DC unveils bold plan to boost public transit

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the District of Columbia and other major cities that public transit has been a lifeline for essential workers and that even modest fares can be a drain on them. That’s why the country’s capital is unveiling a groundbreaking plan: it will offer residents free bus tickets next summer.

Other cities, including Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri, suspended fare collection during the peak of the pandemic to minimize human contact and ensure residents without other means of travel can reach jobs and services at hospitals, grocery stores and offices.

But DC’s permanent free-fare plan will be by far the largest, and comes at a time when major cities like Boston and Denver and states like Connecticut are considering broader zero-fare policies to improve equity and help improve those associated with Ascension Regain lost ridership Remote and hybrid work. Los Angeles introduced free fares in 2020, before recently reintroducing passenger charging. Recently, the LA Metro has been testing a fare cap plan under which passengers pay for rides until they reach a fixed dollar amount and then ride for free, although incoming Mayor Karen Bass has suggested support for permanently eliminating fares.

Buses in DC.
Bus Fairs will be held in DC on July 1, 2022.
AP

Analysts say DC’s free fare system offers a good test case for how public transit can be transformed for a post-pandemic future.

“If DC shows that it increases ridership, reduces the cost burden for those on lower incomes, and improves the quality of transit service in terms of bus speed and reducing the number of cars on the road, it could be a roaring success. said Yonah Freemark, a senior research fellow at the Urban Institute. “We just don’t know yet if that would happen.”

Passengers boarding Metro buses within city limits will waive the $2 fares beginning around July 1. In unanimously approving the plan last week, the DC Council also agreed to expand bus service to 24 hours on 12 main downtown routes, benefiting nightlife and service workers who normally depended on costly rides to get home come after the metro subway and bus system was closed at night.

A new $10 million fund for annual investments in DC bus lanes, shelters and other improvements to make rides faster and more reliable was also approved.

“The district is poised to be a national leader in the future of public transit,” said DC Councilor Charles Allen, who first proposed free fares in 2019 and says the program can be paid for entirely with DC’s excess tax revenue. Approximately 85% of bus drivers are DC residents. The subway system also serves neighboring suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.

About 68% of DC residents who take the bus have household incomes of less than $50,000, and the passengers are disproportionately black and Hispanic compared to Metrorail passengers, according to the council’s budget analysis.

People boarding the bus.
Not everyone is in favor of the free transit rides in the nation’s capital.
AP

Not everyone is a fan.

Peter Van Doren, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in DC, said the plan risks high costs and mixed results, noting that the opportunity to improve ridership may be limited as bus passengers have returned to pre-pandemic levels more quickly . He said government subsidies that would help lower-income people buy cars would continue because not everyone has easy access to public transport, which operates on fixed routes.

“The beauty of cars is that they can go anywhere and everywhere, which the Transit can’t,” he said. “We don’t know the subset of low-income people in DC where transit is a wonderful option versus a not-so-wonderful option.”

The council’s move, which will be finalized in a second vote later this month, addressed concerns from DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, who supports the concept of free fares but questions about the long-term annual cost of $42 million threw up dollars. “District residents and taxpayers must pay for this program,” she wrote in a letter to council members. “Our neighbors, Virginia and Maryland, should meet some of these costs as their residents will also benefit from this program.”

Allen had also proposed a $100 monthly transit benefit for DC residents to access the Metrorail system, but shelved the plan until at least the fall of 2024 due to the estimated $150 million annual cost. He described free bus tickets as a “win-win-win” for the district, as they would help the transit system recover and provide affordable, eco-friendly travel while boosting downtown economic activity.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which is currently facing a $185 million budget deficit that it blames in part on fare evasion, hailed the plan as “bold.” We look forward to working with the City Council, Mayor and regional stakeholders “to achieve our goal of providing our customers with a more accessible and equitable service.”

People boarding a SC bus.
In 2019, fares accounted for over 40% of total transit revenue there, but have fallen to 25% since the pandemic.
AP

While transit ridership across the country has returned to about 79% of pre-pandemic levels, that number varies widely by region. In New York City, for example, MTA executive director Janno Lieber has suggested that city and state governments should pay more for trains and buses, which are more akin to essential public services like a fire department, citing millions of transit drivers who he believes do they’ll never come your back. In 2019, fares accounted for over 40% of total transit revenue there, but have since fallen to 25%, leading to an expected $2.5 billion deficit in 2025, along with the risk that the COVID Federal transport authority aids will soon be used up.

In DC, where bus fares account for a modest 7% of total public transit operating revenue, transit companies might find it easier to absorb losses from zero fares, said Art Guzzetti, vice president for mobility initiatives and public policy for the American Public Transportation Association. He pointed to savings for city taxpayers as boarding has been expedited, which could allow for more routes and stops, as well as reducing congestion and eliminating the need for transit enforcement against dodgers.

Currently, DC bus ridership is at about 74% of pre-pandemic levels on weekdays, compared to 40% for Metrorail.

Still, free city plans can be a tough choice. “If the consequence of a zero-fare program is that you have fewer funds to invest in frequent connections, then go backwards,” Guzzetti said.

In Kansas City, which began offering zero fares on its buses in March 2020 and has no scheduled end date, officials said the program helped boost ridership, which rose 13% in 2022 from a year earlier. The free fares amount to an $8 million loss in revenue, with the city paying more than half of that and federal COVID relief covering the rest through 2023, said Cindy Baker, interim vice president of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority who describes the program as a success.

The program has eliminated disputes between passengers and bus drivers over fares, although there have been more instances of disputes between passengers due to an increase in homeless drivers, according to the agency. Baker said the transit agency has increased security in response to some passenger complaints.

Ché Ruddell-Tabisola, director of government affairs for the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, hailed free fares as a much-needed economic boost and demonstrated DC’s commitment to the well-being of late-night bartenders and restaurant workers who need an affordable way home.

“Many industries have said goodbye to the pandemic, but for DC’s bars and restaurants, the pandemic is still happening every day,” he said, citing the impact of hybrid labor, inflation, gun violence and other factors that have eroded downtown . “Anything that helps encourage guests to come to downtown DC and enjoy the world-class dining and entertainment that we offer is a great thing.”

https://nypost.com/2022/12/12/dc-unveils-bold-plan-to-boost-public-transit/ DC unveils bold plan to boost public transit

JACLYN DIAZ

USTimeToday is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – admin@ustimetoday.com. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button