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Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework (2022)

Chapter:2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework

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Suggested Citation:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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:"2 Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework." 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 2-1 2 FARE-FREE TRANSIT EVALUATION FRAMEWORK This evaluation framework provides guidance for transit agencies and other interested parties to evaluate the feasibility of various fare-free transit alternatives. The evaluation framework has ten steps that describe the process for getting organized, making a plan, and evaluating fare-free transit (Figure 2-1). Figure 2-1 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 Transit practitioners can focus on evaluating fare-free transit across four themes of impacts: access, equity, and mobility; operational efficiency; financial health; and community impacts. Figure 2-2 shows these themes along with example questions that can guide the evaluation. Many of the steps include examples that are organized these themes. These examples are

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-2 not intended to be prescriptive but may be used as a model. More information about the impacts under each of themes can be seen in Chapter 3: Fare-Free Transit Evaluation in Practice. Figure 2-2 Example Framework Questions Theme Evaluation Questions Access, Mobility & Equity  Which fare-free transit alternatives best improve access, mobility, and equity?  How much will ridership increase on various transit services?  Will ridership increases come from existing riders or new riders? Operational Efficiency  Is there capacity on transit services to accommodate additional ridership?  Will fare-free transit improve the operating efficiency of existing services?  What will be the operational impacts of increased ridership on various transit services (e.g., service hours, on-time performance, employees)?  What will be the capital impacts of fare-free transit (e.g., facilities, vehicles)?  Without fare collection, how can the transit agency manage use of transit services by non-destination riders?  Will there be additional safety and security impacts and costs?  Will the elimination of fare collection affect the transit agency’s ability to collect ridership data?  How does fare-free transit at one transit agency affect inter-agency transfers?  How does fare-free transit on specific services affect intra-agency transfers?  Do any federal requirements impact the transit agency’s ability to pilot or implement fare-free transit (e.g., Title VI)? Financial Health  Are there any additional costs or savings that would result from fare-free transit (e.g., program administration, marketing)?  Does the elimination of fare revenue restrict the transit agency’s ability to receive funding from external partners (e.g., employers, universities, schools)?  What will be the net financial impacts, including the loss of fare revenue, savings on fare collection costs, and additional operating costs?  How will lost revenue be replaced?  Can fare revenue be replaced with a less-regressive funding source?  Will fare-free transit make the transit agency eligible for additional funding?  Will the loss of fare revenue threaten current or future service levels? Community Impacts  Will fare-free transit result in any external impacts to the surrounding community (e.g., air quality, congestion, economic development, public health)?  Is the community supportive of fare-free transit?

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-3 The framework can be used when a transit agency is interested in evaluating fare-free transit alternatives up until the decision to implement (or not to implement) a preferred alternative. Because the framework follows the general principals of program evaluation, it may also be used after implementation to evaluate the long-term feasibility of fare-free transit. High-level guidance for using this evaluation framework after implementation is provided. Whether the framework is being used prior to or after implementation, the project team should allocate sufficient time to complete the steps and plan the evaluation process accordingly. Two types of callouts are provided throughout the evaluation framework to share examples of how the framework was used in practice and opportunities to carry out outreach to stakeholders and the public (Figure 2-3). Figure 2-3 Evaluation Framework Callout Types Framework in Practice Real-world examples from full fare-free, partial fare-free, and not fare free transit agencies at different points of the fare-free evaluation process. More details about each case study transit agency’s context, policy goals, evaluation, outcomes, and funding can be found in Chapter 4: Transit Agency Case Studies. Outreach Opportunity These callouts indicate opportunities to engage and collect feedback from stakeholders and the public. Feedback is an essential input to all ten evaluation steps. Outreach ensures the priorities of affected people and organizations are recognized and integrated into the evaluation process.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-4 GET ORGANIZED At the onset of the process, those interested in evaluating fare-free transit alternatives should get organized with the following steps: Step 1: Set the context for the evaluation of fare-free transit, including identifying relevant context and forming a project team Step 2: Assess the existing conditions of the transit agency Step 3: Review relevant peer transit agencies that have considered, evaluated, and/or implemented fare-free transit policies or programs Step 4: Identify opportunities and challenges for fare-free transit policies and programs in your transit agency or community Step 1: Set the context Identify Relevant Context Those interested in evaluating fare-free transit programs and policies should start by documenting relevant context that is specific to the transit agency and surrounding community. This context will help guide the scope and design of the evaluation process. The following questions should be explored:  What goals does the transit agency have for transit service and/or fare policy?  Has the transit agency evaluated fare-free transit in the past? What were the outcomes?  What is the decision-making process for implementing fare-free transit?  Who are the local advocates for fare-free transit (e.g., elected officials, transit decision makers, transit agency leadership, transit agency staff, community representatives) (see Framework in Practice: MBTA Fare-Free Pilot)?  What are the advocates’ goals for fare-free transit (e.g., increase ridership, promote equity, reduce fare collection costs, reduce emissions)?  Are the advocates backing a specific fare-free transit policy or program? Are they open to a variety of fare-free transit alternatives?  What are the advocates’ goals for fare-free transit (e.g., increase ridership, promote equity, reduce fare collection costs, reduce emissions)?  What do advocates, transit agency staff, decision makers, and community partners want to know?

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-5  What stakeholders should be involved in the evaluation process (see Outreach Opportunity: Stakeholder Identification and Engagement)? Framework in Practice: MBTA Fare- Free Pilot For the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) fare- free transit was championed by members of the Boston City Council, including future Mayor Michele Wu, starting around 2019. The political advocates saw fare-free transit as an equitable tool to expand mobility and promote affordability. To support riders during the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Boston decided to pilot free service on a single MBTA route using federal COVID relief funds to cover foregone revenue. Route 28 was chosen due to its role as an essential travel connection and high ridership route that primarily serves low- income riders and people of color. The project team evaluated the three-month pilot across six goals and corresponding metrics that looked at social impact, change in bus operations, and other key elements (Figure 2-4). Due in part to the results of the pilot, Mayor Wu was able to leverage the momentum to expand the pilot to two more routes for two additional years (currently scheduled until March 2024). Figure 2-4 Fare-Free Pilot Evaluation Results - MBTA Source: Route 28 Fare-Free Pilot Evaluation Summary Findings, MBTA, 202220

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-6 Outreach Opportunity: Stakeholder Identification and Engagement Internal and external stakeholder engagement is vital when setting the context for the evaluation of fare-free transit alternatives. Stakeholders are a vital source of information for identifying relevant historical and current context. Stakeholders from three key groups should be identified at the outset of the evaluation process: transit agency staff, decision makers, and community partners. Once formed, the project team should determine the appropriate engagement process for providing updates to and gathering feedback from stakeholders. Transit Agency Staff Transit agency staff at all levels should be engaged throughout the evaluation process to accurately represent the needs of the transit agency and its riders. Individuals within the transit agency have valuable insights into the ridership, operations, finances, and decision-making processes. Transit agency staff are often the primary users of the evaluation framework. Their involvement can ensure that the evaluation of fare-free transit is both comprehensive and feasible. Transit agency staff should be included from all departments relevant to the evaluation, including, but not limited to operations, security, auditing, service planning, Information Technology (IT), communications, finance, civil rights, and labor relations. Example questions for transit agency staff during this step include:  What is the level of support for fare-free transit among transit agency staff?  What goals do transit agency staff have for transit service and/or fare policy?  Are there priorities among transit agency staff that align/differ with the decision makers or community partners?  Which transit agency staff should be included in the evaluation process and how should they be brought along? Decision Makers For transit agencies to implement fare-free transit, they will need decision-maker support, such as from transit boards, councilmembers, mayors, and legislators. Decision-maker feedback and support can also provide valuable inputs to the evaluation process. The project team should identify the decision-making process for

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-7 implementing fare-free transit, the level of support for fare-free transit service from different decision makers, and what decision makers will want to see from the evaluation for them to approve fare-free transit. Example questions for decision makers during this step include:  What is the level of support for fare-free transit among key decision makers?  What goals do decision makers have for transit service, in general?  What outcomes from the evaluation do decision makers want to see prior to approving fare-free transit?  How would decision makers like to be included in the evaluation process? Community Partners To gather the diverse perspectives on the impacts of fare-free transit service on the community, the project team should engage a broad range of groups and organizations, including, but not limited to, related organizations, community-based organizations, advocacy groups, employers, and academic institutions. Related organizations may include municipal departments, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), or neighboring transit agencies. This engagement may involve leveraging existing partnerships with community representatives or using the evaluation as an opportunity to forge new partnerships. Any engagement with community representatives should legitimize and respect the community’s lived knowledge. The evaluation should include a purposeful plan to use and legitimize information gathered through community representatives, including reporting back to participants on how the data they provided shaped the outcomes. Example questions for community partners during this step include:  How would community partners like to be included in the evaluation of fare- free transit?  What are the community priorities for improving transit quality and access?  What is the level of support for fare-free transit among community partners?  Has there been any existing work done by community partners around fare- free transit? What were the identified benefits and/or challenges?  What goals do community partners have for transit service and/or fare policy?

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-8 Assemble Project Team Based on the relevant context, the transit agency should form a team of staff and community partners with the knowledge, resources, and time to complete an evaluation of a fare-free transit, hereby referred to as the “project team”. Valuable transit agency staff may include representatives from multiple departments including operations, security, auditing, service planning, Information Technology (IT), communications, finance, civil rights, and labor relations. Useful community partners may include staff from municipal departments, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), or neighboring transit agencies. The size and composition of the project team will be unique for each transit agency. The make-up of LA Metro’s project team can be seen in Framework in Practice: LA Metro Fare-Less System Initiative Task Force. Framework in Practice: LA Metro Fare-Less System Initiative Task Force To plan, implement, and evaluate a fare-free pilot program, LA Metro assembled a Fare-less System Initiative Task Force. The Task Force included representatives from multiple transit agency departments and offices, including Planning, Management and Budget, Vendor/Contract Management, Congestion Reduction, Safety, Security & Law Enforcement, Office of Civil Rights & Inclusion, and Human Capital & Development. The Task Force worked together to collect internal and external feedback on internal processes, impact to customer experience, connections to other transit agency-wide initiatives, how fare-free could support equity and benefit low-income riders, convene internal working groups to evaluate findings, and conduct external stakeholder coordination.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-9 Step 2: Assess existing conditions The project team should collect relevant information regarding the existing conditions of the transit agency and its fare collection system. The data collected in this step can be referenced to identify transit agency-specific opportunities and challenges in Step 4 , inform the selection of fare-free transit alternatives in Step 8, and measure the impacts in Step 9. Potential elements of the existing conditions analysis are shown below including documenting recent ridership and performance trends, planned service or network changes, transit funding, fare structure and policy, fare usage, fare collection costs, and community demographics. The project team should determine the specific elements based on operating context and available data. It can be easy to spend a lot of time analyzing existing conditions data, so the project team should aim to strategically identify necessary elements for the evaluation. Key existing conditions findings from Sun Tran’s Fare Study can be seen in Framework in Practice: Sun Tran Fare Study Existing Conditions. Explore ridership, revenue, and cost trends Gathering and documenting performance data can help the project team set a baseline understanding of how many people are using the transit system, how much services cost, and how much revenue the transit agency obtains through collecting fares. An analysis of performance trends over time (e.g., five years) provides an opportunity to predict future performance if the transit agency continues to collect fares. Example questions:  What are the trends in ridership, operating costs, cost per trip, fare revenue, and farebox recovery over the last five years?  What is considered farebox revenue, aside from passenger fares (e.g., local partnership contributions)?  How do the trends differ across various routes and services?  What is the forecasted ridership and farebox revenue for future years?  How is ridership and farebox revenue forecasted? Identify the benefits and challenges of existing funding sources Fare-free transit results in a shift in the way that transit service is funded. The project team should document the existing funding structure, including the benefits and challenges of the various sources. Benefits and challenges should look at whether the funding sources are

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-10 stable, dependent on system performance (e.g., ridership, productivity, farebox recovery), and regressive (i.e., place a larger financial burden on low-income residents). Additionally, the team can begin to identify funding opportunities for replacing fare revenue. Example questions:  What are the funding sources and trends of transit agency funding aside from fare revenue (e.g., federal, state, local, and community sources)?  What are the benefits and challenges of each of these funding sources?  Have there been previously identified opportunities for alternative revenue sources at the federal, state, local, or community level? Measure operating efficiency Fare-free transit may result in an increase in transit ridership and rider behavior, which may impact transit operations. These impacts may be positive (e.g., higher productivity) or negative (e.g., overloaded vehicles, late buses, security issues). The project team should analyze existing operations data to determine where additional ridership may benefit or hinder the system. Additionally, the project team should document how the transit agency currently collects rider data, which may be impacted by the elimination of fares, and existing policies for guiding passenger behavior. Example questions:  What is the existing ridership productivity on the system? Does it differ across different services or routes?  Does the transit agency have any planned service changes?  Is there underused or limited passenger capacity? If so, where?  Is there operator and staff capacity to handle the potential need for increased service due to high ridership? What would be the cost of meeting operator staffing needs?  Does the transit agency currently have on-time performance issues (i.e., are buses often late or running early)?  How does the transit agency currently collect data related to passenger counts? Will this be affected by eliminating fareboxes?  What are the current rider policies that guide passenger behavior (e.g., codes of conduct, destination policies)?

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-11 Consider community demographics Because fare-free transit can be a tool to promote more equitable access to transit, the project team should analyze existing community demographics to understand who would benefit from fare-free transit. The team should look at both service area and ridership demographics to identify how, if at all, the representation of certain populations vary. For example, if a larger percentage of transit riders are low-income than the population within the service area, then fare-free policies and programs may have a positive impact on the low- income community. If the transit agency has a Title VI Plan, the team should focus on populations identified in that plan. Additional demographic and socioeconomic factors such as race, age, ability, as well as cost of living and spending patterns on necessities like housing and transportation, should also be included. Example questions:  What percentage of current transit riders belong to disadvantaged populations (e.g., those with low-incomes, people of color, those with no-vehicle access, older adults, persons with disabilites)?  Do rider demographics vary across routes and/or services?  What percentage of the transit service area population belong to disadvantaged populations?  On average, what percentage of household income is spent on housing and transportation costs in the transit service area (i.e., Center for Neighborhood Technology [CNT] Housing and Transportation [H+T] Affordability Index)? Document fare structure and policy The project team should document the existing fare structure, as well as any governing fare policy that dictates goals for fare collection or guidelines for making fare changes. The project team should identify any existing groups that are eligible for fare discounts or other local low-income programs. Example questions:  What is the transit agency’s current fare structure and policy?  Which groups currently receive discounts or free fares?  How much is spent to administer existing discount programs?  Are there pass partnerships that exist that provide discounted or subsidized fares to certain riders (e.g., employer, school, university partnerships)?

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-12  Are there other low-income discount programs among partner agencies (e.g., municipal utility programs, neighboring transit agencies)?  What are the fare structures of any neighboring and regional transit agencies? What are the transfer policies? Examine fare usage The project team should analyze how the different fare types are being used and their respective contribution to the transit agency’s fare revenue. This analysis will give the project team an understanding of the proportion of fares that are already subsidized, who is receiving the various subsidies, and how existing discounts are being utilized. Example questions:  What percentage of riders pay full, discounted, or free fares?  What percentage of riders receive discounted or free fares from partnerships?  What proportion of eligible riders participate in existing discounted or fare-free programs? Are there potential barriers that are blocking participation?  What percentage of revenue comes from riders who face challenges due to poverty, race, ethnicity, low vehicle access, age, and disability?  How many riders are transferring between neighboring transit agencies? Quantify existing and future fare collection costs Determining the full cost of existing and future fare collection costs is an important element of evaluating the costs and benefits of full fare-free transit. When calculating the full cost of existing fares, transit agencies should consider the costs of administering, selling, collecting, counting, and securely transporting fares, as well as the hardware and maintenance required for farebox equipment. Not only should direct expenses be calculated, but also the opportunity costs of staff time spent administering fares. For future fare collection costs, transit agencies should develop costs for any anticipated operating and capital needs such as updated fareboxes, ticket vending machines, fare media, software, and maintenance. If no existing planning has been completed, transit agencies can look at how many years of useful life remain on existing fare collection technology to estimate when technology will need to be replaced. To determine costs of future upgrades, transit agencies can explore the costs of upgrading their current fare collection technology to a more recent model or look to peer transit agencies for best practices on advancing fare collection technology. Example questions:

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-13  What are the operating and maintenance costs of the existing fare collection system including staff time, services, and technology?  What is the remaining useful life on the existing fare collection equipment?  Does the transit agency have any plans to update the fare collection equipment and, if so, what are the estimated costs?  What percentage of revenue is or will be spent on fare collection? Framework in Practice: Sun Tran Fare Study Existing Conditions Sun Tran analyzed their existing conditions as part of a fare study that included an evaluation of fare-free transit. Some key findings from the existing conditions analysis are shown below:  Between 2014 and 2020, the transit agency subsidy per trip (cost per trip minus fare per trip) had been increasing. Farebox recovery was around 25%.  Over 50% of riders earn fewer than $25,000 per year, with the highest proportion of low-income riders on fixed-route bus.  About 20% of riders that are eligible for Sun Tran’s low-income fare program pay a full fare. This may indicate that low-income riders experience barriers to the program that could be avoided if fares were eliminated for all riders.  Figure 2-5 shows Sun Tran’s itemized fare collection cost. In 2019, the transit agency spent about $700,000 on fare collection, or about 6% of fare revenue. Figure 2-5 Annual Fare Collection Costs – Sun Tran Fare Collection Element Annual Cost (2019) Farebox Tech Staff Costs $165,000 Economy Program Administration $225,000 SunGO Smartcards and SunGO ID Cards $200,000 GenFare Maintenance $100,000 Total Fare Collection Cost $690,000 Annual Fare Revenue $12,000,000 Percent of Fare Revenue Spent on Fare Collection 6% Source: Sun Tran Fare Study, City of Tucson, 2022

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-14 Step 3: Review relevant peer transit agencies The project team should look to peer transit agencies that have evaluated or implemented fare-free policies or programs to identify relevant fare-free context, goals, evaluation, outcomes, and program funding. The project team can look to transit agencies of similar sizes and in similar operating environments (e.g., region, city size, community demographics, university town, resort town) or those with noted best practices in fare-free evaluation. The project team can also reference the findings from the transit agency survey and mini-case studies in Chapters 3 and 4 of this report. Framework in Practice: Ride On Fare Study Peer Review presents some of the findings from Ride On‘s peer review as part of their Ride On Zero & Reduced Fare Study.21 Example questions the project team can explore during the peer transit agency review include:  What was the context that led to the evaluation or implementation of fare-free transit? Who advocated for the policy or program? What were the relevant existing conditions that facilitated or impeded fare-free transit?  Did the transit agency identify any goals for fare-free transit?  Did the transit agency evaluate fare-free transit prior to implementation? If so, did they collect any notable data, make any assumptions, or utilize any interesting tools in their evaluation? What were the results of their evaluation?  Did the transit agency go forward with full or partial fare-free transit? What were their reasons for selecting that alternative? If they implemented partial fare-free transit, has the transit agency thought about going fully fare-free?  After implementation, did the transit agency experience any benefits or challenges? Were these outcomes measured with qualitative or quantitative data?  How was the transit agency able to replace foregone fare revenue? Was funding secured prior to implementation of fare-free transit? Did they utilize any notable local, state, or federal funding sources? Did they form any new partnerships? Were they able to increase the local contribution from a governing municipality?

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-15 Framework in Practice: Ride On Fare Study Peer Review As part of the Ride On Zero & Reduced Fare Study, Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) completed a peer review of 22 peer transit agencies and identified five that had implemented or considered a zero- or reduced-fare policy. Figure 2-6 shows the high-level summary of the peer policies. The project team looked at a comparison of median income, income for financial independence, and percentage of cost-burden households for the peer transit agency service areas and found that Ride On is more closely aligned with transit agencies that have implemented means-tested policies rather than full fare-free policies. Figure 2-6 Operational Peer Comparison – Ride On Source: Ride On Zero & Reduced Fare Study, MCDOT, 202122

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-16 Step 4: Identify opportunities and challenges The project team should identify the opportunities and challenges for the transit agency related to fare-free transit policies or programs. These opportunities and challenges should be informed by transit agency context, existing conditions, and the peer review. Example opportunities and challenges can be seen in Figure 2-7. The project team can engage the public in this step to ensure they accurate reflect the needs of the community (see Outreach Opportunity: Public Engagement below). Figure 2-7 Example Opportunities and Challenges Theme Opportunities Challenges Access, Mobility & Equity  Increased ridership  Increased accessibility for riders who face financial barriers  More equitable transit funding  Reduction to current service and constraints to adding additional service  Mobility and access may be difficult to monitor with potential loss of fare media data Operational Efficiency  Improved service efficiency  Faster boardings  Elimination of farebox conflicts  Additional fixed-route and paratransit service, fleet, and staffing  Impacts to the system by disruptive passengers Financial Health  Fare collection cost savings  More stable transit funding  Loss of farebox revenue  Securing a long-term sustainable funding Community Impacts  Increased community pride  Reduction in automobile trips  Negative perception of transit subsidy

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-17 Outreach Opportunity: Public Engagement Outreach at this step in the evaluation provides an opportunity to inform the public about the evaluation and gather data on public opinions on fare-free transit alternatives. The public participation process will vary across transit agencies but should be informed by stakeholder engagement and any transit agency requirements, such as the Title VI Public Participation Plan. Any outreach should legitimize and respect the community’s lived knowledge. The evaluation should therefore include a purposeful plan to use and legitimize information gathered through community representatives, including reporting back to participants on how the data they provided shaped the outcomes. Informational materials should include high-level findings from the evaluation to-date. If the project team has identified any relevant trade-offs (e.g., between adding service and eliminating fares), they should ensure the public is informed of potential of trade-offs when asking for feedback. Example discussion or survey questions include:  Do you support the idea of fare-free transit?  What are the most important benefits of fare-free transit?  What concerns do you have about fare-free transit?  How would fare-free transit affect your transit use?  If you had to choose, would you prefer the transit agency improve service or eliminate fares? To ensure the project team is gathering feedback that represents community needs, the team should verify that respondent demographics match those of the service area. Additionally, when analyzing feedback, it is important to disaggregate data by variables such as race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, and income to look at how different groups respond differently to different questions. This disaggregation will allow the project team to understand how feedback and the perception of fare-free transit differs across different groups. For example, a survey showing most low-income residents support the idea of fare-free transit can guide the evaluation towards an alternative that meets the needs of a target population.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-18 MAKE A PLAN To ensure the evaluation is appropriate for the transit agency’s unique context, the project team should design an evaluation plan based on the identified opportunities and challenges. This planning includes the following steps: Step 5: Set evaluation goals and objectives to guide the scope of the evaluation Step 6: Determine performance measures for each objective Step 7: Establish selection criteria for determining feasibility Step 8: Select fare-free transit alternatives to evaluate FHWA Performance-Based Planning and Programming Guidebook Framework and Key Terms When setting evaluation goals and objectives, the project team can look to external guidance from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) 2013 Performance Based Planning and Programming Guidebook. The Guidebook outlines a framework for public-sector agencies to use “performance information to make decisions that are more effective and efficient and lead to improved outcomes”. The Guidebook defines the following performance management terms that are relevant to the Evaluation Framework for Fare-Free Transit:  A goal is a broad statement that describes a desired end state. When developing goals, transit agencies should be focused on intended outcomes, rather than specific policies.  An objective is a specific, measurable statement that supports achievement of a goal. A good objective should include or lead to development of a performance measure that can be tracked over time and is used to assess different investment or policy alternatives.  A performance measure is a metric used to assess progress toward meeting an objective. Performance measures can be used in strategy analysis to compare different investment or policy alternatives and can be used to track actual performance over time.  A target is a specific level of performance that is desired to be achieved within a certain timeframe. A target can be used as a basis for comparing progress over time to a desired outcome or for making decisions on investments.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-19 Step 5: Set evaluation goals and objectives The project team should set appropriate goals and objectives to define the scope of the evaluation based on the opportunities and challenges identified in Step 4 and feedback from stakeholders. Example goals and objectives related to the four themes can be seen in Figure 2-8. Examples of implemented goals and objectives used during Iowa City Transit’s evaluation of fare-free transit are in Framework in Practice: Iowa City Transit Fare Study Goals and Objectives. Figure 2-8 Example Goals and Objectives Goals Objectives Improve Access, Mobility & Equity  Increase overall transit ridership  Increase mobility of specific rider groups  Promote equitable transit funding Ensure Operational Efficiency  Accommodate increased fixed-route service demand  Accommodate increased paratransit service demand  Improve operational efficiency  Ensure safety of riders and transit operators Promote Financial Health  Maintain existing external funding sources  Access additional funding sources  Reduce additional costs  Support quality levels of service  Minimize additional rider subsidy Encourage Positive Community Impacts  Reduce dependence on single-occupancy vehicles  Increase local economic stimulation  Meet community needs for the transportation system

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-20 Framework in Practice: Iowa City Transit Fare Study Goals and Objectives Iowa City Transit’s Fare Study evaluated the implications of multiple fare scenarios, including full fare-free transit. The study’s project team developed four goals and corresponding objectives to guide the analysis (Figure 2-9). The goals and objectives were informed by transit agency goals, community feedback, and conversations with transit agency staff. Figure 2-9 Fare Study Goals and Objectives – Iowa City Transit Increase ridership while balancing revenue goals  Double ridership in 10 years  Maintain farebox revenue Improve passenger experience  Simplify fare pricing  Remove barriers to transit Streamline fare structure and policies  Look for opportunities for fare integration  Improve coordination between agencies Make transit an affordable option  Consider low-income and disadvantaged populations Source: Iowa City Area Transit Study and Fare Study, Iowa City Transit, 202123

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-21 Step 6: Determine performance measures For each objective, the project team should determine which performance measures they want to include in the evaluation. These should be metrics that can be measured by the project team within the evaluation timeline and with available data. Example performance measures for the example goals and objectives can be seen in Figure 2-10. The project team can engage the public and stakeholders during this step to gather feedback on appropriate measures (see Framework in Practice: KCATA Evaluation Outreach). For each of the selected performance measures, the project team should plan how they will measure impacts across the alternatives. This planning will help the team identify additional data needs, as well as any evaluation tools or processes the team needs to develop or access (e.g., ridership models, operating models, financial models, regional travel models). Figure 2-10 Example Performance Measures Goal Objectives and Performance Measures Improve Access, Mobility, & Equity  Increase overall transit ridership – Fixed-route ridership – Fixed-route rider trip frequency – Paratransit ridership – Paratransit rider trip frequency  Increase mobility of specific rider groups – Ridership by rider group (e.g., low-income riders, students, older adults) – Ridership by geographic area (e.g., downtown zone, specific neighborhood)  Promote equitable transit funding – Disparate impact of funding on low-income riders Ensure Operational Efficiency  Accommodate increased fixed-route service demand – Fixed-route service needs (e.g., revenue hours) – Fixed-route capital needs (e.g., vehicles, facilities) – Fixed-route staffing needs (e.g., operational, administrative, maintenance) – Fixed-route on-time performance  Accommodate increased paratransit service demand – Paratransit service needs (e.g., revenue hours) – Paratransit capital needs (e.g., vehicles, facilities) – Paratransit staffing needs (e.g., operational, administrative, maintenance)  Improve operational efficiency – Fixed-route productivity – Fixed-route cost-per-trip  Ensure safety of riders and transit operators – Ability to manage rider behavior

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-22 Promote Financial Health  Maintain existing external funding sources – Revenue from employer fare subsidies – Revenue from other external sources (e.g., local, state, federal)  Access additional funding sources – New funding opportunities through local partnerships, state, and federal funding  Reduce additional costs – Additional administration costs (e.g., marketing, eligibility verification) – Additional safety and security costs  Support quality levels of service – Total financial impact (foregone fare revenue, fare collection cost savings, additional operational costs, additional funding opportunities)  Minimize additional rider subsidy – Total cost per new fare-free rider Encourage Positive Community Impacts  Reduce dependence on single-occupancy vehicles – Vehicular traffic – Community mode split (e.g., driving alone, taking transit, biking, walking) – Vehicle emissions  Increase local economic stimulation – Monthly transit expense savings – Regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP)  Meet community needs for the transportation system – Percent supportive community members – Percent supportive transit riders – Percent low-income transit riders

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-23 Framework in Practice: KCATA Evaluation Outreach When evaluating fare-free transit after the policy had been implemented in 2020, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) project team reached out to key stakeholders and the public for three purposes: 1. Gather input to determine the evaluation performance measures 2. Obtain perspectives and viewpoints from diverse audiences on qualitative and quantitative benefits and costs 3. Develop an audience with whom to communicate results Outreach included a rider survey and stakeholder interviews with 13 area leaders from local government and nonprofits. The primary purpose of stakeholder interviews was to identify additional performance measures. To gather this information, stakeholders were asked the following questions:  What are your priorities for public transportation in greater Kansas City?  What are your impressions of how “zero-fare” has been implemented in 2020?  Has “zero-fare” impacted you, your organization, or its customers, and if so, how?  What factors do you think we should consider as we evaluate the impacts of “zero-fare”?  Which of these factors are most important to you?  How should public transportation priorities be funded in the future?

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-24 Step 7: Establish selection criteria The final step in designing the evaluation plan is to establish appropriate criteria for determining the feasibility of a fare-free transit alternative. This gives the project team a chance to define thresholds for the performance of the alternatives across various performance measures. The level of detail included in the selection criteria will vary based on the program context, feedback received from stakeholders, and the transit decision-making process. A range of approaches can be seen in Figure 2-11. More detail on how to engage stakeholders at this step can be seen in Outreach Opportunity: Stakeholder Input into Evaluation Plan. Figure 2-11 Example Selection Criteria Low: No definitive selection criteria. The project team measures the impacts of the alternatives using the performance measures and presents the benefits and costs of each alternative. Medium: Screening based on performance measure thresholds. The project team develops thresholds for the performance measures that the alternatives must meet to be selected as the preferred alternative. High: Scoring matrix. The project team scores each alternative based on performance. The alternative with the highest score is selected. The project team can weight the performance measures based on priority. Level of Effort

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-25 Outreach Opportunity: Stakeholder Input into Evaluation Plan Feedback from stakeholders should help shape the evaluation plan from the development of goals and objectives to performance measures to selection criteria to the alternatives. Engagement in these steps allows stakeholders to contribute to the development of the evaluation plan to ensure that it aligns with the needs and expectations of the community. If stakeholders are not engaged, important elements or values may be missed. This may create a barrier for obtaining buy-in of the evaluation result and/or subsequent implementation and administration of the preferred alternative. When establishing the selection criteria, stakeholder input is critical, particularly from transit decision makers. The project team should ensure they understand any expectations decision makers have for the performance of alternatives on the performance measures. Based on these expectations, the project team should determine the appropriate selection criteria. For instance, they may not support any alternative that has a net cost to the transit agency, requires any additional service, or is not supported by the community. Additionally, the results of certain performance measures may be more important to decision makers. For example, if decision makers’ top priority is increasing ridership, then the project team should develop selection criteria that give higher weight to ridership measures than other factors (e.g., total cost, community support). Finally, the project team should gather information about expectations for how the results of the analysis are presented.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-26 Step 8: Select fare-free transit alternatives After designing the evaluation plan, the project team should select which fare-free policy or program to evaluate. Based on findings in the previous steps and engagement with stakeholders, the project team can identify opportunities to implement fare-free transit, whether through full or partial fare-free transit for specific riders, services, routes, times of day, or geographies. For example, transit agencies with low farebox recovery and those with a large majority of riders who have low-incomes, and those who are older adults, who have a disability, or who are student riders may want to evaluate full fare-free transit. Transit agencies with higher farebox recovery or with significant revenue from local employer pass programs may choose to evaluate partial fare-free transit. For some project teams, the evaluation context will lead them to only evaluate one alternative. For others, the project team may be interested in exploring multiple options like fare-free transit for all and fare-free transit for low-income riders. Regardless of the number of alternatives, all should be evaluated against a baseline alternative. The baseline alternative should look at the impacts of no change to fare collection across the performance measures. For all alternatives, the project team should define the details of the proposed policy or program. For transit agencies that are interested in taking a data-driven approach to measuring success after implementation, the project team should explore defining the alternative as a pilot. The length of the pilot should be determined through conversations with stakeholders and available funding. Some transit agencies may determine that permanent fare-free transit is a viable approach for their transit agency based on the evaluation context or an identified long-term funding source. For any partial fare-free alternatives, the project team should define details for each alternative. Details should include:  Who is eligible for fare-free transit? How will eligibility be verified in advance or upon boarding?  How will a fare-free program be administered? What will be the cost to administer the program? Are there any additional technology requirements?  Where, when, and how can riders access fare-free transit? An overview of DASH’s process for identifying fare-free policy and alternatives is in Framework in Practice: DASH Fare Program Scenarios.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-27 Framework in Practice: DASH Fare Program Scenarios For the City of Alexandria Low-Income Fare Pass Assessment, DASH identified a range of fare program options. The transit agency then narrowed down the options by comparing how each was able to achieve the study goals using findings from a case example review, literature review, and stakeholder interviews (Figure 2-12). The transit agency decided on three final scenarios that were fully evaluated as part of the study. Figure 2-12 High-Level Evaluation of Fare Program Options and Final Fare-Free and Reduced-Fare Scenarios - DASH Source: City of Alexandria Low Income Fare Pass Assessment, DASH, 202124

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-28 EVALUATE After planning, the project team should evaluate the feasibility of the alternatives. This evaluation includes the following steps: Step 9: Measure impacts of the alternatives using the evaluation plan Step 10: Select preferred alternative using the selection criteria and appropriate decision-making process Step 9: Estimate impacts The project team should gather credible evidence across the various performance measures for each alternative and compare the impacts across the alternatives. Gather credible evidence To compare impacts of the alternatives, the project team should first gather credible evidence per the evaluation plan. Credible evidence includes reliable, accurate, and trusted data. This evidence may be pulled from the results of the existing conditions assessment (e.g., fare collection costs) or gathered and analyzed specifically for the evaluation (e.g., ridership model, community survey). A sample process for estimating the impacts is shown in Figure 2-13. An overview of the steps the Link Transit project team took to evaluate full fare- free transit can be seen in Framework in Practice: Link Transit Analysis Process.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-29 Figure 2-13 Example Analysis Process Steps Elements Step 1: Estimate ridership increase  Fixed-route ridership increase based on peer transit agencies or internal data  Paratransit ridership increase based on peer transit agencies or internal data  Annual transit rider savings as a percentage of income Step 2: Estimate operational impacts  Transit vehicle capacity and max load  Boarding times and on-time performance  Fixed-route paratransit revenue hours  Fixed-route and paratransit vehicles, staff, and facilities  Transit ridership productivity Step 3: Estimate net annual costs  Foregone fare revenue  Fare collection cost savings  Program administration costs  Additional operating costs  Additional funding opportunities  Safety and security costs  Impact on cost per passenger trip Step 4: Estimate community impacts  Effects on automobile trips, congestion, and emissions  Local economic benefits  Community support

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-30 Framework in Practice: Link Transit Analysis Process Using fare study goals of attracting ridership, improving operational efficiency, and reducing the costs of collecting fares, Link Transit completed an evaluation of full fare-free transit across multiple performance measures including fixed-route ridership, fixed-route productivity, fixed-route operating costs, paratransit operating costs, foregone fare revenue, fare collection costs, additional funding opportunities, and annual change in operating costs. The project team started by estimating ridership increases on fixed-route and paratransit. The estimated increase in fixed-route ridership was expected to qualify Link for additional funding from the Small Transit Intensive Cities (STIC) funding program. The evaluation culminated in a calculation of the net change in annual operating costs (Figure 2-14). Figure 2-14 Estimated Annual Change in Operating Costs – Link Transit Annual Cost Item Low Ridership Increase Estimate High Ridership Increase Estimate Foregone Farebox Revenue (FR+DR) $640,000 $640,000 Fixed-Route Operating Cost Increase $0 $0 LinkPlus ADA Paratransit Operating Cost Increase $710,000 $881,000 Existing Fare Collection Costs ($57,000) ($57,000) Additional STIC Funding (approx.) ($275,000) ($275,000) Net Change in Operating Cost $1,018,000 $1,189,000 Source: Link Transit Comprehensive Service Analysis and Zero-Fare Analysis, Link Transit, 2021

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-31 Compare alternatives After gathering credible evidence across the various performance measures, the project team should compare impacts of the alternatives and apply the selection criteria as established in Step 7. These results should be presented in a clear format that can be easily interpreted by various stakeholder audiences. The project team may choose to present various levels of details to different stakeholders. For instance, higher-level decision makers may only be able to interpret the relative impacts of the various alternative as opposed to specific quantitative data. Transit agency staff, on the other hand, may want to see detailed results of the analysis to inform decision-making. An example of how Ride On shared the results of their Zero & Reduced Fare Study as prepared for Montgomery County DOT can be seen in Framework in Practice: Ride On Alternatives Comparison.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-32 Framework in Practice: Ride On Alternatives Comparison Ride On (Montgomery County, MD) conducted a Zero & Reduced Fare Study in 2021 that evaluated four fare-free and reduced-fare alternatives across seven goals and respective performance measures including magnitude of benefit to lower-income riders, increased ridership from riders without vehicle access, change in net operating support (NOS), increase in annual passenger miles, productivity, average operating speed, reduction in VMT, and range and cost of fare program administration (Figure 2-15). Figure 2-15 Alternatives Comparison – Ride On Source: Ride On Zero & Reduced Fare Study, MCDOT, 202125 Note: $NOS is an abbreviation for “net operating support”. This is the portion of annual system operating and maintenance cost not covered by fare revenues.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-33 Step 10: Select preferred alternative In the final step, the project team should guide the decision of selecting a preferred alternative. This specific process will depend on the decision-making process identified in Step 1 but may involve engaging various stakeholders to confirm the recommended approach (see Outreach Opportunity: Sharing Findings with Stakeholders and the Public). If a fare-free transit alternative is selected as the preferred alternative, the project team will want to solidify details before implementation (e.g., timeline, funding, eligibility, program administration,). Decision makers may also choose to not implement a fare-free transit policy or program in this step (see Framework in practice: Houston METRO’s Decision to Maintain Fares). Framework in Practice: Houston METRO’s Decision to Maintain Fares Houston METRO completed an evaluation to examine the impacts of six full and partial fare-free transit alternatives (Figure 2-16). The transit agency’s goals for the fare-free transit were to attract ridership while minimizing the financial impact. The study found that free fares would have fulfilled the stated goal of increasing ridership, but the costs of the alternatives with the highest ridership increases would be too high for METRO given their budget and administrative constraints. As a result, METRO decision makers decided not to implement full fare- free transit.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-34 Figure 2-16 Estimated Annual Operating Cost Impact (in Millions) – Houston METRO Source: Fare-Free Transit Cost-Benefit Analysis, Houston METRO, 202026 Outreach Opportunity: Sharing Findings with Stakeholders In the final step, it is important for the project team to share analysis findings with relevant stakeholders. If the project team needs decision-maker approval to select a preferred alternative, results should be presented in a clear format that presents the costs and benefits of the alternatives. The project team should also share results with other key stakeholder groups to provide a final opportunity to share feedback. This is particularly important among transit agency staff and other community partners that will take part in any subsequent implementation and administration of the preferred alternative. Finally, the evaluation process should be properly documented and made publicly available to ensure transparency. Additionally, information about the evaluation process may be valuable to other transit agencies looking to evaluate fare-free transit.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 2-35 Implement and monitor program After deciding to implement a preferred fare-free transit alternative, the project team should take additional steps to ensure that evaluation continues past implementation. This evaluation differs in purpose from the evaluation steps in the evaluation framework, which focuses on determining the feasibility of potential fare-free policy and program alternatives. Instead, the post-implementation evaluation focuses on determining the success of fare-free transit. This evaluation is especially important if the preferred alternative is a pilot to determine long-term viability. Suggested steps include:  Step 1: Design evaluation plan - Design a plan to evaluate the success of a fare- free transit policy or program. This process should follow similar steps as Steps 5 through 7, including setting goals and objectives, determining performance measures, and establishing decision-making criteria.  Step 2: Implement fare-free transit - Take logistical steps to implement the fare- free transit policy or program including: o Making operational changes to halt fare collection, temporarily or permanently (e.g., stop printing fare media, revise driver and customer service training, decommission fare boxes and ticket vending machines, implement alternative ridership data gathering methods) o Adjusting transit agency policies (e.g., change fare policy, strengthen rider codes of conduct, tighten paratransit eligibility) o Securing alternative funding sources (e.g., apply for grant funding, pass tax referendum, build partnership program) o Marketing fare-free transit (e.g., community education about benefits, informing riders) o Completing Title VI Fare Equity Analysis to assess impacts of any fare change on the population of people of color and low-income populations  Step 3: Evaluate fare-free transit - Gather credible evidence to support the evaluation plan  Step 4: Determine success and long-term feasibility - Use the findings from the evaluation to determine whether the transit agency should continue to operate as fare-free or adjust the policy or program.  Step 5: Continue to monitor and adapt - Continue to collect data to measure positive and negative impacts on ridership, transit agency operations, finances, and the community. Data collection methods may need to be adjusted if the system no longer relies on fare media.

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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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