What’s happening at other transit agencies?

Chicago's CTA is dedicating $25 million to cleaning up 100

This weekly post features news from other transit agencies and planners from around the world. Did we miss a good story? Let us know in the comments. Hat tip to Yonah Freemark of The Transport Politic for digging up a lot of good stories and posting them on Twitter @TTPolitic.

UTA looking at distance-based fares (Salt Lake City, Utah)

The Utah Transit Authority — which runs commuter, light rail and buses in the Salt Lake area — is taking preliminary look at switching from a flat fare system to one that charges commuters varying amounts depending on how far they travel. An agency spokesperson told KSL news, “by lowering the fare for the short trips, we’ll increase our ridership, while at the same time collect the necessary revenue that will allow us to meet our (financial) goals.” UTA is projected to face a $70 million revenue shortfall thanks to the recession, at a time when the agency is trying to extend the reach of its transit system.

Mayor, CTA chief won’t rule out fare increase (Chicago, Ill.)

These days, if you’re a big-city transit agency, then you’re probably experiencing recession-induced budget problems. That’s certainly the case in America’s Second City, where new Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Transit Authority President Forrest Claypool are not ruling out increasing fares to close a budget gap. Presently, the base cash fare is $2.25. The silver lining is that the agency has found enough savings to invest $25 million in some badly needed station maintenance on its heavy rail “L” train system, parts of which are over 100 years old.

Changes mean more Purple Line and trail grade-separation (Bethesda, Md.)

Just outside the nation’s capital, planners at the Maryland Transit Administration are hashing out the finer details on its proposed Purple Line, a light rail line that will travel for 16 miles along an old rail corridor. Sound familiar? Indeed, current and future Metro Rail lines in L.A. County also use old rail rights-of-way as well, so it’s interesting to see how other agencies are handling the benefits and challenges of reusing old infrastructure. Greater Greater Washington has all the details.

Metro clears federal hurdle for $900M in rail grants (Houston, Tex.)

Houston Metro signed a funding agreement with the feds last week that will bring the agency around $900 million over five years. The funds will go toward construction of northern and southern segments of the city’s nascent light rail system. Here’s our look at Houston’s transit expansion plans from June.

Charlotte, N.C. gets $25 million for streetcar project

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood touted on his blog, Welcome to the Fast Lane, that the Federal Transportation Administration has awarded $25 million towards the 10-mile starter line. The project will help connect the Charlotte Transportation Center, the Presbyterian Hospital, and Central Piedmont Community College, among other destinations. As we noted back in April, Charlotte is one of many cities in the U.S. that stands to benefit if Congress approves America Fast Forward. Here’s the press release from the FTA.

Massachusetts needs $15b for rail, highway and bridge projects, panel warns

More rough financial news: The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority alone has a $4.5-billion maintenance backlog on its rail system. To keep up with transportation repairs, the state has been borrowing a lot of money of late — so much so that “seventy-four cents out of every $1 in the state’s Transportation Trust Fund…gets drained for debt payments,” according to the Boston Globe. The state legislature seems to recognize the need to raise more revenue, but remains queasy about raising the state’s gas tax, even though it has steadily lost value since 1991.

15 replies

  1. Distance fares should’ve been implemented long time ago. My public transit use is less than 8 miles over two buses which cost me $3.00 one-way. Why do I have to pay $3.00 for 8 miles when someone else can ride one bus for $1.50 over 10 miles? It makes no sense at all.

  2. Whats up with the talk of the “failure” of NYMTA and CTA. Those agencies are only facing problems not from their operations budget (New York has a fairly high farebox recovery in its subway and urban bus lines were fares cover 70% of the cost. sourced from the NY MTA budget documents) but rather from their systems aging infrastructure that needs heavy capital investments for repairs. NY MTA capital budget deficit keeps increasing with no end in sight.

    Goverments regardless of whether a transit system is public or private have usually assisted transit agencies when it came to capital projects.

  3. “Farebox recovery is less important in Los Angeles than it is in a lot of other “comparable” systems”

    And the solution is to keep taxing everyone to make up the cost of providing public transit. Hoorah for socialism!

    Let’s all shoot for the goal of making public transit in LA like the Pyongyang Metro where it costs 3 cents to go anywhere in the city of Pyongyang, but everyone is dirt poor except for a handful of elites who get around the city on comfortable Mercedes!

  4. @Steveland

    I disagree that BART and LA Metro Rail is a comparison of apples and oranges. The metropolitan area of LA is too big for the entire city to be covered on a single flat rate model.

    Even the Gold Line, when upon completion, is supposed to go all the way to Ontario Airport, that’ll be almost 40 miles of track that is under a single flat rate fare model. Would it make sense to pay $1.50 all the way from Ontario to Union Station, as opposed to paying the same price $1.50 price from Little Tokyo to Union Station? It’s darn obvious that it can’t be sustained forever.

    The only other solution, under existing flat fare model is to hike fares for everybody, or hike taxes for everybody. But where does it end? $2.00? $3.00? 15% sales tax? 20%? The flat rate is broken.

    The more Metro Rail expands, it doesn’t become “local” anymore, the distinction between local and commuters become diluted as it starts to spread out farther beyond its intent.

  5. Farebox recovery is less important in Los Angeles than it is in a lot of other “comparable” systems, it is more heavily subsidized here with a dedicated source of income. That by virtue puts LA Metro in a more advantageous position. More so, regarding the expansion, it is already paid for by Measure R which is a projected and temporary tax increase for the County and other money borrowed from the federal government at a low rate of interest.

    The comparison of BART to LA Metro Rail is apples and oranges, BART would be more fairly compared to our MetroLink commuter rail system, which has distance-based fares and relatively low overhead costs (except our use of diesel) like BART. LA Metro Rail and buses would be more accurately compared to SF Muni (a county operated local service system same as Metro) but they have $2.00 fare and an automatic 2 hour transfer upon purchase.

  6. Good for Utah for seriously considering distance fares.

    Transit should be cheaper for shorter riders and more expensive for longer rides. We cannot cover the whole size of LA with a $1.50 flat pay-per-ride rate forever.

    We need to follow with Utah’s example ASAP or we’ll end up like the demise of New York and Chicago.

  7. I understand it’s a recurring discussion, but I still believe the time is now to start beta-testing distance fares.

    We need to start looking at alternative fare collection schemes than trying to ask for billions in taxpayer money to fix it down the road when we have all those transit projects built.

    We have the technology to try this out. Incentivize TAP riders with “pay less for shorter rides” at $0.10/mi at $1.50 cap on Metro 720 and Metro Red Line.

    Distance fares is not a new thing, it’s in use throughout the world and has been shown to better manage public transit than trying to maintain flat rate fares. Even Singapore uses distance fares on their public transit system INCLUDING THEIR BUSES:


    If the Singaporeans can figure it out, we can do it here as well.

    Better yet, ask the Singaporean transit officials for advice on how they got it done.

  8. I agree that we need to prioritize the fare scheme now than later. Higher fares will become inevitable in the future as it is happening in the NYMTA and CTA.

    But the cost of conversion from flat rate to distance based will cost us taxpayers more when public transit is expanded. We have the Gold Line Extension, the Crenshaw Corridor, the Expo Phase II, Purple Line to Santa Monica, going on.

    Trying to fix the fare system when we have all those online along with our existing lines will run up more billion in tax dollars to fix. Better to do it now while we still have smaller infrastructure to deal with.

  9. I don’t see anything wrong with charging by the distance. I think it makes much more sense to make farther distances higher and shorter distances lower. You are “using” the bus or train more when you ride farther and “using” them less when you ride less. And since every people have different distance needs it makes good sense to go by distance instead of every boarding.

    Can’t we have something like 50 cents every five miles or so? A person who travel only 0-10 miles pays $1.00, a person travelling 11-15 miles pays $1.50, and 16-20 miles pays $2.00. This should encourage 0-10 mile riders to take the bus or train more because they now pay less than now, 11-15 mile riders still pay the same, and those that ride 16-20 pay only 50 cents more. I think ridership will become better if fares are evened out like this depending on people’s needs.

  10. I am in favor of distance based fares, The LA Metro System covers a large territory. Some of the Municipal Bus Companies fares are higher than Metro. I think Metro should continue expanding Its heavy rail & light rail network. I am also in favor of a TAP card for all of the transit agencies in the Southern Calif. Area. Fare increases are inevitable and need to occur sooner than later to avoid financial ruin.

  11. By the way San Diego, CA MTS (Metropolitan Transit System) charges $2.25 for regular one way bus fares, $2.50 for regular express one way, $5 one way for commuter express bus, $2.50 one way on the Trolley, and their Daypass valid on Trolley, Regular & Express buses for $5.

  12. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, all are failing because of the same problems: trying to expand public transit while trying to maintain low flat rate fares.

    Expanding public transit means more trains and more stations that needs to be maintain in the long run.

    It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that low flat rate fares can’t be sustained forever. Sooner or later we all have to deal with higher fares or higher taxes.

    Who’s going to ride public transit when fares costs $2.00 per ride? $3.00?

    Who’s going to live in LA when sales taxes rise to 15%? 20%?

    If LA Metro follows suit, it’ll be an “I told you so” moment for all those who THINK instead of being spoon-fed what they’re told.

    WAKE UP PEOPLE! We don’t want this to happen in LA. Fare models has to be fixed ASAP, before we start expanding our public transit. Fixing it later will just cost more money later!

  13. Let’s just be clear: Los Angeles is the New Second City. Chicago can only claim to be the former Second City.

  14. @ Former NYer

    The fare system is only part of the problem. BART is also mulling a fare increase on its distance fare system. The United States is underfunding its transit systems across the board, from highways to commuter rails and our low gas tax cannot sustain it any longer.


  15. I told you so. What happened in NYMTA, will happen to CTA, and will inevitably happen to LA Metro as long as we continue to stick with the flat rate fare idea.

    There’s no way we can continue to have $1.50 flat rate fares with an ever expanding transit system.

    Wait for $2.25 flat rate fares to hit LA Metro. Sooner or later it’ll become $2.50, $3.00, $5.00 and everyone will be screaming end flat rate fares as there’s always a threshold where people start saying “it’s not worth $X to travel Y distance.”

    Then people will switch to cheaper methods like the bicycle or the scooter, and public transit ridership will decrease substantially leaving us with a huge lemon of a tax waste.

    We need to fix the fare system now before it’s too late.