CTA fare hike

Crain’s Greg Hinz reports that the CTA’s 2006 budget includes a mild cash fare increase, furthering the two-tiered fare system (and apparently adding more tiers) separating smart cards, transit cards, and cash:

Those who pay in cash would have to fork over $2 a ride, up from $1.75 now. But only 20% of CTA users now pay in cash, with the others using the pre-paid Chicago Card or daily, weekly or monthly passes.

Removing the paper transfer cards would undoubtedly save cash. The differential pricing for bus and rail for those using Transit Cards will undoubtedly cause additional confusion. But overall, the net effect will be to speed operations: discouraging payment with nickels and dimes saves everyone time and money, and it’s time the prices reflect that.

CTA can both improve ridership and address the equity concern raised here by vastly increasing the availability of daily and weekly passes, and prepaid Transit Cards. Sell them at every corner store, every train station, and every bus driver. (Wouldn’t take much: just have them dispense $5 day passes as they now dispense transfers.) NYC added day passes to all MetroCard vending machines, with a “positive impact”:http://www.schallerconsult.com/pub/metrocrd.htm on the bottom line:

Evidently, passes attracted not just those already making enough trips to save money with a pass, but also attracted customers just below the break-even threshold (13 trips for the 7-day pass and 11 trips for the 30-day pass). These customers have taken advantage of passes to boost their ridership past the break-even point-making transit cheaper for them while increasing NYC Transit revenues. Some transit riders also report that pass usage cut into their taxi ridership, an unsurprising development since pass users’ incremental transit trips are free.

“A pass will allow much greater mobility for transit riders and that’s great news for our economy. It also means less traffic congestion, a saner city and cleaner air,” said [Straphangers Campaign’s Gene] Russianoff in “1997”:http://groups.google.com/group/bit.listserv.railroad/browse_thread/thread/256de9efe5008e53/d50515e5c1f643f0%23d50515e5c1f643f0?sa=X&oi=groupsr&start=0&num=3

The weekly passes were (reportedly) especially popular among low-income workers who can’t front the cost of a monthly pass; at $20/week or $75/month, it’s almost a wash, anyways. “Surveys in NYC”:http://www.straphangers.org/discount.pdf (p. 17) indicate that over a fourth of lower-income riders there used 7-day passes, vs. less than 10% of high-income riders, and that 60% of low-income riders cited cost as a deterrent to buying a 30-day pass. Low-income riders are also more likely to be “unbanked,” thus creating a deterrent to using the credit-card-linked Chicago Card Plus.

I’m not sure what stands in the way of stores other than Jewel/Osco and currency exchanges offering the cards for sale. If CTA doesn’t want to deal with the complications of running a wholesale business, then outsource it (maybe to the folks who put Lotto machines on every corner in poor parts of town). If it’s an exclusivity agreement, then that’s stupid: any upfront premium would be more than offset by higher sales.

(Thanks to Adam Kerman for the idea about passes.)