National Academies Press: OpenBook

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework (2022)

Chapter:5 Opportunities for Future Research

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Page 129
Suggested Citation:"5 Opportunities for Future Research." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26732.
Page 130
Suggested Citation:"5 Opportunities for Future Research." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26732.
Page 131
Suggested Citation:"5 Opportunities for Future Research." 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 5-1 5 OPPORTUNITIES FOR FUTURE RESEARCH This final chapter proposes opportunities for future research to support transit practitioners’ ability to evaluate fare-free transit. This report provides practical guidance for transit agencies to evaluate the feasibility of fare- free transit in their community. This framework was informed by a transit agency survey and interviews with staff from transit agencies, community organizations, and transit advocacy groups. During this information gathering, the research team identified three areas where additional guidance would be helpful: impacts of fare-free transit, funding for fare-free transit, and fare collection cost and revenue reporting. IMPACTS OF FARE-FREE TRANSIT  Comparative impacts of discounted and fare-free transit programs. This evaluation framework focused on evaluating the comparative impacts of full and partial fare-free transit alternatives. However, many transit agencies that are considering or evaluating fare-free transit are also looking at discounted fare alternatives, such as low-income fare programs. These discounted programs can promote affordability to those who need it most without as many operational and financial costs as fare-free transit. As more transit agencies evaluate the feasibility of such alternatives and measure the impacts of policies and programs after implementation, further research could be completed to compare these impacts across a wider range of strategies.  Measuring the assumed impacts of fare-free transit. As discussed in Chapter 3, fare-free transit is often associated with both measured and assumed impacts. Assumed impacts include costs and benefits that cannot easily be measured, but reasonable logic leads transit agencies to assume they are occurring, sometimes with the assistance of qualitative information. Examples of these impacts include access, mobility, equity, economic, sustainability, and congestion benefits. For some of these impacts, limited studies have shown that fare-free transit can have positive benefits on riders and the community, such as the University of Missouri’s assessment of the

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 5-2 economic impacts of fare-free transit. Additionally, for some of these impacts, positive impacts have been measured internationally, but have not been directly linked to fare-free transit in the US. Additionally, research could be useful into if, and by how much, fare-free transit benefits riders under these impacts. FUNDING FOR FARE-FREE TRANSIT  The future of equitable transit funding. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of transit ridership and farebox recovery is still relatively unknown. Even prior to the pandemic, ridership and farebox recovery had been trending downwards at many transit agencies. Given the unclear future, transit agencies must rethink how they fund their services. This reevaluation opens up opportunities for exploring alternative funding strategies that are more equitable, such as income taxes. This strategy moves away from traditional sources that tend to be regressive, such as fares, sales taxes, and gas taxes.  Federal and state funding support for fare-free transit. As discussed in Chapter 3 of this report, replacing the foregone farebox revenue from fare-free transit is one of the largest barriers to implementing fare-free transit, particularly for large transit systems. Transit agencies have used a wide variety of replacements for farebox revenue, including a corporate gross receipts tax, sales tax, municipal general funds, advertising, private partnerships, a dedicated transit tax or fee, or a combination of methods. Further research may include identifying opportunities for federal and state funding solutions for farebox replacement if fare-free transit impacts align with decision-maker goals and priorities. These solutions may include revisiting existing transit funding formulas, including an evaluation of necessary changes to federal law, to provide greater flexibility for transit agencies to spend on operating costs. Additionally, grant programs such as the Virginia Transit Rider Incentive Program (TRIP) provide transit agencies with the opportunity to access short-term funding to pilot fare-free transit while staff can explore alternative funding models for longer- term programs.  Revisiting community and institutional partnerships. A barrier to transit agencies implementing full fare-free transit is the potential loss of farebox recovery from existing funding partnerships, such as university and employer pass programs. These relationships are often formed around payments or contributions to cover fares for certain riders. If a transit agency eliminates fare collection, they may risk losing this substantial revenue source. Further research could be conducted into exploring how transit agencies can transition these fare partnerships into an agreement to pay the transit agency for providing services to the groups that they represent.

Fare-Free Transit Evaluation Framework 5-3 FARE COLLECTION COST AND REVENUE REPORTING  Cost of farebox collection in relation to farebox revenue. TCRP Report 93: Fare Policies, Structures and Technologies: Update (2003) provides estimations for capital and operating costs of fare collection systems at transit agencies of various sizes and in various contexts. This report, however, does not provide an estimation or guidance for how much transit agencies should spend on fare collection costs as a percentage of their farebox revenue. This guidance would be helpful for transit agencies to gauge whether the farebox collection system is appropriate for the size of the ridership and fare structure. Additionally, as transit agencies evaluate the costs of fare-free transit, a better understanding of whether the fare collection costs per revenue dollar are in line with the industry. For example, transit agencies with significantly higher fare collection costs per revenue dollar may be good candidates for full fare-free transit to lower their operating costs, improve operating efficiency, and simplify the rider experience.  Standardizing National Transit Database (NTD) fare revenue data reporting. Some transit agencies include alternative sources of farebox revenue in the data that they report to NTD, such as municipal, university, and local school district contributions. The inclusion of this data can make it difficult for researchers and transit practitioners to compare farebox recovery across transit agencies and may paint an unrealistic picture of farebox recovery in the US. Further research can be completed into how farebox recovery is reported to the NTD across the country and if clearer guidance can help standardize how farebox recovery is reported across transit agencies.

Next: Appendix A Transit Agency Survey Methodology and Results »
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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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