that froze their fares.
  • Metro has one of the more vigorous student fare programs in the U.S, with K to 12 students paying $24 for a monthly pass and college and vocational students $36. In other words, both groups of students are getting more than half off the regular price of those passes.
As for the special meeting, there has been no indication thus far that the agency’s Board of Directors are inclined to rescind or delay the scheduled fare increase. That’s not to say that we can predict the future at The Source — although we’re working on it — but the reality is that canceling or pushing back the increase makes a sticky budget situation stickier.

Please note that some agencies are omitted from the comparisons below. This is because some, such as Washington D.C.’s WMATA, use a distance-based fare structure that is difficult to fairly compare on a chart.

The Source chart: Base Fares

Metro base fares relative to other major transit agencies. Click to enlarge.

As you can see, Metro’s base fare of $1.50 is the lowest of the compared agencies as is the reduced base for for senior and disabled riders.

The Source chart: Day Passes

Metro Day Passes relative to other transit agencies. Click to enlarge.

Again, when it comes to day passes Metro is among the lowest in cost and is the only agency among those compared to offer a reduced fare day pass for senior and disabled riders.

The Source chart: Weekly Passes

Metro weekly passes relative to other transit agencies. Click to enlarge.

The Source chart: Month Passes

Metro monthly passes relative to other transit agencies. Click to enlarge.

Metro also proves to be amongst the most affordable when it comes to weekly and monthly passes. It’s also worth keeping in mind that many of these transit agencies are also facing budget deficits and fare increases may be on their way for NYC MTA and SEPTA.

The most important chart, in my view, is this one that compares the cost of Metro over the course of a year to the cost of owning a car:

The Source chart: Metro v. Car Ownership

The annual cost of various Metro passes vs. owning a car. Click to enlarge.

Even with the fare increase, when it comes to saving transportation dollars Metro is far and away the winner. The most expensive pass option, the EZ Premium Pass with 2 Zone Stamps ($126 a month), which allows unlimited travel on transit in the Los Angeles region, is over $1,000 cheaper than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008 numbers on the cost of used car ownership for the lowest 20% of income earners. And for the average American car owner, according to AAA’s Cost of Car Ownership data for 2010, it’s a savings of almost $6,000.

There are a few caveats (denoted by an asterisk on the charts):

  • CTA offers a discount on fares when purchased with the Chicago Card (CTA’s version of the TAP card). With a card, the base fare is $2.00 (85¢ for reduced fare).
  • Both CTA and SEPTA allow seniors over 65 to ride free with an ID card.
  • TriMet has very basic zone system. Fares displayed on the chart represent “All Zones.” TriMet “2 Zone” fares are $2.00 for base fare and $19.50 for a weekly pass.
  • All of the agencies compared – with the exception of Metro – offer timed transfers. CTA only allows transfers on fares purchased with a Chicago Card and they are 25¢ (15¢ for reduced fare). SEPTA charges 75¢ for transfers. The remaining agencies all offer free transfers within a specified time period.
  • Metro’s Day Pass offers unlimited transfers (excluding zone fares) but requires a TAP card for bus passengers.

Categories: Policy & Funding

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