Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The two-dollar club

Tomorrow, Muni and AC Transit will officially join the $2 club with the scheduled fare increase. On the same date, BART and Golden Gate Transit will also raise their fares.

Percentage wise, Muni's fare increase is the highest at 33% from $1.50 to $2.00. AC Transit is about 14% (same as VTA which will be in effect next January if not earlier) . Others go up by a less than 10%.

10 years ago, Muni fare was at $1.00. With this fare increase, Muni would have doubled its fare within a decade. According to the National Transit Database, Muni's operating cost increased by about 45% between 1999 and 2007, while providing slightly less transit service in 2007 than it was in 1999.

In comparison, VTA's total operating cost went up by over 50% in the same time frame, while revenue from fares only went up by just over 34.6%. Although VTA's total revenue miles and hours increased by 20% during that 8 year time frame, the ridership in 2007 was just less than 80% of what VTA carried in 1999.

Meanwhile at Caltrain, although operating cost went up by 68% from 1999 to 2007, revenue hours and revenue went up by 78% (with the Baby Bullet service). Weekday ridership has gone up by 50% during that time frame, but ridership on weekends was less in 2007. Overall, unlike VTA and Muni, Caltrain actually improved productivity.

The cost to deliver transit has increased dramatically over the last 10 years, however consumer prices went up by about 28.4%.

With increasing fares, it is harder to promote healthy and environmental sustainable behaviors these days. In 2009, you could still buy a burger at a fast food restaurant for 99 cents like it was 10 years ago. Fewer people rely on transit these days considering the higher cost.

Also, while funding shortfalls creating by the economy and budget cuts deserve attention, transit agencies also needs to do more to control costs. Controlling cost not only involves maintaining a reasonable wage and benefits including health care, but also by choosing the right mode of transportation cost-effective for riders. Over the years, VTA and Muni have expanded its light rail lines that are much more expensive to operate and maintain, while in most cases ridership did not go up as originally projected.

In the early part of the 20th century, transit used to be a profitable business, over the decades, to save cost, streetcars were replaced by buses, and private operations were converted into public subidized operation. However, our society today needs more mass transit as a way to make our communities environmentally sustainable and accessible with a growing senior population. The question is whether the transit systems the way it is now will be able to handle future demand?


arcady said...

In the early part of the 20th century, many transit systems also had franchise agreements mandating a five cent fare, which was significant factor in the failure of many transit companies (as were mandates to maintain the roads and competition from government-funded highways). I think ultimately, though, the solution is going to be to have drivers pay more of the costs of driving. With the state on the verge of bankruptcy, can it really afford to keep paying the massive operating costs of the highway system? And if both driving and transit get more expensive, people are just going to have to travel less.

Thomas said...

With the cost of transit and driving on the increase, bikes would be more attractive. To ride transit to all the places I have biked to would cost more than $700/month, calculated by adding monthly passes for VTA, SamTrans, MUNI, AC Transit, CalTrain (all zones), Santa Cruz Metro, and San Benito County Transit, Hwy 17 Express, and the Dumbarton Express. To take a taxi to some of the places I have biked to would cost more than $100 for a single trip.