Sorry I haven’t posted in over a month. I’ve been busy with work, family, vacation, and stuff. Here’s a Dispatch article that caught my eye and gave me an idea. Let me know what you think.
COTA upgrade: No more free bus rides for OSU alumni
By Robert Vitale
The Columbus Dispatch Monday September 19, 2011 4:42 AM
One of the perks of an Ohio State University diploma — free bus rides as long as the driver doesn’t notice that your student ID has expired — is coming to an end.
Technology upgrades by Ohio State and the Central Ohio Transit Authority mean students will have to swipe their BuckID at the fare box as they board COTA buses.
COTA isn’t imposing the requirement as a reaction to freeloading former students, spokeswoman Beth Berkemer said. “That’s just such a minute amount.”
The reason, she said, is that “when we created this contract, there was an understanding we both would make an investment to upgrade our systems.”
…OSU students have logged more than 1.7 million rides on COTA buses over the past year, and students have paid more than $1.6 million for the service. That comes out to about 94 cents per ride, compared with COTA’s one-way fare of $1.75.
What interested me most about this article was the data in the last paragraph. Students as a whole paid $1.6 million for COTA service and rode 1.7 million times for an average fare of $0.94 cents. This is substantially less than the one-way local fare of $1.75 as the Dispatch noted, but it’s much higher than the average price per trip for the COTA system as a whole.
In 2009, COTA took in $13,817,908 in fare revenues and served 17,446,736 trips, for an average fare collected per trip of $0.79. The reason the price per trip is so much lower than one-way fares is due to several factors. First is transfers, which count as an “unlinked trip,” but are free between local routes and $0.75 to transfer from a local to express. Monthly, weekly, and one-day passes can also offer riders a deep discount and reduce the cost per ride. If you have a monthly local pass for $55 and ride every day to and from work (roughly 42 trips per month on average), then you only spend $1.31 per trip instead of $1.75. Lastly, some riders such as seniors, children, and those with disabilities qualify for reduced fares.
There’s no doubt that some students utilize COTA much more than others, so some will get a great deal while others pay a nominal fee with little benefit. On the whole, the OSU-COTA partnership look like a great deal for COTA by increasing their revenue and ridership. Even the students who don’t ride COTA often though are probably not too upset about spending $27 a year (if attending for three quarters) for unlimited transit. It’s negligible in comparison to all the other costs associated with tuition, room, board, and fees. It’s a hell of a lot less than a parking pass.
This makes me wonder if implementing a similar system on a city-wide or sub-regional level would be a huge win-win. Why not get rid of fares (or maybe just most fares) and add a small fee to every household’s property tax bill? The 2005-2009 American Community Survey showed 453,580 households in Franklin County. Again, the annual fare revenue collected by COTA was $13,817,908. To balance the current revenue, those households would need to pay $30.46 per year on average. The fee could be weighted based on the level of service in a community (it’s not really fair for someone in Canal Winchester or New Albany to pay the same fee as someone in Downtown). Regardless though, I think the fees would be pretty small compared to a typical property tax bill of several thousand dollars. They might even be small compared to the cost of a monthly pass ($55). But now everyone can ride the bus as much as they want without the hassle of buying tickets, monthly passes, or having exact change. Just get on and get off, which is exactly how CABS works at OSU. I think ridership would increase quite a bit just due to the simplicity of the system and the cheaper cost of riding.
An additional benefit would be faster service due to the lack of dwell time at stops. There would be no more waiting for people to drop change into the machine, no more lines at the door waiting to board. Just get on and sit down. Lastly, I think this could be a more stable source of revenue for COTA, but there could be issues in making sure it’s easy to raise revenue as necessary.
In summary, COTA wins with higher ridership and lower costs (due to the smaller dwell times and less fare collection costs), transit riders win with cheaper and faster service, and non-transit riders win because the higher ridership would reduce congestion. I’m sure many non-transit riders will say that COTA service isn’t worth even $30 a year to them, but I think a system like this has serious merits that should be discussed.