In December, the consulting firm Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates was hired by Metro to conduct a survey of Metro riders to gauge customer opinions on bus and rail service and pricing scenarios as the agency struggles with its finances. Over the course of three days the firm conducted telephone surveys of 400 riders who were randomly selected from a pool of riders who had previously filled out on-board surveys.
Perhaps the most interesting finding was that riders seem to be willing to pay a higher fare for faster and more frequent service. In response to the question, “Would you pay 50 cents more in fare, if your bus came every 5 minutes instead of every 10 minutes?” 65% of respondents said “Definitely yes” or “Probably yes.”
To the question, “Would you be willing to spend an extra dollar for express bus service resulting in a quicker trip and fewer stops over regular bus service with more stops to the same destination?” 57% responded “Definitely yes” or “Probably yes”.
Given the choice between cutting service or raising fares, 53% of respondents preferred maintaining current service levels with higher fares.
When asked about a completely different pricing structure than the current one, 53% of respondents said they would rather pay $2 to be able to ride the entire Metro system for two hours rather than paying $1.25 for a single trip.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they would prefer a quicker trip, even if it involved a transfer from bus to rail rather than a longer trip on a single bus line.
Does any of this mean that fares are going up?
Well, yes and no. In fact, general fares are going up on July 1 as part of a fare increased approved by the Metro Board of Directors in the spring of 2007. Unless the Board chooses to change its vote, the cash fare goes from $1.25 to $1.50, a daily pass from $5 to $6, weekly pass from $17 to $20 and a monthly pass from $62 to $75. The fare increase was supposed to take effect on July 1, 2009, but the Measure R tax increase approved by voters delayed it one year.
Under Measure R, fares for seniors, students, disabled and Medicare recipients stay the same for the first five years of the tax measure.
It remains to be seen if Metro staff and the Metro Board will move toward any further fare increases. We can tell you this: the Metro staff has made the argument that fares have not kept pace with inflation (see this report on the history of local transit to the Board’s Operations Committee; the report dives into the fare situation). On the other hand, fare increases, for a number of good reasons, are politically hard to implement, particularly when the economy is sour and ridership is down as a result.
Let us know how you would have responded to the survey by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.