Should Transit Systems Charge More During Peak Hours?

338846804_cb792de790.jpgShould peak-hour Metro commuters pay a surcharge in the most congested part of the system? (Photo: roboppy via Flickr)

This morning on the Streetsblog Network, there’s a lively and intelligent discussion going on at Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit over the question "Should fares be higher during peak hours?"

The Human Transit post was sparked by an earlier discussion at Yonah Freemark’s blog, The Transport Politic, about the possibility of peak surcharges on Washington, D.C.’s Metro system (it already costs more to ride Metro at peak times; the proposal in question is for an additional 50-cent charge in the most congested part of the system).

Walker thinks such charges could be a good thing:

There’s also an argument for peak surcharging that connects with urbanist goals for transit. People who have the option of traveling off-peak should be encouraged to do so, because off-peak capacity is usually abundant, while peak capacity is naturally scarce and costly for the transit agency. This strategy helps build off-peak patronage, which supports more all-day service, which leads directly to transit that is more relevant to the entire life of the city rather than just the commute. All-day frequent service is the only type of service that can support transit-oriented development and thus change the shape of the city in more sustainable ways.  From an urbanist perspective, then, a gentle but persistent effort to shift demand away from the peak makes sense.

I have trouble even seeing a social justice argument against peak surcharges, as the average peak-period traveler usually has a higher income than an average midday traveler (because lower-paying jobs, mostly in service industries, are less likely to start and end on the usual peak). So insisting on flat fares all day could actually be seen as regressive.

Be sure to check out both original posts for a well-reasoned debate on the topic.

More from around the network: Totcycle proposes a "Bike to School Across America" competition. Seattle Transit Blog previews Mayor Mike McGinn’s forthcoming "Walk Bike Ride" initiative. And Broken Sidewalk has a little snippet about a college basketball player who wouldn’t get into a car during March Madness — because he recognized how dangerous it can be.