Imagine that there was a change in Amazon policies that suddenly forced you to pay a $3.50 surcharge for packages delivered to the second floor. Or imagine a high-rise office building where it costs $2.75 to take an elevator to your doctor’s office. As tenants fled, the building’s owner would quickly go out of business. So could your doctor.
While we enthusiastically accept the idea that the cost of our vertical transportation should not be imposed on individuals, we have stubbornly resisted the idea that a substitute teacher should be able to take a local bus to the front door of his or her school. daughter for free. or that if her daughter comes down with the flu, she should be able to transport her not only from the door of the doctor’s office up the escalator to her office for free, but also from school to her office.
The free parking subsidy, the valuable property along the curb that cities set aside for cars, is estimated to cost between $100 billion and $300 billion, far exceeding the sums that cities would need to spend to make transit is free.
Cities exist because people need to be able to connect with other people. And horizontal transportation across the city is just as vital as vertical transportation up to the 11th floor. However, because governments do not cover the cost of horizontal public transportation, American urban areas suffer from a number of problems related to transportation. excessive reliance by residents on privately owned and operated vehicles for this trip, including toxic levels of Air pollution affects 137 million people. and the traffic congestion that wastes 3.4 billion hours of travel time.
Therefore, it is encouraging to see a growing number of cities across the country offering free bus service to passengers. In Kansas City, Missouri, which three years ago became the largest free transit city in the US, one of the biggest problems, that the demand exceeds the number of buses, shows how popular the program is, especially among the low-income population that it helps the most.
With fees no longer a barrier, Kansas City residents surveyed by the Urban League said they can afford to go to places new or old more often, helping them stay connected to each other while keeping their family finances in better shape. . Some 88% said they were able to see their health care providers more often, while 82% said it allowed them to get or keep a job. A large number also mentioned easier access to cheaper grocery shopping and shopping. Although some have raised concerns about safety as the barrier to bus entry is removed, the city found that the system overall has become safer as ridership increases at off-peak hours, while removing friction over fee collection.
Although most cities to experiment with free transit in the United States have been medium-sized, several of the country’s major cities are now in various stages of testing free buses. Washington, D.C., announced this month that the buses will no longer have fares starting in the summer. Boston has done some free routes and is looking to expand further, noting that free buses have easily coped with a rise in ridership because not having to charge fares makes bus stops more efficient. Los Angeles waived fees during the pandemic, and the new mayor is looking to make that change permanent. New York is considering doing the same.
Unfortunately, a handful of smaller cities that have tried free transit have backed down, mostly for financial reasons. Portland, Oregon, instituted a free service for environmental reasons in the 1970s and found that it reduced carbon monoxide, but eventually removed the free service to raise more revenue. richmond Virginia, Y tucson arizona You could also drop your popular programs to save money.
But those who argue that the price is too high are failing to consider the costs of keeping things as they are, not only in environmental and congestion terms, but also in the subsidies that are regularly given to car owners.
Most egregiously, the free parking allowance, the valuable property along the sidewalk that cities set aside for cars, is estimated to cost $100 billion to $300 billion, far exceeding the sums cities would need to spend to make transit free. If wealthy drivers cannot, and do not pay, the full costs of their connections to their urban areas, then working-class transit users should not be expected to either.
In addition, the fares charged to passengers cover a small fraction of the actual cost of public transport. In Massachusetts, for example, contribute only 8% of the total bus budget. These fares are merely token fares that meet an unstated principle, one that we do not individually apply to other trips, such as taking an elevator or crossing city streets in a private car.
It’s also not a zero-sum cost when the government pays for public transportation. Better public transportation gives a boost to property values, which then translates into more tax revenue and other economic benefits. The planned extension of the New York City Subway along Second Avenue to Harlem has already increased rental values by 27%, twice as tall as those on First and Third avenues.
Criticisms of free public transport beyond the economy are even weaker. The fact that a common criticism once a city runs out of fare is that cyclists take longer routes than necessary it is particularly strange. No one would think that it is a sign of failure if a city builds a parkway and the net effect is that drivers travel more miles in an average week. Why should users’ choice to travel more miles on a bus system once it becomes free be seen as a problem rather than a success?
And then there’s the complaint that when transit is free, people use the subway or bus as a place to rest. or even sleep if they are homeless. It is true that if a city provides a better transit system, it will inevitably highlight some of the other existing problems. But that’s no reason not to improve where you can; instead, the other problems must also be fixed.
In addition, the needs that free transit satisfies deserve to be evaluated against other solutions to the central urban problem: that cities exist to connect us, but the more of us, the more connection we demand. Experience so far suggests that free transit is much more practical than adding lanes to urban networks as a solution to this inevitable urban dilemma. New York didn’t have the option of improving the number of cars that can travel on Second Avenue: it had to opt for a subway, even (at $6.9 billion) a very expensive subway.
Without decent transit, cities have no choice but to sprawl, which contributes to urban socioeconomic decline and itself is associated with pollution, congestion and less social cohesion. Free transit is an important solution in the toolbox that is the urban future.