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September 1st, 2009
Starting today, a single trip on RTA’s buses and rapid trains costs $2.25. There is no denying that transit systems across the country are hurting for revenue, and RTA isn’t the only system that has had to make service cuts and fare hikes.
Nevertheless, the Plain Dealer writes:
The new cash fare of $2.25 is in line with other transit agencies nationwide, RTA officials said…
Not so fast… this statement is debatable, and it’s worth analyzing. Comparing transit fares is a difficult task. Some transit systems charge different prices for peak and non-peak hours (RTA does not). Some systems charge varying amounts based on how far you travel (RTA has some small park-and-ride surcharges, but that’s about it). And some systems offer discounts for riders who buy tokens or multiple-trip farecards (RTA farecards offer no discounts).
The question I’m concerned with is how RTA’s simplest fares line up with comparable fares in other systems. Consider this: if you wanted to get from the West Side Market to Public Square today, regardless of whether you hopped on the Red Line or the 20A, 22, of 79, the ride will cost $2.25, even though the trip is less than two miles. Comparable cash fares in other transit systems stack up like this*:
To claim that RTA’s fares are “in line” with other transit agencies is accurate only if you ignore all but few cities including New York, Washington and Chicago, which frankly, have much more comprehensive and useful transit systems and a significantly higher expected cost-of-living. RTA’s fares are now above the median price of $2.00 and in the top quartile of this sample.
But it gets even worse when you compare RTA’s new $85 monthly pass with other transit systems**:
RTA’s monthly pass isn’t just well above the sample’s median price of $60, it is one of the most expensive monthly passes in the country.
Honestly, I am one of the biggest proponents of public transit. I sympathize with the plight of transit agencies in tough economic times, but I’m frustrated by RTA’s spin machine trying to convince me that their fares aren’t among the highest in the country. It’s a tough issue, but it’s important for Cleveland; and I fear that some unforgivable damage has taken place to RTA over the past year or so.
*Some cities were more difficult to determine fares than others. For systems that used fare zones or peak and off-peak fares, I tried my best to take an honest average. For all cities, I use cash fares, rather than discounted fares; for example, in Philadelphia, cash fare is $2.00, but the fare if paying with a token is only $1.45. For Washington Metrorail, Michael Perkins from Greater Greater Washington points me to this WMATA report that assumes a $2.30 average fare for budgetary purposes. I took the average BART fare of $3.18 from this article in the San Francisco Chronicle.
**Not all cities offer monthly passes. As far as I can tell, Washington, the Bay Area, Houston, Providence, and Minneapolis do not offer anything comparable to RTA’s monthly pass. Please let me know if this is not correct.
Last 5 posts by Rob Pitingolo
- The Cleveland International Film Festival: Thinking Ahead - March 29th, 2010
- Omitted Variable Bias - February 18th, 2010
- Deciphering Another Nonsense Forbes List - February 10th, 2010
- A Downtown Cleveland Fantasy - December 23rd, 2009
- Put a Nail in RTA's Coffin - November 17th, 2009