Metro’s proposal to raise fares would disproportionately affect commuters who depend on bus transportation and are least able to pay, according to outraged bus riders whose complaints are backed by Metro data.
Rail passengers, who face a 15 percent increase in fares, have a median income of $102,000; 75 percent are white, 18 percent are unemployed, and one in 50 lives in a household without a car.
Bus riders face a 20 percent rise in fares. They have a median annual income of $69,000; 50 percent are minorities, 23 percent are unemployed, and one in five has no car in the household, according to a Metrobus rider profile from 2007, the latest such data available.
Metro officials, facing a historic $189 million operating shortfall come the fiscal year that starts July 1, say raising fares and reducing service are a last resort.
Look, I know that addressing this particular budget shortfall through congestion pricing or tolling isn’t possible. The tolling technology can’t be set up overnight. But this should make you think. Congestion pricing would benefit drivers. Market pricing of parking would benefit drivers. And in deploying those measures, governments could provide enhanced transit service at a lower cost.
And it gets better — enhanced transit service at a lower cost would clearly benefit lower income riders, particularly those who can’t afford to own and operate a car. But the better transit service is, the closer a substitute it is to driving, and the more elastic is demand for driving. Which means that better transit service would reduce the congestion price needed to eliminate congestion.
Or, you know, we could raise fares and cut transit service. In which case some riders will begin driving which will lead to an even greater congestion problem, while others, who can’t afford cars, will either travel less or face painful hits to their already-low incomes.
I understand why this isn’t a popular solution — no one wants to pay tolls they didn’t have to pay before. But leaders need to have the courage to embrace and explain solutions that will very clearly make people better off.