It has been a running joke that the CCT 30 is consistently 30 minutes late. Some people have lost their jobs due to that route being both unpredictable & behind schedule. Today, it was different. The bus was quick & efficient, and people entered & exited the bus without delays.
I rode two separate buses, and, arguably, this is the first time in thirteen years that transit was actually easy to use. It was almost as fast as using a private vehicle. Almost.
So, what’s the difference between today & thirteen years of experience? Money.
COVID-19 sparked a number of changes, one of them being that businesses are less inclined to handling cash, and public transit systems are no different than govt departments and retail shops. Cobb County’s transit system followed suit and the end result is an amazing way to protect drivers while ensuring that riders receive excellent service — it eliminated fares.
Fares comprise only eighteen percent of Cobb County’s transit system budget – not exactly a drop in the bucket, but a small enough percentage that eliminating fares as a whole and raising taxes just a wee bit would boost the local economy and ensure that the impoverished would have one less barrier to things like work, food, and health care.
Those who stand to benefit the most from a fareless arrangement would be the working poor. It’s no joke to pay $5 per day for the commute to and from work – it adds up to $25 for five days, which roughly adds up to $100 per month. That’s a lot of money to anyone making close to minimum wage. Now tack on the cost of running a basic errand, or three or four errands.
There’s another cost that no one anticipated: time. How much time do reduced fare applicants spend each year renewing their reduced-fare passes, or better yet, dealing with malfunctioning fare boxes. And then there are the diggers – folks digging through pockets and bags for spare change, kinda like the person still sitting stopped and the light has been green for an agonizing several seconds. And then you get those who step on the bus and hold everything up to panhandle for fare money. Even those digging through their pocket for fare cards cost time.
And then there is crime. How much in resources does it cost to go after fare-jumpers? Large police departments like NYPD would have to actually fight real crime for a change if fares were eliminated. The net result of that would be less churn in the courts, and fewer resources needed to prosecute people, plus fewer opportunities for people to steal when folks do not have to dig money out of their wallets.
Part of the carceral culture involves daily socialization through barriers, bars, gates, and costs. It’s time to dismantle the carceral culture, partly by removing gates, bars, and fares. If we want a truly open economy, with opportunities available to all, then what we should want is easier and quicker access to transportation. One giant step for the public benefit, with one change.
How much money is spent on fare boxes, fixing fare collection equipment, securing gates against those who cannot afford fare, and the same for buses? That’s a huge chunk of the budget. Perhaps the best route to efficiency is not spending dollars to go after cents?