As the economy gradually improves, some transit budgets are looking a little rosier. In a few rare cases, transit agencies even have a surplus and need to decide how to handle it.
One city wrestling with this question is Portland, where Tri-Met will either restore service that was recently cut or lower fares by extending the window of time for riders to get a free transfer. Local advocacy group OPAL has been pushing hard for the fare cut option, claiming it’s more socially just. But Jarrett Walker at Human Transit writes that the choice is more complicated than that:
OPAL’s demand for a fare cut costing $2.6 million (about 2% of the agency’s revenue) is, mathematically, also a demand that Tri-Met should not restore frequent service. This money (about 80 vehicle-hours of service per day) is more than enough to restore frequent all-day service on several major lines.
OPAL’s position is that because service has been cut, Tri-Met must mitigate the impact on low-income people instead of just fixing the problem. In particular, OPAL wants a solution that benefits only people who are money-poor but time-rich, a category that tends to include the low-income retired, disabled, and underemployed. You must be both money-poor and time-rich to benefit from a system that reduces fares but wastes more and more of your time due to low frequencies and bad connections.