“without raising fares”

December 16th, 2014

A wee nit to pick from SORTA’s recent “State of Metro'” dog and pony show:
I distinctly remember one of the speakers saying something like ‘and all this without raising fares!’, and this to my feeble memory reeked of bullshit, so I found the numbers again and ran them to see if I was remembering correctly. I was indeed.

Here are the facts, as reported by SORTA to the Federal Transit Administration. Over the period where we have data on both fare revenues and ridership (currently 2002 to 2012) SORTA has been steadily getting more money from fare revenues while moving fewer passengers. We are currently at the nadir of this trend, with

  1. More fare revenue than ever
  2. Fewer passenger trips than ever

When SORTA says by the way that they are a ‘most efficient’ agency, a title pinned on them by the laughably unscientific UC Economics Center, it is precisely this measure they have in mind. There is hardly a better example of doublespeak to be found. Here’s the trend:

a shitty decade for transit

In order to plot both agencies together, I normalized fares and passenger trips to the same range. The scale is linear.

Now you may rightly note that the standard fare for a zone 1 trip hasn’t changed lately. But that’s not the only kind of fare that can be paid. It might not even be the most common! I don’t know for certain. I haven’t personally paid standard fare in quite a while because my transit use is partly subsidized by UC. So for example, the fare revenue variable in this data almost certainly includes UC’s cash subsidy for my fare as well as the dollar I put in myself. Multiply that by the dozens of private fare subsidies each agency probably negotiates (or drops) each year and you get a more dynamic picture. Fare could also be effected, though probably isn’t, by people using transit cards more or less, while paying the same monthly price.

But anyway, I’ll be damned if f the total price paid by riders or their agents, on a per-trip basis doesn’t constitute a better definition of ‘fare’ than SORTA’s standard zone-1 single-segment price. And by that definition, fares have risen from $0.76 in 2002 to $1.78 in 2012 (+134%). For TANK, the change is from $0.72 in 2002 to $1.16 in 2012 (+60%). Adjusting for inflation, the changes are 84% and 26% respectively. So much for SORTA’s unchanging fares theory lie.


I’ll end with an ineffectual plea to the people at SORTA. Please, understand that when you speak in lies and euphemisms, no matter how nice your breakfast spread,  you turn off clever people and retain only the idiots and the cynical. People from all three of these categories vote, to be sure, but I know who I’d rather spend my time with. And I know who could build the better transit system.

2 responses to ““without raising fares””

  1. Randy Simes says:

    I think you’re discounting a couple of things. The first of which is the fact that the data you’re analyzing, while the most recent, only goes through 2012. This ‘State of Metro’ address was to cover how things went in 2014.

    Yes, absolutely fares increased in prior years…especially during the economic downturn. But when that happens Metro must go before Cincinnati City Council for approval of their rate increase. I forget when exactly that happened, but it wasn’t so long ago…maybe within the last two to four years.

    One other item is that your comparison of the 2002 to 2012 collections does not seem to account for inflation. So $0.76 in 2002 would be the same as $0.97 in 2012. While this doesn’t seem like much, it changes the overall growth from your +134% to about +83%. I’d have to pour through the numbers in greater detail to fully see what you’re explaining here.

    • Nate Wessel says:

      I did account for inflation…it does take the % change down significantly, though it’s still a dramatic increase, for SORTA at least. ~84% like you say.

      If I remember right, the base fare increase was in or near 2008 with the start of the recession. That’s when the SORTA line in the chart takes that preipitous dive as they start shedding passengers.

      My guess is that things have roughly held steady from 2012 to the present, though of course I don’t have the data to back that up.