Should NY Transit Be Free?

Charles Komanoff, an economist, analyst and activist in New York, has created an elaborate spreadsheet looking at the cost of congestion to the city. His conclusion? Free transit and congestion pricing would relieve traffic.

Komanoff and writer Felix Salmon get particularly wonky with the stats in this article - transportation planners will find a lot to chew on.

"Medallion taxis do not pay the congestion charge, but there is a 33% taxi-fare surcharge. One tenth of that (around 3%) goes to the taxi drivers and owners; the rest (30%) goes to the MTA; the taxi surcharge alone raises enough money to make in-city commuter rail free.

Add it all up, and it's pretty much revenue-neutral, says Komanoff: the biggest line items are that you lose $1.46 billion in transit fares, while gaining $1.31 billion in congestion charges. But total time savings are the biggie: implement this plan and New Yorkers get over $2.5 billion of time back which would otherwise be spent wasted in traffic. Vehicle speeds in general rise about 20%, and as much as 25% between 9am and 10am."

Full Story: How driving a car into Manhattan costs $160



Komanoff is a cyclist, but is he a regular transit rider?

One activist after another beats the drum of Free Transit, but it appears few of them have been daily transit riders for any pronged period. If they were, they might have had the opportunities to see 'Tragedy of the Commons' practical labs as the unintended consequences of Free Transit experiments in cities such as St. Louis. Amid all the Billions of $ tossed about in these thought experiments, there is hardly a sou factored in for the contingent law enforcement, litigation and medical costs that are nearly inevitable when transit becomes a convenient vector for the fearless, careless, feckless and fareless....

Free Transit Riders

It was a common complaint when BART offered free service during spare-the-air days a couple of years ago. The trains filled up with teenagers wanting to take a free ride, who were rambunctious enough to make life unpleasant for the regular transit riders.

Charles Siegel

It is a common complaint

It is a common complaint when we offer free ecosystem services throughout the year that the streets fill up with drivers wanting to take a free ride and fill the air, water and land with toxic gunk, smog and other climate warming chemicals. They are _____ enough to make life unpleasant for the regular living beings and creatures.

A Modest Proposal

So here's my suggestion: Employment Centers (cities) charge a head-tax on all employers, based on number of employees working on-site. These revenues are used to then issue commuter checks or even subsidize counterfeit-resistant transit passes/vouchers to the same employers, for distribution to their employees. Parking in congested areas is limited/priced/regulated so as discourage auto use by workers, but not so tightly as to completely frustrate retail, entertainment and service customers. Of course, transit systems have to be sized and operated so as to make travel mode transition a practical alternative.

Free Transit, along with Free Lunches and Free Love, should be postponed until the Human Millennium brings the apotheosis of Personkind and nasty little realities like genetically-programmed primate behavior patterns and STDs can be credibly ignored...

My Own Common Complaint

I agree, and I often complain about the sort of people who say:

"I can't tell you how many times I end up driving around in circles because I can't read the street signs in time (or at all.)"

Those people are ________ enough to make life unpleasant and dangerous for regular pedestrians and bike riders like me.

Charles Siegel

Ha ha, good one!

I deserved it.
Glad you're pedestrian/cyclist too.

True costs of the autosprawl system

The money wasted to support the autosprawl system is enormous and seldom accounted for... here is a partial list.

Free transit dangerous precedent.

I think that having free transit sets a dangerous precedent - transit costs money to provide, but so does driving. I would rather see all vehicles bear closer-to-full costs (per vehicle). That is, each vehicle should pay it's fair shares of road installation, maintenance etc directly. Users of low-occupancy vehicles doing longer trips would naturally feel the financial burden far more acutely than those using super-high occupancy vehicles for shorter trips (transit vehicles like 40 - 100 pax buses or trams).

Faced with the true financial costs of driving, plus the time-costs of car-congestion, commuters will more readily choose the relatively inexpensive transit, and lobby officials and leaders to "do something" - which would ideally lead to even better transit service (high frequency, high line density), and a gradual shift to complete community-nodes where real-life ammenities (ie not just the token coffee shops or boutique retail) are close at hand along with residential densities to support them. It might also lead to recognition of the additional costs that come with that brand new house 40 miles out of town, and encourage a market-shift to higher density, slightly more compact place to live closer to ammenties as a trade off.
Adriana M.

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Irvin Dawid's picture

Fare-Free Transit Does Exist In One NYC borough

I just took my first trip on the Staten Island Ferry - immensely enjoyable (ok, I'm a sucker for a cafe on a transit vehicle, so you know where I stayed....and got into a discussion with a SI commuter).

First, some history. The ferry started off as a nickel, and was 50-cents by 1997. When the metro-card offered free xfers that year, the charge was eliminated.

But that's not all that's free - the SIR is also...that's the Staten Isld Railway - unless you board or enter at the St. George Ferry Terminal. That's the only place on the train route (a 4-car subway train when I took it Sunday) you'll find turnstyles.

Even on my return trip, when I took the SIR to the St. George Ferry Terminal (last stop), I was amazed that upon arriving at Whitehall Street-South Ferry Terminal, Manhattan that my fare onto the #1 subway (or R or W) was considered a free xfer.

So there you have it - there is some fare-free transit in NYC!
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

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