The Free Public Transit Debate

The pros and cons of fare-free transit involve a range of issues, from operations logistics and outcomes to costs and fiscal priorities.

1 minute read

July 25, 2019, 5:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink


BVG

Ingolf / Flickr

Alon Levy explores the debate around free public transportation and the results of fare-free programs implemented in various cities in the U.S. and Europe. Because free transit means agencies do not need to collect fares, it speeds up boarding and eliminates costs such as fare collection systems and some personnel. But, argues Levy, proof-of-payment systems address many of these issues, with relatively minimal costs for any ticket machines or fare inspectors.

He also makes the point that funds for subsidizing free fares have to come from some source and that money could be better used to address any of a range of system issues. "If there is money to make service free, there is money to spend on service improvements, including more metro lines, higher frequency, and wheelchair accessibility where it isn’t already present," adds Levy.

The size of the city and system are also relevant considerations in the discussion about free transit, according to Levy. In smaller cities, proof-of-payment enforcement is more difficult for inspectors to carry out. "The one caveat is that if the plan is to convert a city from one without public transportation to speak of to one with a good system, for example in Los Angeles, then in the future, revenue will become more important."

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