Increasing Fares, Decreasing Ridership

March 12th, 2014

Cincinnati transit use vs funding comparison 1991 to 2012

I spent the day learning R‘s various graphics capabilities today and managed to pull together this little beauty1. I’m using it tomorrow in a panel discussion at the Mercantile Library. It’s hosted by the Enquirer and the topic is transit plans for the future or something like that. I think it should be pretty fun, though to be honest, I don’t quite know what to expect. I haven’t actually caught a glimpse of the paper that the discussion’s seminal article ran in, but I do know that a lot of the people I’ll be sitting next to will be pointing at maps of big thick lines running through an otherwise empty city. I’m hoping to use my tiny moment in the laser pointer to meekly emphasize the system that already exists and and how it’s been tripped up to the point where so many politicians seem to ignore it in their big transit plans.

The solution?

……..*drumroll* ………

Restore operating funding at least to the levels of the early 2000’s, drop fares back to pre-recession levels(adjusted for inflation), and focus on restoring service in the established transit corridors. Perhaps some minor capital improvements that help with efficiency goals, like faster farecards or real-time data should also be in the nearer offing.

Seems pretty reasonable to me, though I know it’s not as sexy as a mag-lev to CVG. If anyone’s interested in popping in, the panel discussion is 7:00pm to 8:30pm, Thursday March 13th in the Mercantile. I’m pretty sure they’re asking for RSVPs, but I’m not on Facepalm, so I can’t see the link.

Intelligent questions/comments are strongly appreciated if you’re able to make it!

EDIT: One additional statistic to drive the point home. Before 2009, for at least a couple years, UC/SORTA’s policy of letting UC students ride for free by simply showing their ID card produced about 90,000 monthly trips by UC students. At the time of the 2009 service cuts, this policy was replaced by a complicated and diminished subsidy program that required students to register and pay for a discounted farecard that needed to be replaced quarterly. UC students, who are counted by use of their farecards, now make about 23,000 monthly trips, a 75% reduction from just a few years ago.

Do we really need trains to ‘convince’ people to use transit? Or could we start more simply?

EDIT 2: … and TANK!


Just ignore the y scale; it’s all relative to 0.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Shut up. It’s beautiful…la la la la la… I can’t hear you.

5 responses to “Increasing Fares, Decreasing Ridership”

  1. […] for how sustainable transportation could become more ingrained at City Hall in Minneapolis. CincyMap looks at the relationship between transit fares and ridership in Cincinnati. And PubliCola at […]

  2. MoveTheMill says:

    The Enquire article points out that Cindy has some of the lowest fares in the country. I suspect what your chart actually shows is that level of service (aka Operating Funds) drive ridership.

    • Nate Wessel says:

      I’m curious what that might be a measure of. Zone 1 single ride fares? Monthly passes? Or some average? I haven’t heard that statistic before.

      My measure is simply:
      fare revenue / trips taken

      Which means that it’s partly derived from the ridership figure, but contrary to what I had expected (more trips = more fare revenue, right??), the opposite seems to be the case.

      This implies that there must be some steadier ‘fare revenue’ sources than people simply paying per-trip. In any case, I think the inverse relationship is striking.

      Also, whether we’re low or not, the fare is increasing as a share of operating funding, and we should expect that to have a negative impact on ridership all else being equal.

  3. […] the ‘most efficient’ among the (only) 12 cities studied entirely because of it’s disproportionate reliance on fare revenue as a source of operating money. They actually phrased one aspect of this measure in the executive […]

  4. […] servers advocate for incremental change, generally accepting as given a steady or shrinking pot of resources. They seek to draw these out into finer and finer strands, weaving a web through which few will […]