Assessing the Equity Implications of Innovative Transit Fare Programs

Research Team: Brian D. Taylor (lead) and Jacob Wasserman

UC Campus(es): UCLA

Problem Statement: Public transit systems allow urban areas to thrive, and they provide mobility for those unable (financially, physically, etc.) to drive. Given the critical social service role played by public transit, whether and how much to charge passengers can be a thorny philosophical, economic, and practical question. Equitable fare policy entails decisions about the similarities and differences in treatment afforded to various groups. It also involves decisions about the extent to which travelers are expected to pay for the costs of the service they receive. This is of particular concern with regard to low-income, largely non-White, travelers, who are both disproportionately likely to use transit and to be burdened by the monetary costs of transit use. As such, there is growing public and scholarly interest in making public transit systems “fare-free.” Eliminating or reducing fares lowers the immediate monetary costs of transit use for low-income travelers and may reduce the costs of enforcing fare payment as well the controversial role of policing on transit systems used disproportionately by people of color. On the other hand, those advantages must be balanced against the loss of revenue that might otherwise be used to improve or increase service.

Project Description: This research will assess fare-free and/or reduced transit fare programs, and how these programs may benefit disadvantaged communities, both urban and rural. The team will carefully review and synthesize the current states of both the practice of, and research literature on, fare-free transit, focusing on the various equity issues raised by charging for transit fares, and how they might be ameliorated with conversion to fare-free transit service, to flat fares (that do not vary by time, distance, or travel mode), or fares based on the time, distance, or direction of travel. The research will consider the various equity tradeoffs to provide policymakers and transit managers with a full picture of this important policy question.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $10,000

Project Partner(s): Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority