Fair Fares

I spent much of yesterday at a Translink Stakeholder Forum at their offices in New Westminster. I joined about 20-24 other participants plus about 10 Translink facilitators and technicians. This was for Phase Three of their Fare Review process which began in the summer of  2016.  A final report, after a fourth round of dialog next spring, is scheduled for release next summer.

I guess I would have enjoyed Phase One the most because there I could have argued for what I believe in — transit as a free service available to all paid for by general taxes [far less expensive than you might think].  Unfortunately, by Phase Three, we are already deep into the vocabulary of transit as a commodity with “products” and hierarchical pricing.  Oh well, that’s a fight for next time.

It is important to mention that one of the self-imposed criteria for success in this exercise is to maintain not increase the amount of revenues collected; so new fare policies cannot add net cost to the rider on average.

When the results of the Phase One survey were refined through the Phase Two process (the documents for which are available), we were left with distance-based pricing as the sole option. Phase Three was to refine and define such an option.

We were first given two options:  (a) keep current flat-fare system for regular buses, with a distance-based fare system for “premium” services (West Coast Express, express buses, Sky Train perhaps), the distance-based fare to max out at the current 3-zone rate; or (b) make all transit fares distance-based starting at a slightly lower cost and going up  to the current 3-zone maximum.  Just about everyone agreed that there needs to be a mix of flat-fare and distance-based pricing. Much of the discussion centred around what should be considered “premium”.

A second set of questions concerned discounts. Everyone agreed there should be discounts for low-income commuters. Some argued that these discounts should not be available during peak hours, but many others pointed out that low-income workers have little or no choice about when they can travel for work. Other suggestions included re-instituting the previously available weekly pass.  A secondary question was whether low-income discounts should be funded by raising all other prices?  The great majority of attendees agreed that this was OK and is in fact how current discounts are paid for and so why should this be different?

The final set of questions introduced the idea of fare-capping; i.e., you pay full fare until you have ridden a certain distance (per day/week/month, etc) after which all further travel for the period is free. Translink suggested it would be hard to have two systems – monthly passes AND fare-capping. However, virtually everyone in the session thought that monthly passes were the most convenient for regularly employed commuters, while a fare-capping system allowed lower-income or irregularly employed folks to get the benefits without having to fund a full monthly pass in advance each month. It was also agreed that fare-capping might prove an incentive to increase ridership.

It was an interesting exercise which I enjoyed. CoV Planners could learn some things about why this “sticky note” workshop seemed so much more useful and productive than the ones the Planners have tried for development projects and community plans.

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One Response to Fair Fares

  1. Grandview Citizen says:

    The City of Vancouver could (and should) embark on a project to take control of its transit system, i.e. the system that serves the city (within city limits.) If that were successful, then Vancouver might actually get a system that works for city residents at reasonable cost to taxpayers and and at a price of *free* to its customers. (Which I agree should be the “pricing” stance.)

    The current transit system is regional and is *not* structured to provide Vancouver with a system that makes sense. It *is* a cleverly crafted subsidy for suburban development. The stakeholder forum you describe in eloquent detail above is but a symptom or indicator of this fact.

    So, the “Let’s just keep shuffling the fares and hope that something works” does not make for an effective use of time in the same way that fare gates on Skytrain did not suddenly and magically make unicorns and pixie dust.

    I’m sorry to inform you that you wasted your time on a malformed problem statement, Jak.

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