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Old Posted Aug 28, 2019, 4:42 PM
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Could Kansas City Become the First Major US City with Totally Free Public Transit?

Kansas City Considers Doing Away with Transit Fares Citywide


AUGUST 28, 2019

By SANDY SMITH

Read More: https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/kan...fares-citywide

Quote:
It costs only $3 a day to “RideKC” buses to and from work. A monthly pass good for riding anywhere in Kansas City, Mo., and its neighboring communities in Missouri and Kansas costs $50. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but residents of the city’s poorer East Side say that’s a large enough sum to affect their ability to apply for and hold jobs if they don’t own a car.

- Meanwhile, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority buses are seldom packed. Even at rush hour, many are less than full, and some buses run almost completely empty in the middle of the day. But in downtown, thousands of residents and visitors each month gladly hop on and off the Kansas City Streetcar Authority’s Main Street streetcar line. Cost to ride the streetcar: zero. Put these facts together and it seems like it might be a good idea if public transit everywhere in Kansas City became free to use.

- The costs of operating the streetcar are covered entirely by sales and property taxes levied in a special taxing district that extends for about a half-mile on either side of its route. A similar mechanism covering a much larger district will finance a planned southward extension of the streetcar to the Country Club Plaza and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Paying for the streetcar this way, it turned out, was more cost-effective than collecting fares from riders.

- The good news? Making transit free would take only a very small bite out of the KCATA’s annual operating budget: $8 million of the $105 million the authority spends each year to run the buses comes from fares. It would represent an even smaller share of the city’s annual budget of $1.7 billion. --- Robbie Makinen, the KCATA’s CEO, has already made bus riding free for veterans and students since taking charge of the agency in 2015, and the KCATA has also recently entered into a partnership with social-service providers that lets them give their clients free rides.

- As of now, 25 percent of all KCATA riders pay no fare. While the bulk of the KCATA’s routes operate in the city itself, it also runs service into neighboring Independence, Mo., and to Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas, all of which run their own bus systems as well. The regional bus pass is good for travel on all of these systems. --- Also on board with the idea: newly elected Mayor Quinton Lucas. In his inauguration address this month, he said, “We will still have important work to do … to ensure we’re continuing our steps toward free public bus transit for all in our city.”

.....



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  #2  
Old Posted Aug 28, 2019, 9:19 PM
plutonicpanda plutonicpanda is offline
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This will be an interesting experiment. I am not supportive of free transit but I am not opposed to it either.
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  #3  
Old Posted Aug 28, 2019, 11:30 PM
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I hope not, but only because I want my own Salt Lake City to do it first.

https://usa.streetsblog.org/2019/08/...-fare-transit/

I have no idea about Kansas City's situation, but in Salt Lake City, the amount of money the Utah Transit Authority brings in through fares is *roughly* the same amount of money it takes to enforce those fares. It is totally crazy. People are being charged simply so that they can make sure other people are charged. It makes me angry.

It is a perception issue - Everyone knows that both roads and transit are built with taxpayer money, but to ride transit requires you to pay again while driving on a road does not. It doesn't matter that roads get many multiples the money that transit gets, because very few people know how lopsided the funding structure is. All they know is that they are getting double-charged for transit, and who on earth would want that?

I think for many American transit systems, going fare-free is the right decision. Fares are really an anachronistic holdover from when private streetcar companies ran the first iterations of public transit. Now that these systems are publicly-run, it is inconsistent that fares are charged. Public libraries have no fare, neither do public parks, for example.

It has also been shown that improvements to transportation is one of the best ways to lift people out of poverty:

New York Times - "Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty"
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/u...g-poverty.html

If you have access to free transit, you can take a job anywhere that is served by that transit. You have access to the libraries and park and community centers near transit lines.

I realize my views are extreme, but if I were God-Emperor of all urban planning, I would take all the money from affordable housing projects and use it to make all public transportation free. I realize this would mean that many people would be displaced to 'cheaper' neighborhoods, but in return they would get free mobility to move about the city as they wished. If you have a subsidized apartment, everything around you is still expensive. But if you live where you can afford to and have free transportation into the more expensive parts of the city, I believe you will have a better quality of life.

All of this is based on a few provisions, of course:

1) Good law enforcement. Transit absolutely cannot become filled with vagrants who will scare everyone else away.
2) Good service. Frequent service, early mornings and late nights.
3) A focus on transportation rather than access. The goal should be moving people from A to B, not having bus routes zig-zag between neighborhoods to check off political boxes.

So I wish Kansas City well - just don't take your time or you won't be first!
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Old Posted Aug 31, 2019, 7:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hatman View Post
It is a perception issue - Everyone knows that both roads and transit are built with taxpayer money, but to ride transit requires you to pay again while driving on a road does not.
That's because drivers (or sometimes their company) pay for their car's capital and operating costs and drive themselves and their passengers. Meanwhile transit users almost never pay directly for the capital costs and usually only a fraction of the operating and labor costs.

Quote:
It doesn't matter that roads get many multiples the money that transit gets, because very few people know how lopsided the funding structure is.
Because cars carry many multiples more passenger-km. If we spent on a purely modal share basis, it would be even more lopsided.

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It has also been shown that improvements to transportation is one of the best ways to lift people out of poverty:
Realistically in North America, that would be gifting poor people, who can't afford a car, a 15 year old but well-maintained Toyota Corolla or Camry and subsidizing the fuel, insurance and licensing costs. There are numerous examples from articles about the LA bus ridership collapse about how many poorer people, sick of terrible service, saved up and got a car and their lives changed for the better and they're never going back.
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  #5  
Old Posted Aug 31, 2019, 8:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Engineerding View Post
Transit allows major cities to work. It bring in a huge roi.
I love transit, it allows most of us to drive to work, while city folk crowd into busses and train cars. Frees up road space.
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  #6  
Old Posted Sep 6, 2019, 2:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Sun Belt View Post
I love transit, it allows most of us to drive to work, while city folk crowd into busses and train cars. Frees up road space.
And yet you're still starved for attention and miserable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by plutonicpanda View Post
I wouldn't put it beyond these anti-car/new urbanist crowd to support laws forcing businesses to stay in downtown areas.

You've created a strawman dumb enough for you to rebut. Congratulations.
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  #7  
Old Posted Sep 6, 2019, 6:06 PM
plutonicpanda plutonicpanda is offline
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Originally Posted by RCDC View Post
And yet you're still starved for attention and miserable.




You've created a strawman dumb enough for you to rebut. Congratulations.
Ah yes, ad hominem, the cornerstone of any educated debate.
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  #8  
Old Posted Sep 7, 2019, 2:10 AM
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Originally Posted by plutonicpanda View Post
Ah yes, ad hominem, the cornerstone of any educated debate.
Your strawman is a logical fallacy so perhaps you don't know what "educated debate" is.
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  #9  
Old Posted Sep 3, 2019, 11:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Engineerding View Post
What happens when cities figure they don’t need suburban people who drive out of the tax base each night, and start tearing out the downtown highways?
Businesses move from downtowns like Dallas and Houston to be where their workers can access work.

Sounds like a great idea...a great idea to destroy all but maybe one or two American cities.
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Old Posted Sep 3, 2019, 11:43 PM
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Originally Posted by jtown,man View Post
Businesses move from downtowns like Dallas and Houston to be where their workers can access work.

Sounds like a great idea...a great idea to destroy all but maybe one or two American cities.
I wouldn't put it beyond these anti-car/new urbanist crowd to support laws forcing businesses to stay in downtown areas.

The suggestion of tearing out freeways in cities is hilarious. Not only because it just ignores realities, but the ideological desires that it is happening are being proven wrong with scores of projects rebuilding and expanding freeways in the cores of cities. The smaller than a handful or proposed removals are either being protested heavily and/or just stubs.

But calling those who support freeways time travelers is the cool thing to do now. LOL. Reality suggests otherwise.
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  #11  
Old Posted Sep 3, 2019, 2:42 PM
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Kansas City will not be the first US city with free transit. This NextCity article describes European and US experiences with the idea. Paragraph 9 covers Austin, TX's short and failed experiment from 30 years ago.

https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/as-...o-make-it-free
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  #12  
Old Posted Sep 7, 2019, 3:31 PM
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The reason that there are so many "free for all" speeches nowadays is precisely because people work so hard and have to take on so much responsibility compared to the previous generation and are not getting the return for it. Productivity has increased for decades but wages have been stagnant relative to inflation because the increased returns have gone to the affluent pushing inequality to preposterous levels. Yet when anyone takes issue with this and push to address the root causes, the response is always that the people suffering should just ignore the systemic issues and focus only on themselves and their "responsibility". Yet working class people pay a far greater share of their incomes in terms of taxes. That's incredibly insulting and people are understandably not going to sit back and listen anymore.

In terms of the actual proposal, the argument that people should simply pay something to "help people grow responsible" is a moralistic argument rather than a functional one. Ironically it's often the people who complain about the government being a nanny state who say stuff like this which is actually suggesting that the government should form policy with the condescending intent of teaching people moralistic lessons as if people were children. Everyone known that government services aren't free and are covered by taxes. They also know that they work hard and pay a huge amount in taxes and expect a tangible return.

Fact is, most US transit systems (especially non-rail systems) have a farebox recovery ratio of under 50%. Often significantly so. That means less than 1/2 of operating costs come from fares as it stands, and that doesn't even count capital expenses for the construction of new infrastructure. Yet collecting the fares puts a drag on the performance of the systems by slowing down boarding, requiring expensive staff and infrastructure for collection/enforcement/accounting, and reducing ridership. Therefore, the elimination of fares wouldn't just eliminate a source of revenue, it would also eliminate a major source of operating cost.

Obviously there are valid arguments in favour of maintaining fares but condescending, moralistic arguments are not among them.
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Last edited by Nouvellecosse; Sep 7, 2019 at 3:46 PM.
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  #13  
Old Posted Sep 7, 2019, 5:01 PM
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^ I'm sorry, I never meant to be patronizing or anything like that.
I probably have more empathy for the poor than you know. I believe poverty is only a psychological condition related to human cruelty and self-destruction.
I've never judged anybody by their money or bank account ever since I was a grown-up.

And contemporary capitalism is derailed. Like money makes money while we can't even really explain why any longer, blah blah blah, and that won't last for long. We all agree on this.
Whatever.

Here's our experience here in Paris anyway.
When it's free, lots of people tend to treat it like shit, literally. They throw their garbage on the floor in subway cars. I saw little bourgeois boys/kids from Central Paris dirtying their own subway by meaningless gross/amateur graffitis just for trying to show they were "bad boys"... Laughable things like that. It's pathetic.
But when they have to pay a little bit more for it, they suddenly take it as something more serious and deserving of respect.

It's a bit like teachers underpaid in public secondary education. Students call them losers because their salaries are sometimes outrageously low, while we all owe a whole lot to them for having taken us to college somehow.

Idk whether you see what I mean, but some will understand. Being free is actually bad for now. Given the current spoiled aspect of our society full of selfishness, it brings about some trouble.
Making people pay for it is better. Somehow, it makes them more respectful. Call it moralistic if you will, it is still the truth here.

Only the real poor should have free access to the transit network. People making a living have to pay. Especially the Central Paris bourgeois for their kids, until they get their driving licence...
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Old Posted Sep 8, 2019, 3:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nouvellecosse View Post
The reason that there are so many "free for all" speeches nowadays is precisely because people work so hard and have to take on so much responsibility compared to the previous generation and are not getting the return for it.
I literally stopped reading after the first sentence.

We are working harder and having to take more responsibility than previous generations? REALLY?
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Old Posted Sep 7, 2019, 10:19 PM
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Proof of payment is the solution to the operational cost of fares. Then hire enough enforcement personnel to optimize revenue. For some systems that might be 0 enforcement.
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Old Posted Sep 8, 2019, 3:19 PM
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I think you might want to re-read the quote. It said, "the previous generation" and you misread it as "previous generations".

This is perhaps the first time in memory that a generation is not better off than the generation that preceded it. Technology and knowledge has been continually improving for several hundred years and the previous generation was able to get a decent paying job and establish a life simply by working hard and being a decent citizen (assuming that you weren't part of certain marginalized groups). That has since been eroded by the increased inequality caused by the neoliberalism of the 80s and 90s.
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Old Posted Sep 8, 2019, 9:48 PM
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I question the notion that making things free always makes people appreciate them less as a rule. If something is sold as a service, then users become customers and develop a customer's sense of entitlement. If something is relatively inexpensive, as mass transit would have to be, people will see it as disposable. Look at how people behave at McDonalds or how they treat motel rooms. If something is provided as a free service people may just as well recognize it as a civic good and it think of it as something that brings pride.

In any case there are practical reasons for this.

Kansas City has very low transit ridership mostly due to its geography. The system already requires a huge subsidy and farebox recovery is probably almost nil if I had to guess? Fare collection itself is an expense. I suspect most of its riders are too poor to own a car and qualify for some kind of reduced price fare already. The alternative, raising fares to expand service, would probably not work because city's geography makes transit inconvenient. The people who rely on transit as an affordable alternative to car ownership would not be able to pay.

Making transit free accomplishes four things. One, it makes transit more useful to the people who rely on it the most(the poor). Two, I think being absolutely free would lure in some choice riders who might otherwise take an uber or something and are brave enough to try the bus instead, but only if they can hop on without stressing over the vagaries of needing to buy a transit card or pass or download an app and charge it with fares. Thirdly, it by most likely increasing ridership, it will increase political support of the system. Four, by increasing transit ridership, it benefits the environment, benefits central neighborhoods, and will cut down on the costs of things like parking and roads downtown. Things like a downtown courthouse parking garage for jury duty folks or allocating cops to work traffic patrol are going to be surprisingly nontrivial costs to taxpayers.
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Old Posted Sep 11, 2019, 2:08 AM
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Originally Posted by llamaorama View Post
I question the notion that making things free always makes people appreciate them less as a rule. If something is sold as a service, then users become customers and develop a customer's sense of entitlement. If something is relatively inexpensive, as mass transit would have to be, people will see it as disposable. Look at how people behave at McDonalds or how they treat motel rooms. If something is provided as a free service people may just as well recognize it as a civic good and it think of it as something that brings pride.

In any case there are practical reasons for this.

Kansas City has very low transit ridership mostly due to its geography. The system already requires a huge subsidy and farebox recovery is probably almost nil if I had to guess? Fare collection itself is an expense. I suspect most of its riders are too poor to own a car and qualify for some kind of reduced price fare already. The alternative, raising fares to expand service, would probably not work because city's geography makes transit inconvenient. The people who rely on transit as an affordable alternative to car ownership would not be able to pay.

Making transit free accomplishes four things. One, it makes transit more useful to the people who rely on it the most(the poor). Two, I think being absolutely free would lure in some choice riders who might otherwise take an uber or something and are brave enough to try the bus instead, but only if they can hop on without stressing over the vagaries of needing to buy a transit card or pass or download an app and charge it with fares. Thirdly, it by most likely increasing ridership, it will increase political support of the system. Four, by increasing transit ridership, it benefits the environment, benefits central neighborhoods, and will cut down on the costs of things like parking and roads downtown. Things like a downtown courthouse parking garage for jury duty folks or allocating cops to work traffic patrol are going to be surprisingly nontrivial costs to taxpayers.
Free transit may increase ridership somewhat but is unlikely to encourage improvements in service, which really is needed to generate more significant higher ridership and get us past the idea that transit is a welfare program for the poor.

The bolded statement makes a point that no transit system wants.
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Old Posted Sep 11, 2019, 2:48 AM
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Keep in mind that when transit operators charge a fare, since nearly all operators in NA have a low farebox recovery ratio that fare isn't an incentive to increase ridership because you're still losing money on each new rider and require greater subsidies from governments. Now obviously it isn't automatic that every new rider increases costs. A new rider that helps fill a half empty bus makes the route more financially sustainable while a new rider that pushes a service over the capacity threshold forcing them to add more vehicle trips or larger vehicles is a hugely expensive rider. But on average, if the system has a 50% farebox recovery ratio, each new rider costs the agency/government the amount that the person is paying.

The incentive in either case has to be that it's a not-for-profit enterprise providing a public service and that administration of the agency are tasked with specific goals and targets for which they are accountable to the public and public officials for meeting.
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Old Posted Sep 11, 2019, 3:01 AM
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I agree that there's a possibility that people may value the service less if it's free. But at the same time, it's already dirt cheap in many places so the effect probably wouldn't be that huge relative to the benefits. The bigger issues are first that it would be harder to prevent the homeless from using it as a mobile shelter basically riding around all day to keep warm. Second is that fares are a more stable funding source in the sense that some governments can be erratic with funding with one deciding to be very generous causing the agency to expand service and develop all sorts of plans, and then the government could suddenly decide it needs to reign in costs and slash funding, or a new gov could be elected that's anti-transit.

If the agency doesn't have any ability to independently obtain revenue, it's screwed. The only way around that would be when setting up the free service the gov would create a sort of long term funding account where the agency has at least 10-15 years worth of funding secured and can make decisions over the long term on how to manage it, increasing or decreasing expenditures slightly every year or even quarterly based on how quickly it's exhausting the account..
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