Transportation legislation to cut funding for mass transit is working it’s way through Congress. The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 7, also known as the Surface Transportation Authorization bill) includes provisions to end guaranteed funding for mass transit systems provided by the gas tax. Since 1983, Federal gas tax funds have been used to pay for both public highway and mass transit projects. The tax is expected to bring in $25 billion in the next five years and if this legislation passes it could prevent mass transit from seeing any of those funds.
As national and local governments attempt to cope with the budget crisis and economic downturn, public transportation is winding up on the chopping block. If mass transit systems are to survive, we must find creative solutions to fund them.
One solution: increase fares and reduce miles of service. This might seem counterintuitive, but more countries and localities are opting to privatize parts of their public transportation systems. These privately run systems often increase fares and cut less profitable routes, but supply riders with better and more reliable service in exchange.
Between 1990 and 2007, Germany’s privatized public transit system doubled the cost of fares and reduced the miles of service. What happened? Ridership increased by 22 percent. In all fairness, this was part of a larger transportation package that encouraged public transportation while also discouraging personal vehicle use, but many argue that privatization was the key part of the program’s success.
However, some argue that privatization does not fully protect the public’s interest. Poorer communities are likely to be hit hardest by high fare costs and limited transit routes.
So, if raising fares isn’t an ideal solution, what is? Lowering fares! At least for new riders. The fact is that many people like public transportation. They just don’t know it yet. A recent study conducted by researchers in Sweden found that people who commute to work by car, in fact, like mass transit more than they think they do. Before, during and after a month of free subway use, regular car-commuters were asked how satisfied they were with the subway system. Not only were participants more satisfied with mass transit than they thought they would be, but feelings of satisfaction increased over the 30-day trial.
Perhaps with the right marketing and new-user promotions, transit systems will be able to attract--and hopefully keep--new riders.
Gina DiCicco, Guest Contributor