Friday, March 18, 2011

Why I favor the flat-rate fare hike proposal (Jan. 3, 2007)

Current mood: exhausted

Today (Jan. 3, 2007), the Port Authority of Allegheny County, the public transit system in the metro Pittsburgh PA area, announced major service cuts and a fare hike. While I will deal with the service cuts and the reasons for the fare hike in a different blog entry, I want to make clear why I favor one fare hike proposal over the other.

The following was originally written in August 2004 when I needed to take my two children to a routine medical appointment in the Oakland part of the city, after picking up one from a daytime activity on the North Side, and then return home -- all by bus. The high cost of multiple trips by transit is a matter of little concern when fare hikes are discussed. The complexity of paying for such trips is beyond belief, even when one has all the money needed.

Adopting a single-zone, flat-fare system would simplify matters immensely.


Our complex and costly fare system: A Case Study

October 13, 2004

One day a few weeks ago, I had to plan a very difficult itinerary. With no car, I had to get myself and my 15-year-old son from my McCandless home (Zone 2) to the North Side, pick up my 10 year-old daughter, travel to Oakland for medical appointments, then get home. For someone with a car, this is a breeze, assuming no problems in standing (North Side) or parking (Oakland). By bus, however, there are three problems:

#1: Planning the trip;

#2: Planning the fare payment;

#3: The sheer cost of the trip, as compared to a car.

I wish to use the fare payment on this trip, especially the planning of this trip, as a case study in how complex it is to plan such a trip, and how costly it is for the transit-dependent rider to go about daily life. In so doing, I will pose a couple of "curiosity points", in which I as an experienced rider with a full understanding of the system's fares, routes, stops and functional rules, find it quite easy to use transit, but a less knowledgeable rider will be caught short – in money, time, options, and patience – often more than one of those at a time.

The cast of characters here is:

Myself, an adult with a monthly Zone 2 pass.

Gabe, essentially an adult with full-fare Zone 2 tickets.

Amy, a half-fare child with half-fare Zone 2 tickets.

Just for starters, I wonder how many people even know that the latter fare instrument exists.

But it is not enough to merely plan how to make the stops. There are other steps involved, other contingencies for which one must be prepared. Those choices, were they to come up, would change, in some cases markedly, how much one would pay, and in what way, and under what circumstances. Since the following plan was developed with this in mind, I will include some of that thinking as I proceed with the plan.

Step 1: Gabe and I board an 11C Perry Highway at Rolshouse Road, Zone 2.

Me: Show Zone 2 pass.


Hmmm, first a question: Will the weather be nice or lousy? If it's nice, we can walk from Federal Street to Brighton Road, to avoid paying additional fare, plus we could use the exercise; call this Step 2A. If not, I would rather we hop a 17B|16B|16F|500; call this Step 2B.

If no transfer: Pay Zone 2 ticket upon entry.

If transfer: Pay Zone 2 ticket AND 50 cents, upon entry, and ask for a transfer.

On the other hand, looking ahead, he will need a transfer for the trip from North Side to Oakland, so buy the transfer anyway.

No, you cannot purchase two transfers to be used in sequence. The first and third trips are full fare.

[1/03/2007 NOTE: This would change under the flat-fare proposal. The entire trip could be handled with one, at most two, fare payments per child.]

Exit the 11C at Federal Street just after the turn from North Avenue.

Step 2A: Since the weather is nice, we can just walk to Brighton Road.

Step 2B: Since it's raining, we need to cross the street and wait at the stop at Federal and Metropolitan for a 16B|16F|500. No 17B at this stop, though all four routes are available by standing in front of the Garden Theater. (That's OK, we'll wait at Metropolitan. If you don't know the area, trust me, you don't want to wait there for a bus with two children.)

Exit that bus at West North at Brighton. Since we are now outbound and it is prior to 7:00 p.m., we pay upon exit.

Me: Show Zone 2 pass.

Gabe: Give operator the transfer.

Step 3: Taking Amy under wing, we cross West North to wait for a 500 to get to the medical appointment in Oakland.

Step 4: Board the 500. Since we are now inbound, it is pay-enter.

However, Route 500 has a special, additional rule, affecting those who ride the bus through Downtown. Since one normally pays upon exit heading away from Downtown, in order NOT to pay twice, one has to request a free fare receipt upon boarding, and paying, heading toward Downtown. The fare receipt is used to get off the bus later. This is not a concern if one has a bus pass.

Me: Show Zone 2 pass.


If 2A was used, give operator the transfer. Also request a fare receipt.

If 2B was used, now we have a problem, since all we have are Zone 2 tickets.

Choice 4A-Gabe: Pay the full $1.75 fare, but not purchasing a transfer. Also request a fare receipt. I wonder how many people forget to do either of these.

Choice 4B-Gabe: Using a Zone 2 ticket, purchase a full Zone 1 fare and a transfer. I wonder how many people even think of this as an option. Also request a fare receipt.

Choice 4C-Gabe: Just pay the Zone 2 ticket and either neglect or disregard or forget the fare overpayment.

Choice 4D-Gabe: Pay the full $1.75 fare, plus 50 additional cents for a transfer.


Choice 4A-Amy: Pay the half-fare 90 cents, but not purchase a transfer. I wonder how many people just put in an even dollar.

Choice 4B-Amy: Using the half-fare Zone 2 ticket, purchase a child's Zone 1 fare and a transfer. Also request a fare receipt.

Choice 4C-Amy: Just pay the half-fare Zone 2 ticket and neglect/disregard/forget the fare overpayment, but do get a fare receipt,

Choice 4D-Amy: Pay the half-fare 90 cents and 25 additional cents for a transfer.

Step 5: Exit the 500 at Fifth and Bellefield in Oakland.

Me: Show Zone 2 pass.


Let's assume a fare receipt is in hand. Alternatively, the operator remembers that we boarded on the North Side and does not request fare payment. Otherwise, we are in a fare dispute. I wonder how common an occurrence this is, too.

If 4A-Gabe was used, hand operator the fare receipt.

If 4B-Gabe was used, hand operator the fare receipt -- NOT the transfer. I wonder how often this mistake is made.

If 4C-Gabe was used, hand operator the fare receipt.


If 4A-Amy was used, hand operator the fare receipt.

If 4B-Amy or 4D-Amy were used, hand operator the fare receipt -- NOT the transfer.

If 4C-Amy was used, hand operator the fare receipt.

Step 6: Board a bus to go back Downtown, with intention of making a connection to an 11C or 13C to get home.

Route planning note: There are three stops that can be used.

Stop A: Walk to Fifth at Bellefield to board {71A|500|71C|71D|100}.

Stop B: Walk to Fifth at Tennyson to board {61A|61B|61C|501|67A|67F|67J|71A|500|71C|71D|100}. A farther walk but a shorter wait.

Stop C: Walk to Bayard at Bigelow to board the fastest trip Downtown {77C|78C}, 12 minutes vs. 20 to 22 minutes, plus delays. A very short trip, but very little service.

Back to fare payment.

Me: Show Zone 2 pass.


If 4A-Gabe was used, hand operator the transfer. Call this Choice 6A.

If 4B-Gabe was used, it will now be the ideal situation in which to use a "reverse transfer". Pay 50 cents, and have the operator either punch the Zone 2 ticket or tear off a corner. The Zone 2 ticket will be used on the trip home. Call this Choice 6B.

If 4C-Gabe was used, again employ Choice 6B.

Choice 6C would be to pay another Zone 2 ticket and request a transfer, just as in 4B.

Choice 6D would be to pay another Zone 2 ticket and NOT request a transfer (forget/disregard/etc.).


Same choices available as for Gabe, but with half-fare tickets and cash amounts.

Exit bus Downtown.

Step 7: Board 11C/13C and ride until the home stop at Perrymont Road.

This will be a pay-leave, if it is still prior to 7 p.m.

Me: Show Zone 2 pass.


If Choice 6A was used, pay a Zone 2 ticket.

If Choice 6B/6C was used, pay the punched/corner-torn Zone 2 ticket.

If Choice 6D was used, pay another Zone 2 ticket.


If Choice 6A was used, pay a half-fare Zone 2 ticket.

If Choice 6B/6C was used, pay the punched/corner-torn half-fare Zone 2 ticket.

If Choice 6D was used, pay another half-fare Zone 2 ticket.

Now let's add up what got spent. All of the above assumed that sufficient cash was on hand to make exact change when necessary

For me, it was easy: All I needed was the Zone 2 pass.

For Gabe, at minimum three and possibly five Zone 2 tickets were used.

For Amy, at minimum two and possibly three half-fare Zone 2 tickets were used.

In terms of cash:

For me, none was required.

Gabe would have needed {Step 1: 50c; 4D: $2.25 6B: 50c} from $1.00 to $3.25 in either all quarters or quarters and half dollars.

Amy would have needed {4A: 90c; 4D: $1.15; 6B: 25c} from 90 cents to $1.40, all in small change.

All told, prior to making the trip, I would need to be sure to have handy my pass, five Zone 2 adult tickets ($12.50), three half-fare Zone 2 tickets ($3.45), and somewhere from $1.90 to $4.65 in small change.

The whole trip, not counting the pre-paid cost of the pass, is about $20. If cash fares were used for me instead of the pass, make that over $25. By car, that would have been: zero to park in the small lot on the North Side where we picked her up, at least $1 in quarters at an Oakland meter, and at 40 cents a mile for 28 miles, for a total of about $12.50. Maintenance issues aside, the driving family pays half what the transit dependent family pays. Never mind that the time involved in making this trip by bus far exceeds that of the equivalent trip by car.

[1/03/2007 NOTE: Under the flat-fare proposal, Gabe's entire fare would have been $2, perhaps $4 if the appointment took a long time. Amy's would have been $1, perhaps $2. The entire trip would not have exceeded $6 beyond my pass.

All issues of fare receipts, transfers and making change would never have existed.]

Now consider that, for a substantial number of people, the above scenario is a daily occurrence. Note also the number of cases where overpayment is done, out of convenience ($1 for a 90-cent fare, Zone 2 tickets when a Zone 1 will do), out of neglect (forgetting to buy a transfer), out of not knowing any better (not thinking to buy a transfer), or out of fare disputes (fare receipts on the 500, or the little-known reverse transfer). I feel safe in guessing that a substantial number of underpayments also occur for similar reasons.

Does anyone reading this now understand why a fare hike is so significant to low-income people?

Of course, it certainly helps to have a pass. Having an even more modern fare instrument such as a barcoded pass or a swipe card would make it even that much easier, provided that the riding community can be persuaded to use it. For reasons I have not as yet understood, a large number of transit dependent riders pay full cash fare, or with zone tickets which amount to the same thing. That, however, is best left to a different discussion.


End of discourse

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