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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26732.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26732.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26732.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26732.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26732.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26732.
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Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework S-1 SUMMARY Despite strong recent interest from transit agencies, there is no known research that presents a framework for transit practitioners to evaluate fare-free transit. This report presents a framework that can be used by transit practitioners to evaluate the potential benefits, costs, and trade-offs of implementing fare-free transit. The framework may also be used by community partners, including staff from related organizations (e.g., municipal departments, metropolitan planning organizations [MPOs], or neighboring transit agencies). This framework was informed by a transit agency survey and interviews with staff from transit agencies, community organizations, and transit advocacy groups. Evaluation Framework for Fare-Free Transit The evaluation framework includes practical guidance for transit agencies to get organized, make a plan, and evaluate fare-free transit (Figure S-1). By following the framework, practitioners can fully understand of the potential costs, benefits, and trade-offs at their transit agencies. Along with the framework’s ten steps, the project team shares examples from transit agencies that have evaluated fare-free transit in their community to show how the framework looks in practice, as well as identify opportunities to engage relevant stakeholders and the public.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework S-2 Figure S-1 Evaluation Framework Steps Get Organized Make a Plan Evaluate Step 1: Set the context Step 2: Assess existing conditions Step 3: Review peer transit agencies Step 4: Identify opportunities and challenges Step 5: Set evaluation goals and objectives Step 6: Determine performance measures Step 7: Establish selection criteria Step 8: Select fare-free transit alternative(s) Step 9: Measure impacts Step 10: Select preferred alternative Stakeholder and Public Outreach Defining Fare-Free Transit In this report, full and partial fare-free transit are defined as:  Full fare-free transit: when a transit agency does not collect fares from any riders.  Partial fare-free transit: when a transit agency does not collect fares from specific groups of riders, on certain routes or transit services, during certain times, or in defined areas. Both full and partial fare-free transit can be implemented as policies or programs. A fare-free policy represents a transit agency or governing body decision to not collect fares from some or all riders. A fare-free program is a planned set of actions by a transit agency to achieve transit agency or other local goals, such as a low-income fare program to provide fare-free transit to riders below a defined income threshold or a pilot program to test the impacts of fare-free transit. While fare-free transit exists on a spectrum of fare policies and programs that includes discounted fares, this report focuses solely on the evaluation of fare-free transit alternatives.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework S-3 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation in Practice To understand the current state of the practice of fare-free transit evaluation and inform the development of the evaluation framework for this report, the research team completed a transit agency survey and interviews with staff from transit agencies, community organizations, and transit advocacy groups. This research builds on the findings in the 2012 TCRP Synthesis 101: Implementation and Outcomes of Fare-Free Transit Systems report and a literature and media review of academic research, planning work, and journalism on fare-free transit. Through this review, the research team identified two main topics:  Fare-free transit impacts: The measured and anticipated effects of fare-free transit for transit agencies and the communities they serve.  Fare-free transit evaluations: How transit agencies have evaluated the impacts and long-term success of fare-free transit in their communities. Fare-Free Transit Impacts The research team identified four main themes among fare-free transit impacts that transit agencies across the country are focused on: access, equity, and mobility; operational efficiency; financial health; and community impacts (Figure S-2). Figure S-2 Fare-Free Transit Impact Themes Access, Mobility & Equity Operational Efficiency Financial Health Community Impacts How fare-free transit impacts transit access, mobility, and equity How fare-free transit impacts a transit agency’s ability to provide and operate quality service How fare-free transit impacts a transit agency’s short- and long- term financial wellbeing How fare-free transit impacts the community’s economy, sustainability, and congestion Figure S-3 summarizes the measured and anticipated impacts of fare-free transit. More details about each of these impacts can be seen in Chapter 2.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework S-4 Figure S-3 Summary of Fare-Free Transit Impacts Access, Mobility & Equity Benefits  Increases transit ridership  Reduces financial barriers to accessing transit  Mitigates impacts of historically inequitable transportation policy  Increases focus on operating service over collecting revenue  Eliminates fare-related policing  Expands access to those who do not benefit from discounted programs provided through employers Costs  May constrain funding that could be spent on service  May lead to more regressive source of funding (e.g., sales tax) Operational Efficiency Benefits  Increases service productivity  May decrease dwell times, increasing speed and reliability  Eliminates fare-related disputes  Eliminates fare collection equipment and attendant labor requirements (e.g., operations and maintenance) Costs  May lead to overcapacity on some trips and require additional service  May increase paratransit demand and require additional service  May restrict transit agency’s ability to collect ridership data  May increase presence of disruptive passengers and result in additional security costs and impacts Financial Health Benefits  Reduces or eliminates fare collection costs  May reduce overall cost per passenger trip  May expand transit agency eligibility for new funding sources Costs  Eliminates farebox revenue, which may be considerable for many transit agencies  Likely to require new revenue sources, such as taxes, municipal contributions, or private partnerships Community Impacts Benefits  May reduce traffic congestion  May reduce local pollution and greenhouse gas emissions  May catalyze development and/or increase land value  May increase community pride  Allows riders to spend money in the community they would have spent on transit Costs  May increase public criticism of transit agency and its fare policy Note: Impacts noted in this chart may vary by type of fare-free transit. For example, a partially fare-free transit system may not eliminate farebox equipment, which would not allow the transit agency to benefit from reduced operating and maintenance costs associated with fare collection equipment.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework S-5 Fare-Free Transit Evaluations There are two primary time periods in which fare-free transit can be evaluated: before and after implementation. These evaluation types can generally be described as:  Feasibility Evaluation: Conducted before fare-free transit is implemented to see if it is feasible for the transit agency. This type of evaluation typically focuses on estimating the likely benefits and costs of one or more types of fare-free transit.  Post-Implementation Evaluation: Conducted after fare-free transit has been implemented. This evaluation type usually analyzes how successful fare-free transit has been for the transit agency, including measured benefits and costs. Using this information, transit agencies may recommend continuing, modifying, or stopping the fare-free transit implementation. The evaluation framework in this report focuses on the first of the two time periods: feasibility evaluation, as well as provides high-level guidance for what transit practitioners should consider when implementing and evaluating fare-free transit. More detailed descriptions of how both feasibility and post-implementation evaluations have been conducted by US transit agencies, as well as common elements included in both types of evaluations is described in Chapter 3. Transit Agency Case Studies To inform evaluation framework development and provide more detailed examples of how fare-free transit has been evaluated at transit agencies of different sizes across the United States (US), the project team developed 23 case studies, which are in Chapter 4 of this report. Transit agencies looking to evaluate fare-free transit in their community can identify similar systems and learn about their experiences. The case study transit agencies, agency type, fare- free status, and their respective page numbers in the report can be seen in Figure S-4.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework S-6 Figure S-4 Case Study Transit Agencies by Service Area and Agency Type Transit Agency Service Area Agency Type Page Full Fare-Free Area Rapid Transit St. Lucie County, FL Small Urban/Rural 4-7 Cache Valley Transit District Cache Valley, UT Small Urban/Rural 4-9 Corvallis Transit System Corvallis, OR University Community 4-11 DASH Alexandria, VA Urban Local 4-13 GoLine Indian River County, FL Small Urban/Rural 4-15 Greater Richmond Transit Company Greater Richmond, VA Urban Local 4-17 Intercity Transit Thurston County, WA Small Urban/Rural 4-19 Kansas City Area Transportation Authority Greater Kansas City, MO Mid-Sized Regional 4-21 Link Transit Chelan & Douglas Co., WA Small Urban/Rural 4-23 Mountain Line Missoula, MT University Community 4-25 Partial Fare-Free Denver Regional Transportation District Greater Denver, CO Large Urban Regional 4-28 Houston METRO Greater Houston, TX Large Urban Regional 4-30 Iowa City Transit Iowa City, IA University Community 4-32 Los Angeles Metro Los Angeles County, CA Large Urban Regional 4-34 Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Greater Boston, MA Large Urban Regional 4-36 Ride On Montgomery County, MD Urban Local 4-38 San Francisco Muni San Francisco, CA Urban Local 4-40 Sandy Area Metro Greater Sandy, OR Small Urban/Rural 4-42 Steamboat Springs Transit Steamboat Springs, CO Resort Community 4-44 Utah Transit Authority Wasatch Front, UT Large Urban Regional 4-46 Not Fare-Free King County Metro King County, WA Large Urban Regional 4-49 Sun Tran Tucson, AZ Mid-Sized Regional 4-51 The Rapid Grand Rapids, MI Mid-Sized Regional 4-53

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Recognizing the strong recent interest throughout the United States to consider and implement fare-free transit, decision-making tools are needed to help public transit practitioners evaluate fare-free transit.

The TRB Transit Cooperative Research Program's pre-publication draft of TCRP Research Report 237: Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework presents a framework that can be used by public transit practitioners to evaluate the potential benefits, costs, and trade-offs of implementing fare-free transit.

Supplemental to the report is an Infographic.

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