Monday, July 6, 2009

Cost of Transit

TreeHugger has an article up that ranges from NYC upping their subway fares to the various costs among international subway/transit lines to the differences between zone- or distance-based pricing to standardized fares:
Meanwhile, San Francisco's BART and DC's Metro -- two of the newest U.S. metro systems (1972 and 1976, respectively; LA's subway is the newest) -- are the only American networks listed here to rely on zone or distance-based pricing. The further you travel, the more expensive the fare.

Such a system potentially makes the per mile cost of those subways cheaper. In cities with fixed fares, meanwhile, riders who travel short distances are effectively helping to pay for the cost of those who travel longer distances.

Still, I tend to think the costs of zone-pricing outweigh the benefits. Not only can it make subway travel considerably more expensive than it might otherwise be, but it presumably adds more management costs for the subway and more complication (and okay, aggravation) for riders who don't want to get their ticket out every time they leave the subway. I'm not sure fast-paced New Yorkers could stand for the kind of turnstile gridlock that could ensue, in the way that Bay Area or DC riders might be able to.
Dallas DART has a bit of a hybridized system where one purchases "premium" to travel between Dallas and Fort Worth, typically on the TRE. As you can see on the map, Dallas' system is pretty spread out suggesting the majority of trips would be pretty long in comparison with say a more dense system like Chicago.

While I haven't shied away from the idea of fare-free transit, my trips on DART consist mostly of shorter trips from Downtown to American Airlines Center for events/games, to CityPlace for West Village or Target, or to Mockingbird Station for food and drinks.

Much more rarely however, I do take the TRE to DFW or to the once a year trip to Fort Worth, which is eminently more enjoyable than the drive down 30. Apparently, there is WiFi on the TRE as well, but I didn't happen to bring the laptop or sync it with my Iphone. With either however, I can browse, listen to music, post on this blog...ALL more interesting than sitting on I-30.

Back to the point of the article, I tend to back a fare plan that is NOT distance based and more standardized fare. As the article suggests this makes short trips subsidize the long ones. But, in high quality cities, those short trips can be accomplished by cleaner means than what one Dallas City official refers to as "not light rail, but welter-weight rail," which is still cleaner and more efficient than personal automobile use AND produces better and more efficient land use and building patterns.

Rather than taking comparatively expensive short trips on the welterweight rail, one would take streetcar, walk, or bike (caveat: in cities where those forms of transportation are amenable, pleasurable, and safe). And, since long trips are now relatively cheap, it encourages long trips by welterweight rail rather than personal car.

The only problem I have with Dallas' system is that to go to the airport currently, which I have done exactly once now via TRE, is that it is a "premium" trip. I don't mind that Dallas to Fort Worth or vice versa is a step up in price scale for distance but shouldn't DFW be a sort of neutral ground for both cities rather than being more expensive for one city to get to than its sibling?