Is Pay by Distance Unfair to the Poor?
San Francisco BART riders pay more if they go farther, but in a city as expensive as San Francisco many of those who ride the furthest have the least to spend. Sam Raby spoke to a local handyman, Mark Rogers Nelson, who would sometimes find himself priced out of transit. "Nelson was homeless up until recently, and he remarks that he often got 'stuck on one side' of the Bay during this period because of BART’s high fares," writes Raby. People with lower incomes are more likely to be found further from the center of San Francisco and may have to take longer commutes as a result. "And while the median income of the Bay Area Metro is around $97,000, more than 50 percent of workers in the Bay make less than $50,000 a year, according to the most recent census data," according to Raby.
BART leadership points out that pricing for service means riders pay for what they use. Flat fares mean riders taking short trips subsidize the service for everyone else. "While the New York MTA, the Chicago 'L,' and the Los Angeles Metro charge a flat fare to ride anywhere in their network, BART is one of three rapid-transit systems that charge passengers by distance. (Washington, D.C.’s WMATA and Philadelphia’s PATCO are the other two)" according to Raby. But systems like the CTA in Chicago do not cover the same distances as the BART, so they face a different set of challenges.
A related issue is the number of transit operators in the Bay Area. While area residents can pay for many different services with Clipper Fare cards, those services set their own fares and have their own policies. "In an effort to ease the burden on low-income riders, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the transportation planning and financing agency for the entire Bay Area, is pushing for region-wide system reforms," writes Raby.