Forum Free Buses, Cheaper Subways -- and a Solution to New York's Traffic
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This is an important discussion and I hope that it will continue. If we dig deep enough I think that a number for us are going to be forced to modify if only a tad our long favored solutions. And so it goes.
The ride free zone downtown has been a common feature of many transit systems in the US since the late 1980's to my knowledge and many operators were able to show conclusively that this effectively paid for itself, by reducing the number of vehicles required to maintain the service frequency, due to the time savings made when passing through the city centre. I only wish that First Glasgow would see the sense in this and offer a free shuttle service on a corridor through Central Glasgow currently plagued by too many buses trying to cross the city with too few passengers on each bus, whilst adjacent river crossings and cross-city routes have few (or no) bus routes across or along them, the other bus routes would either cross town by other routes or terminate/turn at a point of interchange with the shuttle service.
Off-bus ticketing also helps as is common on major BRT networks such as Curitiba and Bogota and (whilst we still have them) bendy buses in London. The off-bus ticketing regime is usually accompanied by a high level of patrol activity by revenue protection staff raising the odds that any fare evader will be caught and heavily fined. You have to watch the speed of boarding for the 25 metre 200 passenger monsters in Curitiba to become fully convinced that the BRT is a real match for the tram if it is delivered seriously, and not just a guided bus service.
Both regimes are I suspect not embraced by MTA in NYC, both could be tested on a area/route basis as I think TfL did with their flat fare and bendy bus regimes.. Maybe Dave Wetzel will pick this up after all he has had several years of experience from the rear platform upwards in running London's Buses
Charles Komanoff wrote:
I thought along similar lines until I actually
undertook the analysis, which transformed my
perspective from ivory-tower to real-world.
What I found was a tremendous value in making
bus service free, by virtue of the marked
improvement in bus speeds (on the order of 20%)
which could greatly reduce per-rider costs while
significantly boosting ridership.
These benefits are considerable. (They are
quantified in the O-Transit worksheet of the
BTA spreadsheet). They should not be dismissed
out of hand.
At 07:29 PM 2/9/2009, you wrote:
"Free Public Transport", howsoever tempting it sounds, is never the solution because
- it promotes non-necessary consumption;
- no incentive for upkeep and service quality;
- lack of psychological pressure of demanding a good quality service;
- loss of perceptive value.
Instead, the focus should be on delivering "value for money". It creates much greater customer satisfaction and promotes higher usage. We should not attempt to brand public transport as "cheap" (i.e. something that should be used only by those who can't afford anything better) but as "trendy" (i.e. something fashionable which all should strive to use).
We need to bring Public Transport out of populist political trap and make it a top-of-the-mind sought after product.
2009/2/9 eric britton <eric.britton@...>
Free Buses, Cheaper Subways -- and a Solution to New York's Traffic
- by Charles Komanoff
- February 9, 2009
- Photo (cc) Pete Biggs
- Last spring, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed an $8 "congestion fee" to drive into parts of Manhattan, the plan fell victim to several intrinsic weaknesses. Geographical inequity, for one: Manhattan residents and New Jersey drivers would have ponied up a lot less than car commuters from Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. Lack of ambition, for another: The promised 6 percent drop in midtown gridlock seemed a meager reward for ending free use of city streets and bridges.
- But the basic idea is a good one, as experience in London,
and Milan has shown. Can
"congestion pricing done right," as new State Sen. Daniel
Squadron has called for, fix the Bloomberg plan's flaws? With a
smarter plan, can we make a serious dent in traffic tie-ups that by some
estimates cost the city $13 billion a year, while creating so many
winners that the plan survives the legislative gauntlet?
What This Plan Would Do
- Here's one possibility:
- Replace the mayor's flat $8 toll to drive into Manhattan south of 60th Street with a sliding scale of charges. All cars and trucks trips driving across 60th Street from the north or entering midtown or lower Manhattan via a bridge or tunnel would pay a fee, but it would vary, from $10 during weekday peak hours down to $2 at night and much of the weekend. The charge would be at least twice as effective in unsnarling traffic as the mayor's $8 flat fee yet would average less -- around $6.
- Since all vehicles contribute to congestion, all vehicles pay: no "offsets" for other tolls paid by drivers from New Jersey, no matter how much they paid to cross the Hudson, and no exemptions for "black cars" driven into Manhattan to pick up or drop off their largely well-off clientele. For medallion cabs, which circulate a great deal within the "cordon" without crossing it, a surcharge on fares gives an equivalent effect.
- Dedicate the revenues from the congestion toll and taxi surcharge to eliminate bus fares (which will speed boarding), make trips within the city on Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North commuter trains free (which will help ease subway crowding), and cut subway fares.
- This plan originated with Ted Kheel, the lawyer and civic activist who, for the past two years, has sponsored a research program to realize his hope of making car travel more efficient and mass transit more affordable by integrating the two systems. Kheel's foundation, Nurture New York's Nature, has funded development of a computer model -- the "Balanced Transportation Analyzer" -- that predicts how the new tolls and fare incentives will alter commuter behavior and calculates the resulting changes in travel speeds and agency revenues.
- The analyzer is firmly grounded in empirical evidence. For example, to calculate how many auto commuters would shift their trip from the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. morning peak, when the $10 toll would apply, to the 5a.m. to 6 a.m. hour, when the toll would drop to $4, the analyzer draws on data about drivers' actual time-shifting after the Port Authority instituted time-variable pricing in 2001. The same approach lets us estimate that a variable subway fare topped off at $1.50 during the 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. rush hours and tapering down before and after would cut subway ridership during those two rush hours while increasing it at less crowded times.
- The analyzer is now making the rounds of the regional transportation agencies. No less an authority than "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz, the former chief traffic engineer for New York City and the dean of his profession, has pronounced the model "comprehensive, logical and the best I've seen."
- Run this new congestion-pricing plan through the analyzer, and the numbers are striking. Charge a 24/7 congestion price varying from $2 to $10 and increase taxi fares by a third, and the resulting revenue could allow the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to halve the average subway fare and make all other transit inside the city, including buses and commuter trains, free. The combined carrot and stick will increase the number of people traveling into the heart of the city while reducing the number of cars. This would improve daytime traffic speeds by an average of 20 percent in Manhattan south of 60th Street and provide sizeable improvements on the approaches from the boroughs and New Jersey.
- To be sure, our plan won't cure the inherited MTA deficit. Other proposals have been advanced to do that, such as the one proposed by the Ravitch Commission last fall. A "Kheel-Komanoff" plan, however, could be powerfully merged with a deficit-plugging plan, enhancing it in crucial ways. Indeed, the Ravitch plan, which may be adopted in some form this spring, is fully compatible with our model. The small -- and controversial -- portion of that plan that calls for geographically biased bridge tolls would be replaced by the Kheel-Komanoff universal toll and taxi fee. (Note to residents east of the East River: Under the Ravitch plan, which calls for bridge tolls, alone, you would account for 60 percent of all fees collected. That falls to 36 percent under Kheel-Komanoff, which spreads the burden among more drivers.)
- The merged plan could keep the payroll tax Ravitch recommends as well as his calls for greater efficiency and transparency at the MTA. If additional monies are needed to fund the authority's capital budget, these could be drawn from the congestion-pricing pot by deferring some of the drop in subway fares. The provision for free buses should be inviolate, however, because many poorer New Yorkers rely on buses and they are a mainstay in communities underserved by subways.
- Our plan benefits everyone, including drivers, who will pay more but get a faster and more reliable commute in return. The biggest beneficiaries may be bus riders. The free fare will not only stretch their paychecks but also speed their trips, since no one will have to stop and swipe a Metrocard to get on board. New Yorkers would see overall time savings running into billions of dollars, not to mention fewer car crashes, healthier air and an improved quality of life.
- Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Paterson, MTA Chairman Sander, fellow New Yorkers: That traffic plan you've been waiting for? It's right here.
- Charles Komanoff, an independent policy analyst, is president emeritus of Transportation Alternatives and a founding trustee of the Tri -State Transportation Campaign.
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