The Case for Free Transit: Episode 4

(or listen on Spotify | YouTube)

Dropping fares on public transit systems has been a hot topic lately. Free fare has been common in smaller systems for a long time, but just recently, large cities like Kansas City, Denver, and Salt Lake City are experimenting with the idea. We go over the numerous benefits of free fare in many U.S. systems, remind the public that New York's transit shouldn't be free, and take stock of some potential problems with and criticisms of cutting fares out of the transit equation. Free fare just might be the future!

UPDATE: Shortly after recording, Utah Transit Authority (our local transit agency) announced Free Fare February for all services across their entire system.


References & notes

  1. [1] Curbed: L.A. Just Ran (and Ended) the Biggest Free-Transit Experiment in the U.S.
  2. [2] UTA ridership dashboard, illustrating post-pandemic recovery
  3. [3] UTA's S-Line added 15 minute service in the evenings (past 7:20) and extended Sunday operating hours (last train at 11:30ish rather than 8ish). Old schedule vs. current schedule
  4. [4] Correction: FrontRunner ridership used to be around 20,000 on a weekday (see the "Commuter Rail" slide in [2]
  5. [5] UTA's PCI compliance spending ($7.8m during 2020-2024) is line item 23 on page 10 of this document (plus $5m for electronic fare collection—line item 16)
  6. [6] Savings used to be 20% on rail and 40% on bus (now 20% on both). Source and further reading.
  7. [7] MTA operating budget
  8. [8] Wikipedia: Farebox recovery ratio
  9. [9] VISOR: Why the honesty system in public transportation makes sense
  10. [10] Wikipedia: Free public transport
  11. [11] The New York Times: Should Public Transit Be Free? More Cities Say, Why Not? (archived)
  12. [12] CNBC: Americans spend over 15% of their budgets on transportation costs—these US cities are trying to make it free
  13. [13] FOX 13: Bill would offer free fare on any Utah public transit system
  14. [14] Inverse: These cities made public transportation free. Here's what happened next.
  15. [15] Curbed: Kansas City becomes first major U.S. city to make public transit free
  16. [16] Westword: Could Free Service Solve Denver’s Transit Problems?
  17. [17] Quartz: American cities are experimenting with free public transit
  18. [18] The Salt Lake Tribune: Ride UTA for free Thursday and Friday as part of 'Free Fares for Clean Air'