National Academies Press: OpenBook

Implementation and Outcomes of Fare-Free Transit Systems (2012)

Chapter:Chapter One - Introduction

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter One - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2012. Implementation and Outcomes of Fare-Free Transit Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22753.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter One - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2012. Implementation and Outcomes of Fare-Free Transit Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22753.
Page 6
Suggested Citation:"Chapter One - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2012. Implementation and Outcomes of Fare-Free Transit Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22753.
Page 7
Suggested Citation:"Chapter One - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2012. Implementation and Outcomes of Fare-Free Transit Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22753.

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5 Project Background and definition of fare-free transit At least 39 public transit agencies in the United States offer totally fare-free transit, while many more offer service that is free to certain segments of the population or in geographic subcomponents of their service area. For the purposes of this report, fare-free transit is defined as public transit services that require no passenger to pay when they board a public transit vehicle, nor do they pay at a platform or station before boarding the vehicle. Further, this report was intended to investigate only those fare-free systems that are either direct recipients or sub-recipients of federal transit grants and pro- vide fare-free service to everyone in their service area on every mode they provide. Figure 1 presents the location of transit agencies that this report identified as providing fare- free public transit services in accordance with the preceding definition. Of course, someone or some entity is paying for public transit that is fare-free to boarding passengers. A fare-free public transit system’s revenues might come from such varied sources as a local sales tax, a payroll tax, real estate transfer taxes, parking fees, ski-lift surcharges, fees paid by university students as part of their tuition, special assessments charged to downtown businesses within a defined “district,” a contract with a public school or other public or private employer, casino revenues, federal or state grants, nonprofit organizations, or other sources including donations. Revenues from such sources take the place of the revenue a public transit system would oth- erwise collect from passengers on a vehicle, at a transit station, or through some other form of purchase of fare media by an individual. The concept of fare-free public transit has been consid- ered and implemented in the United States since at least the 1960s. The small urban cities of Commerce, California, and East Chicago, Indiana, established themselves as fare-free in the early 1960s and 1970s, respectively, and continue to offer such service today. The Urban Mass Transit Admin- istration (UMTA) helped pay for demonstration projects in Mercer County, New Jersey, and in Denver, Colorado, in the late 1970s to test the viability and impacts of fare-free tran- sit in larger fixed-route systems. Other fare-free experiments not sponsored by UMTA/FTA were conducted in Topeka, Kansas, in 1986; Austin, Texas, in 1989–1990; Asheville, North Carolina, in 2006; and in Milton, Canada, in 2007. Many public transit agencies serving towns with prominent ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains have offered fare-free transit since the 1990s. At least eight university communi- ties (Amherst, Massachusetts; Boone and Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Bozeman, Montana; Clemson, South Carolina; Corvallis, Oregon; Logan, Utah; and Macomb, Illinois) have public transit systems that serve the university and all of the surrounding community and operate on a fare-free basis. Whether a student, community resident, or visitor, anyone can board buses without worrying about having money or any fare media. Recently, it appears more common for small urban and rural public transit agencies to operate on a fare-free basis as well. alternative fare-free Public transit Programs There are many other variations on the theme of fare-free pub- lic transit. Some public transit agencies such as King County Metro Transit in Seattle, Washington, offer a fare-free zone in portions of their downtown districts, although they are recon- sidering its continuation owing to budget pressures. Anyone may have unlimited rides on bus or train services without paying a fare within certain geographic boundaries, but they must pay a fare if they intend to stay on the vehicle after it leaves the boundaries of the fare-free zone. For decades, Tri- Met in Portland, Oregon, has had a similar program known as the “Fareless Square” in the heart of its downtown, but recently decided to restrict free access to rail services result- ing from problems with fare evasion on buses. Transporta- tion management agencies such as the one in Emeryville, California (the Emery Go-Round), in the San Francisco Bay area offer internal circulators and connecting routes to the regional rail system for the business districts they serve at no cost to passengers. Other examples of prominent public transit services that do not charge fares include the Staten Island Ferry, a division of New York City Transit, which car- ries 75,000 passengers a day; the Metromover in downtown Miami, Florida, operated by Miami–Dade Transit, which links the downtown business district to the Metrorail with an elevated automated guideway and carries close to 30,000 passengers a day; the LYMMO downtown Bus Rapid Tran- sit circulator in Orlando, Florida, operated by the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (a.k.a. Lynx); the electric shuttle system in downtown Chattanooga, Tennes- see, operated by the Chattanooga Area Regional Transpor- tation Authority; and the Orbit circulator system, operated chapter one introduction

6 by the city of Tempe, which links Arizona State University, downtown Tempe, and surrounding neighborhoods. How- ever, all of these fare-free services are subcomponents of larger regional public transit systems that are not fare-free. More than 25 municipalities in southeast Florida rang- ing in population from 10,000 to 130,000 provide fare-free public transit circulator services within their jurisdictions with fleets of between one and seven minibuses or rubber- wheeled trolleys. These circulator services connect with the regional transit services that surround them. A substantial portion of the cost of operating these services is provided by the surrounding counties, which have passed special taxes to help support local circulator services. These municipal circu- lators carry an average of 14.5 passengers an hour, with one (the Coral Gables Trolley) carrying more than 40 passengers an hour. However, none of these small systems is a direct recipient of FTA financial assistance, and both their oper- ating and capital costs are heavily supported by the county systems that surround them that are not fare-free. Fare-free shuttle service is provided in many of the national parks in the United States. Although these services help relieve traffic congestion and help preserve the parks’ environment, these park shuttles cannot be compared with urban or small public transit systems that are designed to meet the variety of mobility needs within a community. Perhaps the fastest growing type of fare-free service is on the campuses of universities and colleges around the country. Student governments have negotiated with their universities to secure circulator services on and very near campus that they can board by showing a university ID or a Universal Pass rather than paying a fare. In other cases such as the Uni- versity of Virginia in Charlottesville, anyone can board the on-campus vehicles without showing an ID. The students have mutually agreed for a fee to be assessed on every stu- dent every semester, whether they use the transit service or not. Because the entire student body is assessed the fee, the cost per student for fare-free transportation per semester is far lower than passengers would normally pay on a public transit system. This arrangement provides unlimited access to the transit services provided by the university. The pro- gram is advantageous to universities that aspire to making campuses safer for pedestrians and bicyclists and more envi- ronmentally sensitive, and that require fewer expensive park- ing facilities to be built. Students and faculty might also have access to the separate public transit agency serving the rest FIGURE 1 Communities with totally fare-free public transit systems in the United States.

7 of the community outside the campus through an agreement the university has reached with that agency. However, this project found only the previously listed eight examples of public transit agencies that provide fare-free service to the university students and to all other residents, workers, and visitors in the surrounding community. The more common arrangement is that public transit in the rest of the community, outside the campus and its nearby neighborhoods, is provided by a separate public transit agency that charges everyone else to board its buses, although discounted fares are often avail- able to students. In addition to these smaller geographic areas served by fare-free public transit, there are also many public transit sys- tems that allow various segments of the population to ride fare- free. The Free Transit Program in the state of Pennsylvania, through revenues collected from a state lottery, allows those 65 years of age and over with a proper ID to ride free on local fixed-route services whenever the local public transportation system is operating. Similarly, after passage of a local sales tax, Miami–Dade Transit allows all seniors 65 and older to ride for free, as well as military veterans. The Chicago Transit Authority allows seniors below a certain income level to ride fare-free. Most transit agencies allow children under a certain height or age to ride for free. Citizens with disabilities are encouraged by many public transit agencies to ride fixed-route transit by being allowed to ride free. Finally, there are other promotions that feature fare-free service, such as free rides on ozone-alert days, election days, Try Transit Week, and/or New Year’s Eve. Most of these promotions are marketing strategies intended to introduce new riders to public transit. They are usually short in duration. PurPose of rePort and intended audience The purpose of this synthesis report is to document the out- comes various transit agencies have experienced as they imple- mented fare-free public transit service either on a demonstration basis or permanently. It also reports on the findings of public transit agencies that reviewed the feasibility of implementing fare-free service, but decided against doing so. Information in this report was obtained through a literature search focusing on the results of demonstration projects as well as from surveys completed by 32 transit agencies that currently provide fare- free service. The report summarizes the state of the practice, and reviews past and current fare-free systems. The report will be of interest to policymakers and managers of any size transit system, although experience has shown that the greatest interest will likely be among operators of public transit systems serving small urban and rural communities, university communities, and resort communities. It will also be of interest to the various stakeholders and policymakers in those communities, including university administrators, city councils, county commissions, metropolitan planning organi- zations, and economic development associations who might be asked to provide financial support; and to nonprofit agen- cies that want to assist clients with their mobility needs. In addition, this report might be read by state legislators and state departments of transportation, as well as federal transporta- tion program managers that provide funding and develop poli- cies governing local transit systems, who will be interested in knowing the social benefits and impacts of providing afford- able mobility through fare-free public transit. Although they might not carry the majority of passengers in the country, most public transit agencies in the United States tend to be small systems. They will be particularly interested in knowing if a fare-free policy is something they should consider. The report could also be of interest to those individuals and groups that advocate more for fare-free pub- lic transit. Public transit managers and policy boards often grapple with the conflicting goals of increasing ridership to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, etc., and maximizing operating revenues to reduce the amount of taxes needed to support the system. This report provides evidence that certain communities have found that fare-free public transit service can sometimes be implemented in ways that result in increased ridership and no higher costs to local taxpayers, whereas others have found that the benefits their communities enjoy from fare-free public transit are worth the cost of foregone farebox revenues. The few larger public transit systems that have explored the feasibility of providing fare-free transit have found that, absent a source of local revenue to replace the loss of substantial farebox revenue, fare-free public transit is not a likely option in their community in the near future. After reading this report, local public transit agencies will have more data to consider the feasibility of implementing a fare-free policy in their community. Any decisions on fare policies would be determined by local economic conditions, political philosophies, and the particular circumstances and goals of each agency and community. The purpose of this report is to look at the experiences of those public transit agencies that have implemented such policies to identify the issues they faced, the solutions they adopted to deal with any problems, and the outcomes they experienced. technical aPProach The approach to this synthesis included: • A literature review, supplemented by a Transportation Research Information Services (TRIS) search. A num- ber of the publications that were found contained excel- lent information on the results of past experiments with fare-free public transit. • Internet searches of articles or blogs that reported on (and helped identify) fare-free public transit systems.

8 • Communications with more than 3,000 members of listservs maintained by the Center for Urban Trans- portation Research at the University of South Florida. These listserv members were asked to identify any pub- lic transit agencies they were aware of that operated with a fare-free policy. This source proved to be among the most valuable for locating fare-free public transit systems. • Inquiries sent to various transit industry associations, including APTA and CTAA, and state transit associa- tion directors to identify fare-free transit systems and any reports that they might be familiar with in that sub- ject area. • A survey of public transit agencies that were found to provide fare-free service or that had previously pro- vided fare-free service. • Telephone interviews conducted with a number of the survey respondents to clarify information that they had provided in the survey. Interviews were also conducted with those managers responsible for directing the pub- lic transit agencies featured as case studies in the report. organization of this rePort Following this introductory chapter, chapter two presents the issues surrounding fare-free transit and summarizes the liter- ature that describes the experiences of public transit systems that have considered, experimented with, or instituted fare- free transit. Chapter three identifies the 39 public transit agencies that were found to provide fare-free transit and the methodology used to identify them. It also provides the findings from the surveys that these agencies returned. Chapter four provides case studies of public transit agencies representing the three types of communities most likely to adopt a fare-free policy: rural and small urban, university- dominated, and resort communities. Chapter five summa- rizes the findings, presents conclusions from this synthesis project, and offers items for further study. Appendix A is the survey instrument used to gain informa- tion from public transit agencies that provide fare-free transit. Appendix B provides the contact information for each of the agencies that responded to the survey. This synthesis repre- sents the first comprehensive attempt to identify those systems that currently utilize, or at one time utilized, a fare-free policy. It is hoped that those systems might appreciate knowing the other agencies that have implemented this fare policy, and communicate with each other to their mutual benefit. Appen- dix C contains a bibliography of major articles and reports that were identified in the literature search and provides informa- tion of value to those considering implementing fare-free ser- vice. Appendix D is an example of a local ordinance instituted to govern rider behavior to address concerns about fare-free buses carrying disruptive passengers. Appendix E provides a compilation of survey responses.

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TRB’s Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis 101: Implementation and Outcomes of Fare-Free Transit Systems highlights the experiences of public transit agencies that have planned, implemented, and operated fare-free transit systems.

The report focuses on public transit agencies that are either direct recipients or subrecipients of federal transit grants and that furnish fare-free services to everyone in a service area on every mode provided.

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