More than 10,000 people registered as Tallinn residents in 2013, nearly three times more than registered in 2012. They contribute new annual revenues of about €10 million — almost as much as the lost farebox revenue of €12 million. "If all the registrants were taxpayers," says Deputy Mayor Aas, "then the project costs of free transportation would be covered."
Does free public transit boost ridership?
— By Tyler Falk on February 3, 2014, 3:52 PM PST
NOt if the tram does not go where you need to be, or if the trams are full of indigents and racist teenage gangs looking for social justice. It doesn't work as well as they thought.
This report felt very shallow. There are many factors that determine transit use. Some more context would have made this report more useful.
People want to be wealthy and wealthy people don't travel like peasants. I however, love public transit and YES, I use it quite a bit.
Not entirely sure that Tallinn is that representative of many of the cities that would benefit - look back a couple of weeks or so to Tyler's story on Liege and some of the other 'most congested' cities - Rome, London etc.
If you made, for example, the London Underground free, usage would skyrocket far in excess of the 12% mentioned in Hasselt, before the scheme was canned as being unaffordable (reading between the lines) - despite the off-set in benefits to be felt elsewhere in the city through better traffic, easier deliveries, lower particulate/NO pollution etc
However, most public transit systems would largely collapse with a vast increase in traffic/usage/fuel consumption/maintenance needs, and a collapsing revenue base, so this whole hypothetical is a bit of a non-starter, to be honest.
I think a big part of the problem is the way fixed car costs are set up (at least in my state, in the U.S.A.). You pay the same car insurance rate per month, regardless of miles driven (except in extreme cases). Ditto for vehicle registration and emissions testing. Plus, your car depreciates greatly in value every year, even if you hardly drive it. And obviously your car loan payment is the same every month, whether you drive the car or not.
All of this combines to make car ownership an "all or nothing" deal. Either you're in, or you're out. Either you drive everywhere, or you use public transport for everything. The fixed costs of car ownership are so high that the incremental cost of any given trip is negligible. Free public transport doesn't save that much money for someone who already owns a car.
Ironically, despite all that, I take public transport if I'm going downtown by myself. The nasty traffic and the difficulty and expense of parking, all for one person, make public transport preferable in that case.
There may be some cultural factors specific to Estonia that influence behavior with respect to the public transit system; however, in general, people don't perceive value in things that are free. I'd be interested to see how charging a small, reasonable fare might impact ridership.
So convenience and expediency still trumps "free". The only surprise is that there is surprise.
This article did provoke a thought for myself; I live near a train like that goes many places that I regularly go, and yet I rarely use it anymore. A round-trip costs $5. So how much more would I use it if a round-trip was free?
I'd probably use it for locations where I'd otherwise have to pay for parking. For example, going to the symphony now costs $12 to park. For two of us, it's worth an extra $2 bucks to drive and park versus waiting for the train. It's even more worth it to drive if there is more than 2 of us going. So if the train was free, I'd be saving $12, which might changed my attitude a bit.
But the unfortunate reality is that for the most part, I probably wouldn't ride it most of the time for the very reasons I don't now; The added time, unpredictability, inconvenience, and personal safety. Economics is way down on that list.
Of course, what I am afraid will happen with this study is what many so called "urban planners" have been doing for decades; instead of improving public transit in terms of predictability, convenience, and safety, they'll instead ferment ways to make driving more expensive and less convenient. (This was the approach Los Angeles was taking decades ago when I lived there) This is why they always fail.
Tyler does not really do context, unfortunately, mostly re-blogging, and next to no interaction with commentators - unlike Mark Halper or Charlie Osbourne (to a lesser extent)..
It's a shame, as many of the click-published articles would be enhanced by it, or would get cut at editorial stage as being largely nonsense or tall story advertising/press releases dressed up as news - delivery drones, much stuff blogged about EV's, crack-pot environmental schemes etc
@dmm99 Actually, you've made a few untrue assumptions. I pay a much lower rate of insurance on my car because I drive far fewer miles than standard. (I certify that I drive fewer than 5,000 miles per year on one of my cars) Registration and emissions are the same, but those are relatively minor annual expenses. Depreciation is usually the highest cost most people who buy new cars endure, and most of them don't realize it because it doesn't show up as an annual bill. (I'm always amused by people who gripe about spending $1,500 a year on gas, but never consider that they're losing 3 or 4 times that just in depreciation) If you buy 4-5 year old used cars, or keep your new car at least a dozen years, overall depreciation isn't such a factor to you.
But you are correct that when one objectively observes the costs of ownership that are relatively fixed, there is far less incentive to use public transport. That is why for public transit to be enticing to auto owners, it needs to compete not as much on cost, but on convenience, comfort and safety. When I do use my city's public transit, it's only for the same reasons you do.
In the UK, if your expected mileage is higher, your insurance premium is higher, as your absolute risk increases. Your drive 5K miles a year, you will pay a good bit less than a 30K miles driver.
For current and former residents of Los Angeles, the below linked article is fascinating, Los Angeles's long closed Tramway system, closed by the Auto Industry, Urban Planners and politicians.
I did send the article into SmartPlanet last year, but I guess they weren't interested.
Strictly speaking, it is not exactly $2 extra.
You still need to add the cost of the gas and the vehicle amortization!
Most urban transports operate on schedules. If you know your local timetables (one can always find this info in a snap via an app for example), you can arrive at the bus stop just in-time!
The safety concern is valid, but mainly at night. I know I am probably oversimplifying here, but during the day, I don't see why I shouldn't use the public transport if I have a predefined route (work-shopping-home for example). Also, add the family members to the equation and the savings will undoubtedly increase as opposed to every family member driving their own car to work / school!
Besides, on the bus, one can always meet interesting people with whom to socialize versus the cocoon of the private vehicle. But this is entirely my own personal opinion which might, or might not add any relevance!
@JohnMcGrew My insurance company also gives me a break for <5K miles/year. But after that, you pay the same rate whether you drive 5.5K or 19.5K. I've explored several companies; they're all similar. I'd love to find one that charges by the mile. (REALLY, I'd like to find one that charges by the mile FOR EACH DRIVER. [Put your teenage son on your insurance and your rate skyrockets, regardless of whether he drives to school and work every day, or hardly ever drives.] But that's a pipe dream for now, since the technology isn't there yet.)
@fo128 @JohnMcGrew Very good point. I did not count fuel or amortization, and those are very real costs. Unfortunately, most other people don't count those either when doing their transportation calculus.
Fortunately for me, I own one car that is almost old enough to vote, and the other is more than old enough to drink, so amortization is near-zero. A round-trip downtown is costing me less than $2.50 in fuel for the smaller of the two; so it's more than worth it to me to drive.
Unfortunately for my transit system, the mobile-app lacks real-time train info (the schedules are pretty much meaningless), and the app's most heavily promoted feature is an instant-text messaging system to report unruly behavior by our less civil citizens. When we started seeing ads for the new app, we looked at each other and said "And this is supposed to encourage us to ride?"
Unfortunately, more often than not, most of the "interesting" people we get to meet on our system are rude, boisterous, and occasionally vomiting or urinating. (hence the need for the app) It actually makes one long for the "cocoon" of a personal vehicle.
@dmm99 @JohnMcGrew I don't know this for a fact, but it was my suspicion that the companies that have you plug in that little dongle would permit a "by the mile" rate. If not, I have little doubt that will be coming soon, especially considering that soon all cars will be required to have all kinds of connectivity. As EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles become more common, mileage tracking will be come the norm for taxation since the existing fuel tax paradigm will no longer be effective. At that point, you certainly will be able to insure by the mile.
As for "European public transportation", I've ridden on all kinds of it and have had all kinds of experiences. And yes, I've had near-first-class experiences and have paid near-first-class rates for it. But it's not all that way; they have dirty, crappy transit as well, just like we do. I've been on some commuter rail where I felt like I needed a shower afterwards.
Of course, each individual has their own transportation particularities which might swing the see-saw in either direction. In your case, as shown by your examples of your "antique" vehicle/s (a tiny remark insert here - you might have low or no amortization costs, but my guess is that perhaps you might experience a higher maintenance expenditure as a result of the aged state), or the cleanliness state of the public transport in one's own city.
I do agree with you on both and I hear clearly your concerns related to the unpleasantries one occasionally associates with the public transportation (you have well documented those), but I have to say that, most European public transport systems are very clean, many are air-conditioned and do arrive at the bus/train stop as scheduled!
Many pro public transport often hugely over-play the additional costs of cars, v's the convenience - school run, going to Home Depot/B & Q, going to do the weekly shop @ Walmart/Tesco, going to see Grandad, taking kids to soccer practice etc - many at nigh on no appreciable additional cost, but huge benefits to families...