As we know, one of Mayor Annise Parker’s transition teams is looking at Metro. We won’t get their report till the end of the month, but here’s a peek at some of the things they’re thinking about.
Parker has signaled that she is not wedded to conventional wisdom about Metro, even suggesting eliminating fares to increase lagging ridership. While acknowledging that Metro would have to cope with the loss of fare revenues — $66 million in 2009, about 20 percent of its expenses — she said it is a discussion the agency needs to have.
The mayor, who appoints five of the nine members of Metro’s board, said she envisions a seamless network of transportation services that move people efficiently throughout the eight-county Houston region.
“The goal should be, wherever you get on our ultimate mass transit system, from commuter rail, to light rail, to bus, you get one ticket, you go anywhere in the region,” Parker said.
Eliminating fares, of course, would make cost-benefit analysis meaningless, since every route would be fully subsidized. But allowing passengers to ride for free might attract enough riders to reduce congestion for drivers and produce other benefits, Parker said.
“I don’t really care so much what they collect at the fare box,” the mayor said. “I’m not going to tell them to do this, but I am personally interested in exploring — unless we’re leveraging those dollars in some ways for other kinds of matches — dropping the fares to get more people on board.”
The idea of lowering or even eliminating fares has been advocated by Bill King recently. My understanding is that eliminating fares causes problems with getting matching federal funds, but I don’t know the specifics of that. I’ll reserve judgment on the rest of it, but I do have a concern how revenues would be made up if fares are reduced. It’s possible that a lower fare could increase revenue for Metro if ridership goes up enough, of course. The argument about better serving the community that depends on public transportation is a strong one, and as part of a commitment to make transit more pervasive and interconnected, it’s one I’m open to. I’m looking forward to seeing what the transition team has to say.
On a related note, the PBS series Blueprint America aired a show last night on Detroit’s efforts to build out a better transit network. You can see a preview of it here, and the full episode should be available online shortly. My thanks to reader Kirston for the tip.