Transportation headlines, Thursday, September 25

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Global shift to mass transit could save more than $100 trillion and 1,700 megatons of CO2 (UC Davis)


Interesting new study from UC Davis that concludes that a massive expansion of mass transit could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by getting people to switch from driving alone to taking transit. As we’ve posted before, transit tends to burn fewer greenhouse gases because it’s more efficient than driving alone.

The report says bus rapid transit is likely the best way for the nation to greatly expand transit because buses are the dominant type of transit in the U.S. and BRT is generally far less expensive to build than new rail lines.

I think there’s certainly room for transit to grow in the U.S. and attract more riders. The key question is whether that would reduce car trips enough to make an impact on emissions. I’m not sure about that. The following item is also quasi-related.

Of course, greatly expanding transit, BRT or otherwise, requires funding. And this chart from a new report on transportation funding by Pew Charitable Trusts shows that spending on highways still outpaces spending on transit at every level of government in the U.S.


Flat fare no longer fair? Agency studies distance-based fares (Salt Lake City Tribune)

Posting by popular demand. The Utah Transit Authority — which has long been charging a flat fare to ride its buses and trains (like most agencies, including Metro — says it has the technological ability to charge less for short rides and more for long rides. So it will study distance-base fares to see if they can be implemented without losing ridership or revenue.

Distance-based fares have been discussed frequently over the years on our comment board and there’s a segment of our readership who feel they should be implemented here. Among their arguments: Smaller fares for short rides would greatly encourage ridership for those who want to make short trips but don’t want to pay the full fare and may even help reduce traffic in congested parts of town. They also argue that it’s not fair that some Metro riders can ride long distances for the same flat fare and should pay their fair share.

As I’ve written in the past on the comment board, distance-based fares don’t really turn my turnstile, so to speak. I think getting everyone to tap in and tap out is a big hurdle (just getting people to tap in has been a challenge, as we know) and I’m not convinced fares for short trips would ever shrink that much given Metro’s financial challenges. I also think hitting long-distance riders with higher fares would hurt those who depend on Metro the most for their mobility — i.e. low-income workers and residents who must travel great distances from their neighborhoods to jobs. Finally, I don’t think any fare system is going to impact traffic given the convenience and affordability of privately-owned cars. Transit provides an alternative to traffic and perhaps helps it from growing worse. Transit doesn’t fix traffic. If it did, there would be more of it in L.A. and elsewhere.

Washington Metro CEO to step down (Washington Post) 

Richard Sarles took the job in the aftermath of a subway crash that killed nine people in 2009. The Washington Metro is the second-busiest subway system in the country behind New York and Sarles in 2013 put the agency on a path to rebuild and greatly expand the system if funding can be found. Officials were surprised by the announcement.

25 replies

  1. I don’t see why “tapping out” to complete a distance-based fare calculation is such an impediment. When I used to ride CalTrain in the Bay Area, a system with distance-based fares but without gates or turnstiles, people learned to do it. There was a great economic incentive, in fact. If, for example, you were riding from San Francisco to Palo Alto, and you neglected to tap out after leaving the train in Palo Alto, your Clipper Card (like a Tap Card) account would simply have the maximum fare deducted, i.e. all the way down to Gilroy. People wouldn’t make that mistake twice. Sort of like a pay parking garage where you get charged the maximum for losing your ticket. Let’s stop underestimating people’s intelligence.

    • The difficultly is not underestimating people’s intelligence. The difficulty is getting the word out because there are lots of people in LA where English is not their first language.

      Just look at all the issues Covered California had in getting the word out to Spanish speaking residents. And then there’s Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Korean, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Russian, Arabic, etc. etc. This wouldn’t be an issue in Utah, but here in California it’s a different story. And Covered California is still in limbo, with months of backlog and horribly understaffed. And that’s at the state level. If they can’t do it on the state level, what makes you think LA County can handle this on their own with limited funds?

      Yes, I know there is no official language of the United States. Nowhere in the Constitution or Bill of Rights state that English is our country’s official language.

      But realistically, LA is a melting pot of many immigrants from all over the world, many of them reliant on public transit, that it will be a nightmare to get the word out in multiple languages to remind them that they need to “tap-in” and “tap-out.” Yes, it’s a simple thing, but the execution of it is another story. It’s a poor excuse that Metro should never use because that’s what we pay them to do, but realistically, how can it be done?

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a distance based fare idea. I think that it would be a fair way to charge riders. But if anyone has a good idea on how to get the word out, I’m all ears.

  2. Well, I’m interested to see how the new 2-hour fare system works here. I myself am switching from a monthly (30-day) pass to stored value to see which method will save me $$$ based on my travel habits. (Of course October won’t be a fair [fare?] month to test this out as I’ll be travelling quite a bit.)

  3. Puhleaze!

    If some people want to use lame excuse that distance based fares violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, we can do the same and claim that flat rate fares are actually discriminatory per Title VI because it charges the poor living in apartments in the city who have minimum wage jobs nearby the same fare as those who can afford living in a house out in the suburbs and can afford higher fares for travelling farther!

    You live far away? You don’t want to pay more? But don’t mind forcing the same price to poor inner city residents? And that’s not selfish? Well too bad, no one feels sorry for yo! You have a longer commute, then pay more! No one forced you to live far away. Don’t like it? Move closer to the inner city like the rest of us! Of course you don’t, you don’t want to live here in the hood!

    Stop making poor people who are the most reliant on public transit subsidiz you rich people who can afford homes in the suburbs just so you guys can continue to get a cheap trip from so far away! Public transit isn’t for you, it’s meant for us, so go back to the car!!! You guys can afford it, we can’t!!!

  4. It’s interesting to note that when London went from distance based to a flat fare on board buses ridership soared (as noted above, London Underground fares continue to be distance based). What role do community transit providers play? Wouldn’t someone who wanted to go a short way to buy groceries want to take the DASH and pay only 50 cents or Glendale Beeline, Pasadena ARTS, etc. if they are not in the city of LA? Will people paying cash on a bus in a distance based system have to be able to calculate the precise fare they need? What if they disagree with the operator on precisely how many zones or stages they will travel in? You can avoid the whole problem by buying a day pass / weekly pass / monthly pass, etc. Having a capped fare system on the TAP card (i.e. only $6 will be deducted per day, $75 per month, etc. no matter how much you TAP based on the single fare being deducted at a time) will allow the poor to enjoy volume fare discounts without having to front a large amount of money at once.

    • Umm, no. London’s fare system is based on zones, not distance.

      There’s a big difference between those two.

      Zones means the fare stays the same when you’re in the same zone. Whether you travel 2 miles or 5 miles, if that’s in the same zone, you pay that zonal fare.

      Distance based fares are purely based on number of miles and kilometers travelled. Meaning, 2 miles is 2 miles, 5 miles is 5 miles worth of fares.

      • Vancouver’s SkyTrain also uses zones.

        Another issue with zones is that the distance between two zones maybe close together, but ends up charging a higher fare
        because it overlaps two zones.

        For example, on that Vancouver SkyTrain map link above, Patterson Station and Joyce-Collingwood Station is only one station away from each other but it crosses over to a different zone. Because of that, even if it’s only one station away, it costs more than going from Patterson to Metrotown or Joyce-Collingwood to 29th Avenue.

        Distance based fares only looks at the miles traveled without any zones. Patterson to Joyce-Collingwood will be charged the same on station price because all that matters is how far you go, not how many zones you travel within/through.

    • “i.e. only $6 will be deducted per day, $75 per month, etc. no matter how much you TAP based on the single fare being deducted at a time)”

      Perhaps you didn’t get the memo? The new fare increase in effect, daily passes are now $7, monthly passes is $100. And there’s no guarantee at all it will remain at that price too.

  5. I cringe when I hear about distance-based fares for light rail or buses. I’ve always been a fan of flat rates even if they need to be a bit higher (NY Metro being my favorite example). Distance based systems like London and San Francisco are a pain and (especially in London) rates often eliminate all but fairly well-to-do riders during rush hour. If you are only going one stop and are pressed for cash, you could just walk or ride your bike provided you are healthy. The point of public transit is for people to have an affordable alternative to cars for distances that they can’t cover on foot or bike (due to distance or disability).

    • Two miles of walk is still a long walk, healthy or disabled. Five miles of walk is still a long walk or even on a bicycle, healthy or disabled. More so when they are elderly.

      Besides, what you’re saying is goes against what you propose: “It’s okay to ripoff the poor, disabled, and the elderly to charge them an $1.75 (or whatever the next fare hike will be) just to ride the bus for a short distance that they can’t do, but must do to live.”

      Are you saying it’s okay under the current system where the poor and the disabled and the elderly must now pay $3.50 to do a roundtrip to the nearest supermarket to go buy groceries? And the other choice left is to suck up paying $100 a month for a monthly pass?

      • Fares for Seniors and Disabled are only 35 cents (75 cents during peak hours), no where near $1.75.

      • The disabled and elderly are paying 70 cents during off peak hours, not $3.50. This is a fallacy. Low income fares are an option, and are being tested in Seattle. However, Seattle’s peak hour base fare for trips that cross city limits is $3.00 today. Broadening the availability of the Rider Relief Transportation Program criteria to people slightly above the poverty line, similar to the income limits for the Expresslanes maintenance fee waiver, might also be an option.

        I look forward to UTA developing a model that is fair for all demographic groups. However, you cannot implement a distance based fare structure for existing service without doing a Title VI analysis. Agencies that have distance based fares, like BART and WMATA, had them at their inception.

      • In other countries where distance based fares are the norm, children, the disabled and the elderly also get reduced fares with at a pay-by-the-distance rate that’s lower than the full fare rate.

        For example, in Taipei, a fare from point A to point B will cost NT$25, but reduced to NT$20 when using a contactless card, and seniors, disabled and children only pay NT$10 using their special contactless card.

        It’s like electricity – qualified groups get cheaper electric rates.

        That’s also another option to look at: move to distance based fares, with a cap system to replace passes, and provide a cheaper rate for those who qualify for a cheaper rate.

  6. In the Bay Area, BART and Caltrain are distance-based; the MUNI has, for decades, had the same sort of time-limited transfers we just put in. (Except for cable cars: on cable cars, back in the 1970s, they had time-limited transfers that cost slightly more than the base MUNI fare, but allowed round trips; ever since the last system-wide rebuild, cable car single-boarding fare has been exactly that: single boarding, with no transfers accepted or issued, which is now up to $6; thankfully, passes are good on cable cars).

    As I recall, the San Diego Trolley originally had distance-based fares; they went flat some years ago.

    In most major metropolitan areas, urban rail tends to be flat, while regional and commuter rail tend to be distance-based.

    • When the Expo Phase II, Regional Connector and Goldline Foothill Extension is completed, that’s 50 miles of track from Santa Monica to Montclair.

      That’s not urban rail. That’s as long as some Metrolink lines, and perfectly qualifies as “regional” and “commuter” rail.

      Besides, what is “commuter” rail? Is it a rail system that people use to commute? All rail is a “commuter” rail, people use the Red Line to commute.

      • What a wonderfully ridiculous and utterly flawed and nonsensical argument. Second and third paragraphs above are non sequitors.

      • VV,

        Push comes to shove, and if someone wants pursue this with Title VI, those definitions has to be explained before the federal district judge. Title VI is a federal law and therefore it lands as a question before the federal court system.

        One can’t simply argue with emotions before the federal judge that Metro Rail is different from Metrolink because one is urban rail and the other is regional rail, so it’s okay that one has a flat rate fare system and the other uses distance based fares.

        The federal judge will simply say “explain the difference between the two.”

        What’s the difference? Can you explain it?

    • Trivia fact:

      Originally, the RTD back in the 1970s (if anyone can remember it) and the old P&E rail lines, were all run on a distance based fare format.

      It was changed to a flat rate format in the early 1980s because it slowed down the system too much. But even back then, people said that moving to a flat rate system didn’t make any sense at all that a person going from Miracle Mile to Downtown LA has to pay the same price as someone going from City Hall to Broadway.

      In addition, when the first Metro Rail lines were being constructed in the early 1990s, the idea of charging fares by the distance was also on the table. That idea was scrapped because the powers at be at the time had no clue how to run a transit system. They didn’t want gates, they didn’t think fare evasion was going to be an issue, they didn’t think ridership was going to be high. So they left it the same as the RTD bus that switched to the flat rate system, and by that time it was called Metro.

      But all of these were done before the age of GPS devices, contactless cards, smartphones more powerful than computers than the Apollo mission, which if used today will solve those issues, and have shown successes in many cities with high transit riderships across the world.

  7. “I also think hitting long-distance riders with higher fares would hurt those who depend on Metro the most for their mobility — i.e. low-income workers and residents who must travel great distances from their neighborhoods to jobs.”

    This is at best, a hypothetical argument. There has been no studies done by Metro that I know of that backs up this claim that a large number of low income riders travel farther distances to commute to work.

    One big counter-argument to that is this: the vast majority of people working for minimum wage (and there are lots of them here in LA) aren’t travelling far distances to go from home to work and vice-versa.

    You’re not going to see a low income resident in Sylmar go work at a McDonald’s in San Pedro for example. If they live in Sylmar, they’ll likely work at a McDonald’s in Sylmar. A person who works at Ralphs, Staples, Costco, BestBuy, and any number of national retail chains all over the LA do not travel that far from home to work.

    What they all do is commute within a 5 mile radius from their homes using the car. And such short trips contribute the traffic jams on the streets of LA. And they do not see any benefit of using Metro.

    • Sorry to burst your bubble, but I know examples of one of the ‘national’ chains that you mention transfer individuals to stores quite distant from their homes. I am personally aquianted with one employee that was transfered between locations that were 18 miles (straight line) distant from each other. They relayed to me stories of those that travelled even greater distances from their homes. And with much of the shift work that happens, they can not use public transit. For example, try getting from Pasadena to Sylmar and start at 6 am (to cover the breakfast shift). Try working until 12:30 just about anywhere and getting home on transit, you can’t.

      Oh, and by the way, many minimum wage people working at say McD’s don’t get 40 hours per week at a single job. They have to work 2 or 3 part time jobs. This is a problem vis-à-vis transit vs. auto.

      • Sorry buddy, but you pretty much showed how much you know nothing about us and using blanket statements without nothing to back it up.

        “Oh I know a guy who…” Really? No one believes that in this day and age without any sort of proof. Yeah, I know a guy who claims he saw UFOs too. But he has no pictures or videos, just his word of mouth, but I know the guy so therefore UFOs must definitely exist! Pfft.

        Here’s the real fact:

        I am a minimum wage earner myself and if the place where I work wants me to transfer somewhere farther away and isn’t willing to pay for the cost of the extra commute, I’d just quit and find a job elsewhere. There’s plenty of them. Working at BestBuy isn’t different than working at Staples or Office Depot. And there’s plenty of them nearby.

        Not worth it to waste money on gas to commute 20 miles away for a 4 hour job just to make nine bucks an hour. That means I only make $36 bucks minus all these taxes for that 4 hour job by travelling 20 miles to get there. Do the roundtrip and it’s 40 miles. You’re practically earned that $36 just to disappear in the gas it costs to commute 40 miles. No one is going to do that, they’ll say, “thanks, but no thanks” and quit and find another minimum wage job nearby like at Staples or Office Depot.

        What you fail to realize in your factless unrealistic statement is that there are plenty of minimum job openings that are available for many people in the area that they live. You live in Hawthorne, you work at a BestBuy in Hawthorne. If BestBuy wants me transfer to a BestBuy location in Norwalk, no one takes up on that offer. There are plenty of people in Norwalk too that they can fill that job with. If they say they’re going to fire me if I don’t comply, so be it. I’ll just go work at Home Depot, Staples, Office Depot, Walmart, Target, Papa Johns, whatever. Turnover rates at these places are high, there’s always job openings.

        Besides, many don’t have time or luxury to do that. Some of us have to work and go back home and take care of our children. Spending hours on a long commute to a transferred location tens of miles away just to earn minimum wage and going back how to take care of our children is not what we can waste our time on.

      • Can you say PWNED! LOL.

        Now that’s what I’m talking about! These people have clue how the rest of the folks live. Must be nice to be armchair about what’s best for us when you have no clue about our jobs and our choices.

        Seriously, people will saying anything to prove their point. If you live in a suburb in a big house with cars and make at least $40,000 a year or more you guys can afford higher fares. You can’t speak for those trying to make a living under $25,000 a year.

    • calwatch,

      I do know that’s the main argument against distance based fares, but there’s a pitfall to use that argument: Title VI does not apply just to Metro, it applies to all transit agencies in the US.

      Washington DC Metro has it, so does UTA Salt Lake City, as does BART, Caltrain, and Metrolink. They all run distance based fares.

      The argument that it’s against Title VI will be shot down by the courts by the simple fact that distance based fares already exists and is being used in transit elsewhere in the US (as well as right here in California).

    • Many here agree that the Metro fares should be raised. There are those that say Metro should become more in line with other agencies like a fare of $2.00 or more. Sure go ahead, if you want to pay $2.00 no one is stopping you. I

      But don’t force that to everyone and all Metro riders and expect everyone to agree with that idea when transit patterns differ from rider to rider. I agree that if you live 20 miles from work, then you deserve to pay $2.00. But I don’t agree that $2.00 fare hike should apply to everyone without considering distance as a factor.

      For those who have shorter trips, $2.00 is too expensive and is not worth riding Metro anymore. Metro in the end, will lose out more of the short distance rider market.

      As one person said, no one in their right mind is going to pay $3.50 roundtrip to go buy groceries at their neighborhood supermarket. People will still continue to drive cars instead. And as more people go back to the car for shorter trips, all it does is add to more congestion on surface streets.

      Instead, what Metro should do to alleviate traffic and retain the short distance riders and bring in revenue if the fares for short distance riders were like $0.50 per mile, just like UTA is doing with their beta test at BYU.

      BTW, I find it odd that Metro chose to use an article dated back in July when it was a study on distance based fares, as opposed to linking the Salt Lake Tribune article from this month which they is already in beta-test mode:

      Let’s look at this from a real world standpoint. The way it is now, fares are just going to keep increasing. Look at New York, they keep raising their fares all the time. We’re at $1.75 right now, sooner or later it will be $2.00, $2.50, $3.00 and so on. Some people say it’s still cheap – likely because $3.00 is still a deal at a commute of 20 miles. But $3.00 for those who have a 5 mile commute? $6.00 roundtrip to go buy groceries? Riders in that market will seek alternative means of transportation or go back to the car for shorter trips. And you end up with an endless spiral of decreasing ridership, decreasing farebox recovery ratios, constant fare hikes, and more congested roads because more people will be using the car for shorter trips.