Fare Evasion

There’s a moralistic discourse in the United States about fare evasion on public transport that makes it about every issue other than public transport or fares. It’s a proxy for lawlessness, for police racism, for public safety, for poverty. In lieu of treating it as a big intra-urban culture war, I am going to talk about best practices from the perspective of limiting revenue loss to a minimum.

This is an issue where my main methodology for making recommendations for Americans – looking at peer developed countries – is especially useful. The reason is that Americans practically never look at other countries on hot-button culture war issues, even less than (say) the lip service the center-left pays to foreign universal health care systems. Americans who support immigration liberalization practically never listen when I try bringing up the liberal work visa, asylum, and naturalization policies of Germany or Sweden. Knowing stuff about the rest of the world is a type of competence, and competence is not a factor in a culture war. The upshot is that successful policies regarding fare collection in (for example) Germany are obscure in the United States even more than policies regarding wonkier transportation issues like train frequency.

The current situation in New York

In the summer, Governor Cuomo announced a new initiative to hire 500 cops to patrol the subway. The justification for this scheme has varied depending on who was asking, but the primary goal appears to be to defeat fare evasion. Per Cuomo’s office, fare evasion costs $240 million a year on the subway and buses, about 5% of total revenue. The MTA has also mentioned a higher figure, $300 million; I do not know if the higher figure includes just urban transit or also commuter rail, where conductors routinely miss inspections, giving people free rides.

But New York fare evasion is mostly a bus problem: the rate on buses is 22%. On the subway the rate is only 4%, and there is somewhat more revenue loss on buses than on subways. This, in turn, is because bus fares are enforced by drivers, who for years have complained that fare disputes lead to assaults on them and proposed off-board fare collection as an alternative. On many buses, drivers just let it go and let passengers board without paying, especially if nearly all passengers are connecting from the subway and therefore have already paid, as on the B1 between the Brighton Beach subway station and Kingsborough Community College or on the buses to LaGuardia.

So realistically the subway fare evasion level is closer to $110 million a year. The total cost of the new patrol program is $56 million in the first year, escalating by 8% annually thanks to a pre-agreed pay hike scale. Whereas today the program is a net revenue generator if it halves subway fare evasion, a level that already seems strained, within ten years, assuming normal fare escalation, it will need to cut fare evasion by about 90%, which is a complete fantasy. A sizable proportion of riders who do not pay would just stop riding altogether, for one. The governor is proposing to spend more on fare enforcement than the MTA can ever hope to extract.

The American moral panic about fare evasion regrettably goes far beyond New York. Two years ago, BART announced that it would supplement its fare barriers with proof-of-payment inspections, done by armed cops, and lied to the public about the prevalence of such a belts-and-suspenders system. More recently, it trialed a new turnstile design that would hit passengers in the face, but thankfully scrapped it after public outcry. Boston, too, has its moral panic about fare evasion, in the form of campaigns like the Keolis Ring of Steel on commuter rail or Fare is Fair.

There is another way

In talking to Americans about fare evasion, I have found that they are generally receptive to the idea of minimizing revenue loss net of collection costs. However, what I’ve encountered more resistance about is the idea that people should just be able to walk onto a bus or train.

In the urban German-speaking world, everyone with a valid fare can walk onto a bus, tram, or train without crossing fare barriers or having to pay a driver. This system has been copied to American light rail networks, but implementation on buses and subways lags (except on San Francisco buses). In New York, the SBS system uses proof of payment (POP), but passengers still have to validate fares at bus stops, even if they already have paid, for example if they have a valid monthly pass.

In the vast majority of cities, no excuse exists to have any kind of overt fare control. Tear down these faregates. They are hostile to passengers with disabilities, they cost money to maintain, they constrain passenger flow at busy times, and they don’t really save money – evidently, New York’s subway fare evasion rate is within the range of Berlin, Munich, and Zurich. Fare enforcement should be done with POP alone, by unarmed civilian inspectors, as in Berlin. Some people will learn to dodge the inspectors, as is the case in Berlin, and that’s fine; the point is not to get fare evasion to 0%, but to the minimum level net of enforcement costs.

New York itself may have an excuse to keep the faregates: its trains are very crowded, so peak-hour inspections may not be feasible. The question boils down to how New York crowding levels compare with those on the busiest urban POP line, the Munich S-Bahn trunk. But no other American city has that excuse. Tear down these faregates.

What’s more, the fare inspection should be a low-key affair. The fine in Berlin is €60. In Paris on the RER I can’t tell – I believe it’s three figures of which the first is a 1. Inspectors who can’t make a citation without using physical violence should not work as inspectors.

Make it easy to follow the law

The most important maxim when addressing a low-level crime is to make it easy to follow the law. Mistakes happen; I’ve accidentally fare-dodged in Berlin twice, only realizing the error at the end of the trip. This is much more like parking violations or routine mistakes in tax filing.

The turnstile acts as a reminder to everyone to pay their fare, since it’s not possible to fare-dodge without actively jumping it. (I did turnstile-jump in Paris once, with a valid transfer ticket that the turnstile rejected, I think because Paris’s turnstile and magnetic ticket technology is antediluvian.) However, turnstiles are not necessary for this. A better method is to ensure most passengers have prepaid already, by offering generous monthly discounts. My fare dodges in Berlin happened once before I got monthlies and once on my way to the airport on my current trip, in a month when I didn’t get a monthly since I was only in Berlin 6 days.

New York does poorly on the metric of encouraging monthlies. Passengers need to swipe 46 times in a 30-day period to justify getting a monthly pass rather than a pay-per-ride. This is bad practice, especially for passengers who prefer to refill at a ticketing machine rather than at home or on their phone with an app, since it means passengers visit the ticketing machines more often, requiring the agency to buy more to avoid long lines. In Berlin, the breakeven point is 36 trips. In Zurich, it’s 20 trips; ZVV does whatever it can to discourage people from buying single tickets. In both cities, there are further discounts for annual tickets.

Unfortunately, the problem of indifference to monthlies on urban rail is common around the Anglosphere. Singapore has no season passes at all. In Vancouver, Cubic lobbying and a New Right campaign about fare evasion forced TransLink to install faregates on SkyTrain, and when the faregate project had predictable cost overruns, the campaigners took that as evidence the agency shouldn’t get further funding. London’s fare capping system is weekly rather than monthly – there are no monthly passes, and all fares are set at very high levels. Britain generally overuses faregates, for example on the commuter trains in London. London generally gives off an impression of treating everyone who is not a Daily Mail manager as a criminal. Paris is better, but not by much. The German-speaking world, as irrational as Britain and France about urban crime rates that are far lower than they were a generation ago, still treats the train and bus rider as a law-abiding customer unless proven otherwise.

Social fares

American transit agencies and activists resist calls for large monthly discounts, on a variety of excuses. The most common excuse is revenue loss, which is weird since realistically New York would transition to a large discount through holding the monthly fare constant and hiking the single-ride fare. It’s the second most common excuse that I wish to deal with here: social fares, namely the fact that many low-income riders don’t have the savings to prepay for an entire month.

On social fares, as on many other socioeconomic issues, it is useful for Americans to see how things work in countries with high income compression and low inequality under the aegis of center-left governments. In Paris, various classes of low-income riders, such as the unemployed, benefit from a solidarity fare discount of 50-75%. In both Paris and Stockholm, the monthly pass is flat regionwide, an intentional program of subsidizing regular riders in the suburbs, which are on average poorer than the city.

The flat fare is not really applicable to American cities, except possibly the Bay Area on BART. However, the large fare reductions to qualifying low-income riders are: a number of cities have used the same definition, namely Medicaid eligibility, and give steep discounts for bikeshare systems. On the same principle, cities and states can discount fares on buses and trains.

The right way to view fares

Fares are an important component of public transport revenue; the taxes required to eliminate fares are significant enough that there are probably better uses for the money. By the same token, the issue of fare evasion should be viewed from the lens of revenue loss, rather than that of crime and disorder. The transit agency is not an individual who is broken by being mugged of $100; it should think in terms of its own finances, not in terms of deterrence.

Nor is making it easier to follow the law going to encourage more crime – to the contrary. Transit agencies should aim at a fare system, including enforcement, that allows passengers to get on and off trains quickly, with minimum friction. Turnstiles do not belong in any city smaller than about 10 million people. The fare structure should then encourage long-term season passes, including annual passes, so that nearly all residents who take public transport have already paid. Random inspections with moderate fines are the layer of enforcement, but the point is to make enforcement largely unneeded.

And tear down the faregates.


  1. michaelrjames

    Hear, hear.

    I read the Vox article and I have to say, “I told you so”!
    That is, about the Brit who is the latest guy charged with pulling NYC-MTA into order. I was worried he would bring the awful British views of public transit to the job, and sure enough, an extraordinary focus on fares and fare-evasion, increased policing and compliance, just couldn’t be more wrong. They’ll be lucky if they don’t get some Hong Kong-inspired rebellion!

    Andy Byford, New York City’s transit president, has maintained that fares are crucial in improving rider experience. “Every dollar that doesn’t come to us, in terms of fares that should be paid, is a dollar that we can’t improve in service,” he said at a news conference in September, according to AM New York.
    Fares aren’t the only source of revenue for the MTA; the system also earns money from tolls, taxes, government subsidies, and advertisements. But fares account for the largest chunk —about 38 percent (or $6.2 billion) — of the MTA’s annual earnings.

    Then there’s this (below) which is sooo London … (and again there could be some HK-inspired rebellion; will this system have face-recognition? Of course it will. And probably linked in to ICE.)

    ”I’d like to see cameras on every train on every bus on every station on all the gate lines,” Byford said in September, according to the New York Daily News.
    Yet subway fare evasion hasn’t curbed despite increased policing, officials said …

  2. michaelrjames

    Boston, too, has its moral panic about fare evasion, in the form of campaigns like the Keolis Ring of Steel on commuter rail or Fare is Fair.

    Have you noticed that the new boss of SNCF, Jean-Pierre Farandou, was formerly boss of French Keolis? Hope that isn’t a dark omen. Probably not, in that I don’t think these French companies that operate in other countries bring their bad habits back home (eg. IIRC it is Keolis who operates the appalling Southern network in the UK which cops the worst vitriole from passengers of the entire British network). They’d be lynched if they tried that in France, and probably by other politicians …
    Having said that, I have dark forebodings about the EU ‘open access’ directive coming into force on all railways.

      • michaelrjames

        The new purely-commercial companies will naturally cherrypick only the busiest most lucrative routes. They will probably engage in Uber-like fare undercutting to get pax numbers at first, which will reduce the traffic on SNCF’s most cash-generating routes. The economic-rationalist argument is that this “competition” will force all players, especially those wickedly inefficient state bodies, to improve their “customer service focus” (just listen to Jean-Pierre Farandou’s statement on attaining the new job: pure management speak while covertly threatening the unions). But railways, especially ones that have to cope with a giant network, hardly ever run at a ‘profit’ so all it really means is a horrible choice between running fewer services, increasing fares (on routes with lower traffic than the ones chosen by the commercial entities; yeah that will work but of course it will simply force these horribly ‘inefficient’ lines to close) or other kinds of cuts, slash & burn etc.

        After a number of years of loss-leading the commercial company goes bust or worse (see UK, though admittedly there is little competition on a route basis; they have the worst of all possible worlds) and the debacle and chaos* makes more travellers choose alternatives to rail. Oh, and the new companies will of course order the cheapest rolling stock they can find which will mean Chinese, which in turn will reduce the profitability and scale etc of Alstom and Siemens (which aren’t allowed to merge to effectively compete against the likes of even more massively state-subsidised China rail companies).

        And Herbert, aren’t you German? Do you think the econometric, austerity-minded policies w.r.t. German railways has worked over the past decade or longer?
        *I already hate the newer online ticketing and information systems. It is seemingly impossible to get comprehensive timetables (and costs) for all trains plying a certain route. You meet an interrogation window that demands what time you want to travel, or they only show a single service (Ouigo etc). Once again we see actual efficiency (for the customer, prospective traveller) sacrificed for some CFO or CTO’s notions of access. Merde! Double and triple merde.

  3. Herbert

    While the fine for fare dodging is indeed 60€ that’s for a first time offense. It’s technically still a crime in Germany and repeat offenders – Especially those who cannot pay – do end up in jail…

  4. Henry

    Seattle uses a third way of incentivizing monthlies, in addition to low-income fare discounts and relatively affordable monthly passes; Washington State’s Commute Trip Reduction law incentivizes large employers (>100 people) to reduce driving alone rates, and buying monthly passes for employees and making them available for little to no charge is a fairly common strategy to do so.

    It’s probably one of the most American-friendly ways of encouraging more monthly distribution, since it’d be hard to argue that employers shouldn’t mitigate their employees’ commute impacts.

    • Herbert

      Large employers often sign reduced rate “Job Ticket” deals with public transit operators

  5. Josh

    Germany is known for stereotypically being law-abiding, I am not sure how well their experience generalizes. Also, how do you cite someone who doesn’t have ID? There needs to be some power behind the ticket-writer.

    • Alon Levy

      Germany is very law-abiding in stereotype. In the real-life Berlin, there’s an entire subculture of fare dodging. Plus, when it’s late at night and my phone battery is dying and I’m worried about getting inspected (since my monthly pass is on my phone), reasonably bourgeois people tell me not to worry because in practice there are no inspections late at night.

      • Lukas

        I can only speak of Cologne’s system (and “my” bus and tram service to uni and the station) but Cologne’s busses and trams even have ticket machines inside. Which makes cheating extremely easy. Also, since you can technically board a tram with good intentions, if the ticket machine is full of cash already (or has a defect) you even have a good excuse.

        I guess it helps that many German cities do have tram systems where it is impossible to build these barriers common elsewhere without making people cross the tracks instead.

  6. Max Wyss

    To add in, one more point for passes is that many operators have a special program for organizations buying them in bulk (in other words, employers can buy passes for their employees at a discount (sometimes negociated, sometimes just depending on the number of passes bought). This is actually a “win-win” situation, because the operator gets the money early on, and the employer can save parking spaces.

    As far as I understand, in Japan it is common (maybe even law) that the employer pays for the passes of their employees. The consequence is that pretty much everyone using the system during peak hours has a pass.

    • michaelrjames

      I am a bit sheepish to admit that for all the years I benefitted from the subsidised Carte Orange monthly card (now Navigo) in Paris, I never knew who subsidised it. One paid for it via an automatic salary deduction, paying 50% of its face value. I don’t know if the employer paid for the rest (or whatever the discounted price was). Almost everyone in regular employment in Ile de France would have such a card. It was an absolute dream if you lived in Paris. Also, it was valid on everything 24/7 (I understand the rough equivalent pass in London isn’t actually valid for weekend use! Typical nit-picking scrooges.) Even as a visitor, depending on timing, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it at full face value since it really is a pass to freedom of the city, and a travel bargain.

      • Max Wyss

        You give the keyword with that pass: Freedom. That’s what a monthly/annual pass stands for. You know what you pay, and you won’t get any surprises. And it makes you feel that you “own” the city (or the IdF).

        It is very likely that your employer paid some part, and, depending on the size of the enterprise, it is a discount.

        • michaelrjames

          Yes, though my employer (in as much as they paid my salary since a lot of the time I was on fellowship, ie. effectively paying myself) was indirectly the state, ie. CNRS/INSERM or something similar, a Fondation). They might have a different scheme to purely private employers. I don’t really know; admitting this makes me feel like one of those elites the Gilets Jaunes (and maybe Alon who had neither of these perks?) throw pavé at, but I was very modestly paid except having excellent medical, and benefits like the travel card and lunch vouchers too–again, one paid 50% of face value which was typically the price of the Menu du Jour; most regular working Parisians use these for their lunch, and they are even valid at boulangeries for sandwiches etc (but you don’t get any change if you don’t spend up to the face value of the coupon). It certainly helps the use of the Metro/RER, keeps car use low (you need to be slightly insane to try to drive in Paris; I did for the first year …. though my excuse was I was working out in the suburbs; at the end of my first year the M7 extension reached Villejujif, and simultaneously my old car was vandalised and also gave up the ghost) and helps the economics of those tens of thousands of modest restos etc.

        • michaelrjames

          Here’s a whinge about train costs in the UK, from the weekend travel letters section (just so Alon doesn’t think I’m making this stuff up).

          I have just returned from an overseas trip to the UK and Italy. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my travels in both countries, I was astounded by the cost of regional trains and bus and tube transport in the UK. Train tickets from London (St Euston) to the Lakes District return, plus a one-way trip from St Pancras to Gatwick airport, cost me $A500.
          My tickets were purchased six weeks in advance and were second class non-reserved and off-peak – and this is supposed to be the cheapest option. Unsurprisingly, the UK train system is privatised, no doubt this accounts for these exorbitant prices. My single ticket to Windermere cost about $A200; by comparison, I can travel from Sydney’s Central Station to Bomaderry on NSW’s South Coast (a three hour journey, as is Windermere from London) for $2.50 on my senior’s Opal Card.
          Susan Lenne, Clovelly, NSW

    • John

      I wouldn’t hold Japan up as a model here, since many (most?) long-term transit passes are for travel between an exact combination of two stations only, and are essentially useless for anything besides commuting.

      • Andrew in Ezo

        I wouldn’t say that, most people are commuting from the suburbs to the center city, so on weekends the pass can be used to visit the center for shopping, cultural events, etc, not to mention any intermediate destinations along the route. In fact I use my employer-subsidized subway season ticket precisely in this manner. It’s a godsend.

        • michaelrjames

          Sounds miserly–almost British–compared to Paris. If in fact the Navigo card works like the old Carte Orange? I am way out of date.

    • Nilo

      My understanding of the legal system is they get to claim some sort of tax rebate for what they pay for employee passes so the cost in a round about way goes to the government.

  7. Martin Kolk

    While I agree with pretty much everything in this post, I think encouraging monthly passes is a mistake. They were technically convenient before modern technology (and thus motivated historically), but today there is no excuse to not have payments per trip, and per distance (and preferably also extra in rush hour). With a modern system, there is no extra inconvenience is actually charging according to how much you use the system. If you have social priorities (which is totally fine and reasonable) make sure they target the groups such as low-income earners, students, unemployed, poor pensioners, etc directly. Doing this by encouraging wasteful use and monthly passes makes no sense (and often the logic behind it is flawed and empirically incorrect).

    What is really the moral logic in giving discounts to people that travel far, frequently, and during peak (at least 1 and 3 which also are regressive) a benefit over people that travel less and shorter? Why not try to minimize the average cost of a trip in the system instead? In particular off-peak travel could be way cheaper with price differentiation, and would definitely have a progressive social impact.

    With an electronic payment system, you can have pretty non-interfering gates (which also makes it possible to charge per distance), they can be largely symbolic (just a tower you push your card against). This works very well in very busy systems in Asia, where they can deal with large passenger flows. Similarily just put a few machines on each bus that electronically can read transport cards, and let passengers get on and off as they like. This is how the Taipei busses work for example.

    This really an area where the West should take lessons from Asia (though far integration, which is lacking in some Asian countries should of course still be encouraged).

    A different reason to dislike monthly passes is that they work against people using bikes-walking-transit (and for that matter, cars) in different combinations. Instead, they create huge unnecessary demand by making the marginal cost of a trip 0, that often just replace a walk or a bike trip, in a system that did not encourage you to not pay the cost for each journey you make. On the other hand, the short single trip, for a person without a monthly pass, will be unreasonably expensive, for example creating cruel incentives for poor people to walk for 25 minutes in the rain, instead of taking a bus 6 stops. Those university students that take the bus for a 1200 meter ride, do push up the price for low-income earners that maybe cannot afford a monthly pass.

    Finally, monthly passes are regressive for people with very low incomes, and uncertain cash flows, as they may simply not be able to make bulk purchases.

    • Henry Miller

      As an operator you want monthly passes because people who have a pass are more likely to use your system in off hours when it is cheapest for you to provide service. These people will start your core of users who ride everywhere and thus get other people who think about using your system instead of driving.

      Of course you need a good system. I recently tried to make a trip that was 10 minute drive and came up with 1.5 hours on the bus (that isn’t counting waiting time for the bus to arrive or in the waiting room between when I get there and my appointment) – needless to say I drove. I use the discount punch pass (something that really should be eliminated ) instead of the monthly pass because my local network isn’t good enough to consider using the bus for more trips.

      • Martin Kolk

        I see this as just an additional argument for lower fares off-peak. Why use the argument for a monthly pass, which only very indirectly affect the issue you highlight above (and have tons of other effects), instead of pricing off-peak and peak useage directly?

        Punishing drivers for occasional trips relative frequent transit riders also seems like a both inefficient, and politically flawed way, of encouraging switching to transit.

        A different argument against monthly passes is that be encouraging heavy rather than occasional (mixed with biking and walking) use of transit, it encourages large geographical sprawl.

        Efficiency is usually both environmental and fair.

        • michaelrjames

          Punishing drivers for occasional trips relative frequent transit riders also seems like a both inefficient, and politically flawed way, of encouraging switching to transit.

          That is illogical. Occasional users will by definition be hardly affected while you’d punish the majority of users, and indeed risk their commitment to use public transit. And if occasional users see how much cheaper a monthly card is, they are more likely to think about adopting more regular transit use. These are the exact opposite of your econometric analysis. And I speak as a transit user.

          monthly passes is that be encouraging heavy rather than occasional (mixed with biking and walking) use of transit, it encourages large geographical sprawl.

          Again, pure nonsense. The sprawl exists. The issue is how to get those who live in it to use transit for more of their travel. Making regular use more expensive will do the exact opposite of tempting them.
          And on a separate point, building rail-based public transit to outer-suburban areas is essential in promoting densification in those areas, around the transit station, ie. classic TOD.

          Intuitively most of the induced extra trips, in a monthly fee, rather than pay per usage system, will be very short trips, that are easily substituted by walking or biking.

          What? Why? No, simply untrue assumption, and I could easily make the opposite assumption, eg. a longer trip across town to an Ikea store or whatever. Or visit an exhibition, see a show, a sporting event etc. Stuff you don’t have time for during the working week etc.

          I don’t see the benefit of making these trips really cheap for monthly pass users, while very expensive for everyone else.

          Again, counter logical. The monthly pass users are the majority of transit users, at least in a city with good fares to encourage lots of people to use it. Your “everyone else” is the minority, and just as with your earlier wrong assumption, they might be tempted by a monthly pass but under your scheme there wouldn’t be any point.

          I can only think you are British because this is the kind of logic by which they run their transit.

          • Martin Kolk

            Michal James, it is clear that you don’t have any experience of very well run transit city, such as in East Asia, where rich and poor regularly alike use transit. In such cities monthly passes do barely exist, and cities aim for a fair and efficient pricing system. There are no large groups of “transit users” versus “non-transit users” locked in some zero-sum lethal fight over spoils (which in a US-context is really just the ordinary culture war conflict, transplanted on transit). The outcome is predictably polarization and is just as disastrous here as for any other dimension of US public services.

            To me, it is quite obvious that monthly passes only exist as they were a practical low-tech practical solution before modern technology (which was a reasonable motivation). Today I interpret monthly passes a kind of rent-seeking among one group of transit users, who want other people to pay the cost for their transit use. As they push out, all non-frequent transit users, the support among transit-users for monthly passes is understandably high (a typical insider-outsider issue).

            If you really think there is something really worth subsidizing in very frequent transit use, then you can make higher-order trips cheaper at various thresholds. Say a 25% discount on each trip after 20 trips, and a 50% discount after 35 trips. Having a pricing structure of a very high marginal price for trip 0-25, followed by a 0 cost for trip 25-999 is just bad design. There are very good reason why such pricing structures are extremely uncommon in other parts of society.

            In a country with a developed-country level of transit infrastructure, most travellers would not even look up the price before a trip. 95% of users would use an electronic card that you sweep when you enter and when you exit, and only know the price when they exit. For the other 5%, you would just put in the starting and ending destination in a machine, and the machine would tell you the price. Typically, trips are charged by distance and are regarded as fair by the majority of users.
            It is over 25-year-old technology by now.

            This is just a very obvious example of many on how backwards transit is organized in most western countries. There really are no excuses to adopt gold-standard solutions from elsewhere, though it is depressingly common in US transit, but also many European countries. It is clear that in contexts such as Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, or Taipei, that really are true transit cities, public acceptance for an efficient pricing structure is pretty high (though peak-fare hikes are less common).

            Your argument against which kind of trips that are induced by marginal price costs of 0, just makes no sense. Extra induced trips by a switch to €0 from €0.5 a trip, are of course relatively more often going to be new 0.8 km trips than 15 km long. While the number of 15 km trips will be less sensitive to if a trip cost €0 or €0.5 or €1.

          • michaelrjames

            it is clear that you don’t have any experience of very well run transit city, such as in East Asia, where rich and poor regularly alike use transit. In such cities monthly passes do barely exist, and cities aim for a fair and efficient pricing system.

            The main feature of those East Asian systems is that travel, even without any discount, is far cheaper than in the west. That is true in HK and Singapore which aren’t really inexpensive city-states but have transit use as a priority over road use. (Both also have the worst inequality amongst the developed world so they need to cater to the low-SES workers.) All sorts use the Paris Metro and even with its monthly card, is more expensive than either of those cities. London has a card like HK’s but no one would call it a travel bargain being at minimum twice as expensive as Paris. This should tell you what happens when the rich west adopts that system.

            So, I don’t have a problem with the Octopus type card as long as it keeps transit relatively cheap and easy, for those who use it the most. People who buy monthly cards are the biggest users of the system and deserve any discounts over occasional users while you appear to believe the biggest users are captive and thus can be charged as much as possible (the British mentality). Paris recently eliminated the zone restriction on certain Navigo cards thus reducing, in the most significant means, the previous disadvantage of those living further out and often less economically advantaged.
            It is positively weird to privilege those who only occasionally use transit. It is you who is artificially creating a “them versus us” war, which is reminiscent of London where there is definitely a class that would never use the Underground. In Paris everyone I knew used the Metro and most would have had a monthly card; and thus this is by far the dominant group in Paris with non-users being a pretty small minority and there was no class war over this issue. Most if not all Parisians love the Metro and consider it theirs. In the US and in certain conservative circles in the UK, public transit and the London Underground are merely a drag on public finances.

            As to the rest of your post, it is pure econometric thinking of the kind that gives me a headache. You are thinking of financial performance rather than transit performance. And in general is entirely counterproductive. And if you need proof just try asking Londoners versus Parisians about their own systems. Or better still, a Hong Konger or Singaporean who moved to either London or Paris. Despite your notions, the planners in HK and Singapore etc are prioritising the transit aspects with financial performance being secondary.

            As to your last para, that is even more econometric thinking that shows how warped it gets. One doesn’t think, on the weekend or non-commuting period, whether to take a short or a long trip on the Metro, one thinks of the trips one wants/needs to take and might compare doing it by Metro, private car or taxi. Of course with a monthly or unlimited-travel card, one doesn’t think about it at all. Your use of “induced” implies travellers think how they can rack up long extended trips just because they don’t cost anything! That’s not the way real people actually use a Metro system (well … maybe London where you might expect to get hit with an unexpected big bill depending on trip length, time of travel blah, blah.) And of course the marginal cost to the operator of these discretionary trips is close to zero, especially as they are almost wholly out of peak periods.

            Incidentally, another difference between HK & Singapore is that they are quite low-tax places, whereas France (and most EU) are high personal tax countries; one thus has a mentality that my taxes partly paid for this so one can start to resent paying excessively to use it as well. That is what happens in the UK where taxes are high and user-charges are high (and as it happens with a system run on econocratic lines, the service is poorer; a trifecta merde sandwich).

          • Martin Kolk

            I am of course talking about transit performance in how to move the largest amount of people at the lowest cost for the transit users and taxpayers. All real growing transit cities (in Europe, North America and Asia) will (and do) eventually face capacity constraints and to solve them a lot of new concrete and tunnelling is then always necessary. This is true for all of the major world cities and there encouraging efficiency is vital. There are no marginal costs close to zero in cities close to capacity at rush hour (such as New York, Tokyo, London, or Seoul), instead, those marginal trips have gigantic marginal cost if the solution is something like the Second Avenue Subway (or alternatively a horrible overcrowded travel experience). If you through more honest pricing for the actual demand can avoid both things such as the Second Avenue Subway or horrible overcrowding that is a very good thing.

            As for cheap trips outside rush-hour, that is exactly what I am arguing for instead of bulk-discounts (that make the marginal cost 0 in rush hour). If the subsidy for bulk discounts and rush-hour trips could be used to make off-peak fares really low (say on average 1 dollar or less in NY), this would have great gains in overall transit usage, the efficiency of the system, and social equity. This could probably be achieved without putting in more money into the system if rush hour pricing, no or modest bulk discounts, and higher prices for long trips were introduced.

            Beyond population density, efficiency is an important reason why transit is so cheap in East Asia. The point is not to charge people to the largest amount you can, the point is to charge them the actual cost of their trip, in order to maximize global utility. If you have additional social goals, direct your energy towards them directly (tax credits for transit cards for low-income users or similar), and not solve them by arbitrary bulk discounts.

            So I think a good reason that North American transit is a mess, is because of people argue so much in terms of “common sense”, are afraid of “headaches”, and argue with anecdotes on how people “actually use transit”. More analytical modelling and engineering and efficiency thinking is exactly what is needed to get the US out of their transit misery, and make it more like East Asia.

            Of course, you can ask for transit to be free, and investments budgets to be endless, but that is not a very constructive approach to solve real-world problems.

          • michaelrjames

            I profoundly disagree.
            Of course efficiency is important but it is not achieved by those approaches, no matter how theory predicts it.
            In fact I strongly believe they are counterproductive, and not just by making using the system very irritating and off-putting for the users. It’s like when a growing city chooses to expand its bus system, because it is the cheapest option. Except of course it only delays the inevitable building of proper transit, which delay causes an entirely different level of cost escalation, not to mention opportunity cost. We can see this in big cities built in the age of the car like LA, US sunbelt cities, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane.
            And London. Instead of forever delaying spending money today for appropriate infrastructure that will serve the city for ages, they have constantly convinced themselves and the politicians they can play these games with the travelling public. CrossRail was first proposed in 1948. Paris RER-A (the direct equivalent of CrossRail) opened in 1977 and today carries 300m pax p.a.. Today Paris has 5 RER lines which carry more than 1bn pax p.a.. About 44 years later, and 75 years after it was first proposed, CrossRail will cost north of £18bn and the scale of opportunity cost that can only be imagined. The kind of thing I imagined every time I travelled between the two mega-cities in the 80s and 90s.
            You’ll say that one doesn’t rule out the other, but it seems that effectively it does. It’s the nature of the mindset that believes it can avoid spending real money by improving “efficiency” (at someone else’s expense/convenience, often far into the future) to think this way.
            Naturally there is no algorithm or magic cost-accountancy software that can calculate those costs and benefits. And therein lies the cause of the problem: the types who can think econometrically won’t think in terms of long-range strategic planning (because it is impossible to quantitate neatly, and involves that nebulous thing, vision) so they do the only thing they can, which is tactical short-termism, to optimise current resources blah, blah. The fact that it irritates the travelling public can’t be measured either so, with this mindset, what cannot be measured isn’t measured and isn’t taken into account.

            We are seeing violence directed at transit systems around the world which we’ve discussed here recently (link below). No matter how small, Martin do you really want to contribute to such sentiment?


          • Martin Kolk

            I do note that East Asian cities with nearly universal transit use, have very complex pricing that does not seem to bother anyone there. Maybe we are cognitively disadvantaged in the West compared to East Asians, but I would instead argue that it is more likely that with modern technology varying fares dynamically by distance is very straightforward (with 1990s technology) and westerners would adapt very quickly. It is not like we are arguing about some fantasy scenarios, I am just saying that the West could adopt systems more similar to the East (where it evidently works very well). The travelling public in the East seems a lot more happy with their experience than the travelling public you refer to in the West. I find it quite plausible that ordinary people actually find fairness in pricing according to cost very attractive and well fair.

            The penny pinching Japanese private railroad operators seems very able to operate and plan efficient transit decades ahead. In any case, major capital investment will always involve the government, but that is largely irrelevant for questions about using existing infrastructure efficiently.

          • Alon Levy

            The pricing in Singapore isn’t particularly complex nowadays. Fares are integrated between buses and trains (which is more than I can say for, say, London), and there’s a schedule for fare by distance.

          • michaelrjames

            with modern technology varying fares dynamically by distance is very straightforward (with 1990s technology) and westerners would adapt very quickly. It is not like we are arguing about some fantasy scenarios, I am just saying that the West could adopt systems more similar to the East (where it evidently works very well). The travelling public in the East seems a lot more happy with their experience than the travelling public you refer to in the West.

            No one is questioning that it could be done by technology. But what is the objective? To you and others, it seems to be narrowly “econometric efficiency” and my experience is that it is anathema to passenger experience or satisfaction, and not least to the ease and functionality of transit in a big city. In the West inevitably it is exploited “until the pips squeak” …. because it is so easy to do. Look at the fare compliance b.s. being applied to NYC-MTA. In the east, well Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, there is a paternalistic care about the travelling public that balances the overt greed in the west, hence Japan’s government-imposed ceilings on fares. BTW Japanese policy on rail operations probably has something to do with the almost US$400 billion (yes billion) debt the government or its various proxies still carries from the privatisation of JR. Also on the geographic fact that they can’t have too many people owning and using cars (in Japan you have to prove you have parking before you are allowed to even own a car; in Singapore there is a 150% tariff on cars). The other point about the Asians, as I have mentioned in earlier responses on this same issue, is that the cost is very low, so they can use fancy conditions to vary the fare (on distance, time, whatever) but it will always be a travel bargain (Singapore, Hong Kong, both world cities); note also that this is not the case for their rail links to the airport where they adopt “maximum extraction” policies (on the basis of social justice I guess; if you can afford to fly you can afford this higher fare), such that far more Hong Kongers use buses to the airport than the airport express (though there are geographical reasons too).

            I’ll admit my attitude is very conditioned by direct experience. On one hand by the awful British system of dozens of different fares for the same journey, and the (now superceded) horrible, and horribly expensive, LU fare structure. Are you aware of the kind of thing they subjected Season Ticket holders to from the Home Counties? Charging thousands of pounds per year but travellers being forced to stand the entire (hour long) journey? Some people got so infuriated that they went and sat in the First Class carriages (!) and then got arrested and taken to court when they refused to pay the outrageous fines. That’s your kind of economic efficiency. Or abominations on privatised lines with endless train cancellations, without refunds of course, while the train companies award their chiefs millions in bonuses, even as they continue to extract huge government subsidies (more than before privatisation!).
            And on the other hand, by the relatively frictionless Paris and French system. With the Paris flat-fare system and immense freedom of Carte Orange, and of course that in almost every single aspect the system outperformed LU and was cheaper. NYC’s subway, though a lot less user-friendly, at least has the virtue of fare simplicity. They actually reduced the fare on the Staten Island ferry to zero. (No doubt, partly econometric because of the cost-benefit calculation of replacing their antiquated coin-op turnstiles with something modern.)

            In a world trying to coax car drivers out of their cars, or to use them less, you’ve got to make the system frictionless and fair, or more than fair. And incidentally I totally reject your repeated assertion that low fares, or flat fares, to the outer zones of big cities, “encourages sprawl”, because it does the opposite (it will encourage TOD around the stations) and is much more likely to entice them out of their cars. Also, people in those places tend to lower SES, so there’s an element of social justice (the opposite of what applies in most places where they are punished by paying per km travelled). As in Paris-RER this is best done with attractive monthly cards, so even people who have to use cars at least some of the time are tempted to still have a monthly card and use it for all journeys where possible.

            Finally, as to user satisfaction, you may well be correct if you’re talking of the Brits/Londoners. But Paris:

            [Wiki, 2017]
            In 2016, it [Paris] has been ranked as the best public transport system in the world by the ITDP with 100 percent of people in the city of Paris having an easy access to rapid transportation, ahead of 26 other international cities (including London, New York City and Tokyo).[7]
            Ref: “Brief history of the Paris metro”. france.fr – The official website of France. Retrieved 2013-09-21.

            I concur, and I’ve used London, NYC, HK, Tokyo, Shanghai, Moscow, Beijing amongst mega-city metro systems.

          • lcpitkan

            At lot depends on whether one looks at the public transport system in isolation or as part of the whole transport system or part of society in general. In most cities roads are not priced properly and the transport system is a broken market in general. In this context market pricing of public transport isn’t really consistent. In Europe there are usually other societal goals for public transport than just fiscal efficiency.
            One should also note that providing useful public transport service does not scale to the level of individual trips or trip lengths. The public transport system provides a certain level of constant service and a monthly pass is a right to use this service. This is also a common way of pricing telecom services, where the majority of costs arise from providing the network, not the marginal cost of using it.

        • Henry

          Seattle recently abolished off-peak fares for one transit operator because occasional riders found the fare structure overly complex and it was dissuading usage.

          If occasional riders have to read a massive chart to figure out what they’re supposed to pay they probably just won’t pay it at all.

          • michaelrjames

            If occasional riders have to read a massive chart to figure out what they’re supposed to pay they probably just won’t pay it at all.

            Exactly. Even the Brits who have had to contend with such systems their entire life, get immensely irritated by it. (But not enough. They need to learn a lesson from their Parisian neighbours. Or elect Corbyn.)

        • michaelrjames

          In today’s Guardian. Concerns the railways not London transit.

          Andy McDonald, the [Labour] party’s shadow transport secretary, said: “Privatisation has created one of the most complex, exploitative and expensive ticketing systems in the world. Labour will scrap the bewildering and outdated fares and ticketing system that discriminates against part-time workers, discourages rail travel and excludes the young and low paid.”

          One might say that of course they would say that. But all rail travellers would.

          Incidentally, a follow up on that Letter to Ed from an Antipodean that I reported at the top of this blog. This weekend in the same Travel section there was a letter replying to the first letter writer. This one said the writer was exaggerating the cost, and that there were many choices to get the price down a lot. But here’s the thing, this new letter writer had not done it but had merely looked at the website and made those conclusions, and not actually selected times and routes and actual tickets. I agree with the first letter writer. The system is a horrible mess seemingly designed to trap one into expense unless you choose conditions that are no one’s first choice.

          Also, one of the 5 key points of the Williams review into their rail system:

          • a new commercial model: Williams argues the current franchising model “has had its day” and is holding the sector back, stifling collaboration, preventing the railway from operating as a cohesive network and encouraging train operators to prioritise “narrow commercial interest” over passengers.

    • Alon Levy

      I know that Korea manages to make all of this work at low cost, but elsewhere in Asia, those sprawling, palatial stations with many exits get really expensive. I understand why a transfer station should look like this, but Singapore has these enormous complexes with mezzanines even at non-transfer stations.

      Monthly passes indeed encourage transit use, but that’s not wasteful. It’s only wasteful if people are taking unnecessary rush hour trips, but even with the pricing of Zurich or the outer fare zones in Stockholm, the monthly pass is mostly subsidizing off-peak trips, when there’s spare capacity.

      • michaelrjames

        Exactly. People do not take mass transit at rush-hour if they can help it. It’s really self-enforcing and does not need the extremely irritating British price-engineering. No doubt designed and enforced by genuine elites who never intend to use the Underground themselves, except for an annual photo-op. Has Jacob Rees-Mogg ever used London Underground? Or his father Lord, Baron Rees-Mogg? I’d be extremely surprised.

      • Martin Kolk

        Intuitively most of the induced extra trips, in a monthly fee, rather than pay per usage system, will be very short trips, that are easily substituted by walking or biking.

        I don’t see the benefit of making these trips really cheap for monthly pass users, while very expensive for everyone else.

        • Henry

          How is this ‘intuitive’ at all? In fact I would argue that this is plain wrong.

          When I had an unlimited pass in New York, I’d travel from Eastern Queens near the city limits to Manhattan for school on the weekdays, and go to Flushing on the weekends. Is it a shorter trip? Yes. Is it a trip possible by biking or walking? Debatable, given the total lack of bike infrastructure and the fact that on the bus it was a 40 minute to an hour journey involving a transfer between buses. But if the choice would be between transit to have to look up the fare for, biking, or taking a car, I’d just opt for the car.

    • Sick Transit

      “Finally, monthly passes are regressive for people with very low incomes, and uncertain cash flows, as they may simply not be able to make bulk purchases.”

      That’s a significant consideration for regions with large income disparities. Philadelphia’s SEPTA system is an object lesson in how NOT to design a fare system. Instead of developing an open system, they created an opaque “Key” farecard that offers many benefits to those who can afford it and severely penalizes those without it. A Pew Research study (documented here: https://www.inquirer.com/transportation/septa-bus-fee-transfer-poverty-transit-pew-study-20190724.html ) notes that Philadelphia has one of the highest rates not just of working poor but of residents with limited or no access to banks and internet connections. Even though the Key card offers pay-per-ride functionality in addition to calendar passes, its $10 up-front cost and the difficulty of maintaining a payment balance force economically-marginal riders to use cash instead. Cash payments subject them to a 50¢ penalty for the first boarding of a trip and a _$2.50_ penalty for any transfers needed to complete the journey. The bottom line of the Pew study is that commuters who are able to use the Key pay one of the lowest per-trip costs among major transit agencies, while those who can’t are forced to pay one of the highest fares … a particularly egregious example of what many economists call the “poor tax”.

      Perhaps the approach shouldn’t be to offer DISincentives for riders who don’t have passes but rather to offer positive incentives for more people to use electronic, cash-free payment methods even if they fall outside the middle-class demographic. E.g. widespread availability of payment kiosks and retail sales locations as well as a low or zero upfront cost would seem to be reasonable starting points.

  8. whatarestreetsfor

    Here is an argument for the 45-swipes threshold. Based on a five-day work week, the average month has between 22 and 23 work days. Double that figure, and the average number of commuting trips is 44 to 46. That means all of your non-commuting trips are free. That makes a big difference because it eliminates the trip-chaining penalty that results in many transit systems. In the US, trip chaining by car is relatively painless because of land use, highways, and ubiquitous parking. Transportation becomes a stable part of a monthly budget, and it can be used as a solid basis for comparison for someone who might consider going carless.

    This logic does not work the same way for people living in the retail-rich neighborhoods of New York, London, Paris, etc, where people are within walking distance of many of their destinations.

    • Alon Levy

      I imagine that’s what New York was thinking? I get why that is, but you really want to go somewhat lower than 45 on these grounds. Most months have a holiday in them, and there may also be a sick or vacation day thrown in. So if the breakeven point is exactly 45, people who only use transit for commuting are on the knife’s edge and in most cases won’t get a monthly. If the breakeven point is in the high 30s, then this is much simpler – even commuters get monthlies and therefore can ride off-peak for free.

      I suspect the reason Paris is capping-curious is precisely that the breakeven point there is so high – it was 52 relative to buying tickets in bundles of 10 last time I was there. New York’s 46 is still similar, esp. since New Yorkers ride off-peak so much less than Parisians. (The metro area mode shares are 43% and 30% respectively, but Ile-de-France has 240 annual rail trips per capita and Metro New York has about 100.)

      • whatarestreetsfor

        One or two fewer workdays does not change the logic much for a working person residing in a zero-car household. The commuting trips are the predictable part of that person’s transportation. It’s the number of non-commuting trips that are hard to budget for because they can be more variable from week-to-week and month-to-month. If I am riding home from work and I stop at a bookstore, that’s an extra fare, but it’s also an extra peak trip. If that’s something I do often, most of those will be free trips under the 45-swipe regime, regardless of whether I lose a few workdays in a given month.

        In most of the US, as you know, we need better service more than we need cheaper fares. I agree with the premise of the article that we need to relax enforcement.

        • James S

          Of course it changes the math, especially since many people get to work from home every once in awhile.

          My Friday train is always half as empty as any other day.

          Most people dont get on and off along the way. If theyre buying a book, theyre buying it near the office or at home, not in the middle.

  9. rational plan

    I’ll try and post some of the tweets John Bull made about fare evasion when talking to Second Avenue Subways.
    “Fare evasion is fascinating and TfL have done a bunch of interesting papers on it over the years. And the London lessons are very applicable to NY. Let me grab my laptop and a beer from the hotel bar and I’ll do a quickly summary of findings.”

    “Okay. This’ll be relatively broad because I’m in a hotel bar in Berlin, not at home with all my notes, but generally the London experience is that fare evasion can be divided into two categories:
    1) Habitual
    2) Casual
    The second is FAR easier to deal with than the first.”

    “This is because habitual evaders will ALWAYS try to evade. put in half-height gates and they’ll jump them. Put in full size, they’ll tailgate.
    For a small % this is an economic decision. The simply DO NOT have the money to pay so threats of fines are also useless against them.”

    “For the LARGER category of habituals though, it’s either because:
    1) They’ve got the moral compass of Donald Trump. They simply DO NOT BELIEVE fares apply to them
    2) They think it’s cool
    This is why the big % of habituals are male. Honestly, we are just. the. worst.”

    “So ALL you can do with habituals is catch them doing it and (where possible) fine em or throw the law at them.
    That requires enforcement exercises, which are expensive. And you DO want the police involved.”

    “Partly this to protect staff but ALSO because non-economic habituals have a higher rate than normal of OTHER shit they’re already wanted for. So the police can nab them for that at the same time. Bonus!
    BUT, this is expensive. So why do it at all? Which brings us to casuals…”

    “Casual fare evasion is a thing done by normal people, regardless of age/money/class. Because the truth is that ANYONE will fare evade, it’s just for these people it is a conscious (or almost-conscious) act based on a bunch of questions they are running through in their head:”

    “Those casual fare evader mental questions are:

    1) Do I already have, or can I buy a ticket right now?
    2) Is the service worth the relative economic price to me?
    3) Is evasion hard (i.e. requires time or athletics) to do?
    4) If I do it, do I THINK I’m likely to get caught?”

    “The more ‘yes’ answers they reach, the LESS LIKELY they are to do it. Indeed if you can get most of your passengers/city reaching two yeses then your casual evasion will be well below a level worth caring about.”

    “Now there are LOTS of ways of tackling Q1 – Q3. Broadly: smartcards/ticket machines that actually work and are easy to use, cleaner network/new trains/reliability and half-height barriers/visible staff will do ya.

    But Q4 is why you need the PERCEPTION of enforcement.”

    “Now I say perception here because THAT’S WHAT MATTERS. It’s not about catching habitual offenders. That doesn’t pay for itself. What you’re trying to do is persuade CASUALS that the odds of them getting caught in a random sting aren’t worth risking.”

    “Sure, you don’t SAY that. Because the casuals (or potential casuals) will be outraged. OUTRAGED.
    So you need to LOOK like you’re going after the habituals. Because they’re a THEM, not an US.”

    “ASIDE: This is why gate alarms are A TERRIBLE IDEA unless you’re going to ALWAYS staff those gates.
    Because they won’t embarrass a habitual, but they’ll act like a gameshow buzzer highlighting to everyone else that CASUAL evasion is possible when that person gets away with it!”

    “But you DO need enforcement, it’s just your dirty secret is that you don’t really give a shit whether you catch anyone. You focus on a small permanent presence where habitual evasion is common, and then focus your roaming enforcement on areas with a high CASUAL risk.”

    “which is why (in London) you’ll see periodic HIGHLY VISIBLE ticket check sweeps at big stations, or on services like the DLR or high-risk bus routes where there are a large number of POTENTIAL casual evaders.
    t’s not about maximising milk, it’s about minimising potential moo.”

    “And that’s ALSO why you’ll see TfL/National Rail come down HEAVILY in the courts on anyone with real money who evades (e.g. city bankers) because it’s both an easy PR win, AND a lovely big reminder to potential casuals not to try it themselves.”

    “And there you go. That’s Fare Evasion 101. There’s a bunch of other stuff I could go into about fine levels vs fare levels vs chance of being caught, value of ticket sales at airports, balancing the disruption of checks against frequency, the value of uniform vs non-uniform etc”

    “But that’s Fare Evasion 201. It’s probably best to see if your Powers-That-Be ever manage to get past Fare Evasion Kindergarten first before doing that.

    It seems a bit of a wasted effort otherwise, eh?”

    “Oh, should of added, that this is why – when you’re designing your roaming checks – you’re really looking for how you can MAXIMISE the number of people that saw that check happen. Because the higher your passenger-to-visible-check ratio is, the lower your casual evasion will be.”

    • Alon Levy

      Is that recent? I don’t think that pass existed until recently.

      Regardless, it’s S$120 per month without discounts, whereas the longest single-ride fare is $2.08 (link 1, link 2), for a breakeven point of 58 rides a month for trips longer than about 40 km. At 20 km the single fare is $1.78 and the breakeven point is 68, which means the monthly might as well not exist.

    • Thomas Graves

      Yeah, and did you read the very lengthy instructions about how to apply for the adult monthly travel card? Passport-size photos, applications, visiting the ticket office. Oh, and by the way, only Singapore citizens and permanent residents are eligible to apply. For the thousands working on an employment pass, you’re out of luck. The hassle involved makes it pretty sure that commuters (like me) won’t bother.

  10. rational plan

    Sorry, I think fare evasion is important. Not just because it’s important to get all the revenue you can, but if it’s easy to fare evade then everyone will do it as, no one really sees it as a crime in their own minds.
    It’s also important to control who is travelling on your network and you want to discourage the habitual fare evaders from using your network as they are often not nice people you want to stuck with in a carriage late at night. It might be seen as a less pressing issue when most of your systems income come from taxes (it’s certainly not in low subsidy systems) but is still important.

    Fare gates on very crowded systems (such as Londons) also act as crowd control at Stations that are getting overcrowded due to disruption. You need a way of preventing people to get down to the platforms. This is less of an issue on Commuter systems where it’s mostly the trains that get crush loaded, but revenue protection is even more important for them as fare levels are higher. Of course fare gates need manning so outside of the busiest stations fare gating is often a peak time only operation. These systems aren’t put in for a whim the bump in revenue from gating has been well documented otherwise they would not have pushed so hard on covering more stations. It’s also easier to go mob handed on inspections at busy Metro stations in the city, but on a commuter train 40 minutes out in the suburbs, it’s easier if you filtered out the fare cheats from the busier stations rather than some lone inspector trying to do it.

    My other point is that Monthly or Annual Travel Passes are increasingly old news in the UK as Pay as you go with far capping is more popular, and also because 5 days a week commuting is on the decline. More people either work from home one or two days a week or are often hopping between client sites or their own company locations throughout the week and which might not even be in the same city. It’s now got the stage where in London trains are much more lightly loaded on Mondays and Fridays.

    That’s why there is lot talk of new ticketing options (3 or 4 day a week passes) but the future is some form of fare capping in cities at least. At the moment that the rail industry is having a long drawn out argument on the best way forward as everyone can see the season ticket is dying but the political cost of getting rid of it is too high, so some form of fudge will be needed.

    • Alon Levy

      Berlin and Zurich both have farebox recovery ratios of about 2/3, I believe. I think TfL is roughly in that area as well lumping both the Tube and the buses; sure, the Tube breaks even, but London has a way higher bus/rail ridership ratio than Paris or Berlin. So it’s not really that Berlin doesn’t care if criminals discourage ridership among law-abiding customers, it’s that Berlin doesn’t treat every rider as a criminal who must constantly be watched and monitored.

      The main way to encourage compliance is really to make it easier to follow the law than to break it. The British and American approach is to make it hard to break the law, even at the cost of making it hard to follow it. The German one is to make it easy to follow the law and then use enforcement to not make it so easy to break it.

      I don’t know what London’s crowd control is like, but in Paris the faregates made crowd control worse in the World Cup victory celebrations. Paris has one-way faregates, so half the exit space is unusable during (one-way) busy times, and the exit gates are hard to open and easy to close in order to discourage fare dodging. This setup works at palatial East Asian stations, but a cheap cut-and-cover Continental European station gets overwhelmed when a million Parisians all descend on a handful of stations to celebrate.

      That Britain thinks monthly passes are old news does not mean that they really are old news. There’s no monthly fare capping in London, but the travel card has a breakeven point of 48 in zones 1-3, which means that commuters who don’t take the Tube off-peak will rarely hit the cap. Try cutting the breakeven point to something starting with a 3 instead.

      • michaelrjames

        in Paris the faregates made crowd control worse in the World Cup victory celebrations. Paris has one-way faregates, so half the exit space is unusable during (one-way) busy times, and the exit gates are hard to open and easy to close in order to discourage fare dodging.

        I didn’t understand this the first time I read it.
        What if those exit-only turnstiles are actually supplementary to those where the entrance and swipe-card machines are? The thing is they are impenetrable by fare-dodgers and so they don’t even try (the interlocking-bars full-height type) and so these exits can be unmanned without problems, and they need almost zero maintenance. I don’t quite get what is “hard to open” …. Anyway, the reason London doesn’t have these is because of their nitpicking fare system: they need you to swipe out to calculate the fare. Paris if flat fare so it doesn’t matter and they can have more, unattended, exits far from the attended area.

        As to the World Cup, I really don’t think one should be obliged to design a mass transit system to cope with a once in ten or twenty year event. And it more or less coped with delivering those 1-2 million in a few hours without major drama. I seriously doubt the London system could, however I hope they have learned lessons from the Kings Cross fire disaster. Hmmm, Grenfell … maybe not (when they renovated the building they actually removed one of the two stairwells …).

    • Max Wyss

      Why is “pay as you go” more popular?? Because the industry pushes such solutions onto the operators, and considering that the responsible ones have not much of a clue, they fall for it and get screwed. Or/and they think “pay as you go” is so hot, and so “new”. Often such “pay as you go” systems are implemented to cover the fact that the product (aka the service level) sucks.

      • Herbert

        What you want in terms of “Get cars out of the city” is a system where riders don’t have to do math or stuff to consider whether they should take transit…

        As soon as you force them to calculate whether it’s “worth it”, they’ll consider cars

        • michaelrjames

          Precisely. In terms even an econo-rationalist (rational plan, Martin Kolk …) should understand: it works best when it is nearly “frictionless”. The (old) UK system was the opposite of frictionless and it used to raise my temperature from rubbing up against it (not in a lacivious or frottage way!), especially if I had just come from Paris.
          Of course the Oyster card tech (copied from Hong Kong’s Octopus) could have fed the Brits propensity to burden their fare systems with all kinds of conditional time and zoning regulations that would have allowed them to “painlessly” pump up the cost to the customer. But equally it seems such card systems require a certain level of fare simplification to be robust. ERG was the company that designed HK’s card (but they went bust and London managed to ‘steal’ this tech for almost nothing) and were give the contract to implement a similar system for Sydney. However Sydney had a horrendously complex “British” style system, and worse buses and ferries were different (and it was intended to integrate everything), and eventually they couldn’t do it under the contract constraints (it was part of the reason they went bust). The next state government forced the city transit operators to simplify their systems and work together for the next contract ….

          As I have said many times on this blog, I am a big believer in single-zone fares, even for, or especially for, mega-cities. Partly for simplicity but also for social-justice: zoning can make it very expensive the further out you live and yet these are the very people the city most wants to give up their car habits!

  11. Jack

    London absolutely does have monthly (and annual) passes. It’s also part of fare capping on contactless, though not possible in the Oyster software until the next upgrade

  12. Aaron M. Renn

    I’d agree with all of this. In fact, I think most US cities should be fareless anyway since their farebox contribution to revenue is so low.

    However, this really isn’t about revenue or enforcement approaches or fare levels. It’s about whether it’s fair to impose essentially middle-class bourgeois standards of behavior on public transit systems. Very clearly, a growing activist community wants to eliminate these standards, favoring total decriminalization not just of fare evasion, but of unlicensed vending, panhandling on trains, public urination, pot smoking, radio playing, etc. In fact, all of these have had a more permissive stance that has been incrementally put in place in NYC over the past 2-3 years, and anyone who rides the train has seen it. It’s a valid debate to have and a valid stance to have. But let’s not pretend we’re talking about the best means of revenue collection.

    • Lee Ratner

      I’m going to argue that imposing middle class bourgeois standards of behavior on public transit systems Is very important if you want them to exist and for more people to use them. Otherwise, you just get public transport as social service for people to poor to own a car rather than a general transportation service used by everybody. A big reason why many Americans would prefer to spend an hour in traffic rather than 30 minutes on a bus or train ir s that they don’t want to deal with ill-behavior on the subway. Like the time an older African-American woman got pissed off about younger African-American woman having a White boyfriend and decide to take it out on me, subjecting me to big rant on why African-American women can only really be sexually pleased by African-American men while hitting me with a plastic bottle. Not the worse thing that could happen but not a pleasant ride either.

      Unlicensed vending is fine, I don’t have a problem with the churro venders of New York. The panhandlers, subway dancers, public urinators, and worse are what drives people away from transit. Why would a woman want to take a bus or train when she might have to watch somebody pee? Why should commuters have to deal with people playing their music loud after a very long day at work. Bourgeois standards of behavior is what allows public spaces of all sorts to function, whether it be transit, parks, plazas, or beaches. if you don’t have them, lots of people, and not just affluent whites, are going to stay away.

    • Alon Levy

      These activities are really not the same… fare evasion really is something to be discourage, just not with batons. Ditto public urination; it exists in Berlin, but not in elevators – I’ve seen men do it at night on the side of the secondary entrance to the S-Bahn at Neukölln (which is more or less the poorest area inside the Ring), but the area smells fine, so I suspect that either it’s not common enough to be a public health hazard or there’s regular cleaning.

      In contrast, the unlicensed churro vending is more a problem of city and state regulations making it too onerous to sell food, hence Jessica Ramos’s proposal to lift the cap on food carts. It’s one of these things that on some level anyone can end up doing – technically I did it once in grad school, when I brought in a tray of leftover cookies after a talk intending to take them back to Columbia, and someone on the train offered me $1 for 3 of them and I said yes. At some level it’s just normal commerce.

      But yeah, the moralistic response on the left of treating fare evasion as something good (esp. because of Chile, but it goes back further than that) isn’t great. There’s something interesting going on with Chesa Boudin’s campaign: he wants to decriminalize quality-of-life crimes (okay) and deprioritize prosecuting theft and redirect resources to prosecuting sexual assault (“prioritize violent crime”) and train cops to be more responsive to victims. All of this is pretty reasonable – cops desperately need to treat sexual assault victims better, and getting to universal enforcement is really good at reducing sexual assault rates, and Boudin’s language on this makes it clear he intends to help men as well as women (in the US, men who are raped report at even lower rates than women). And yet, I can’t help but notice the parallels with left-wing moralism on this: sexual assault is a form of oppression, theft (even robbery sometimes) is righteous downward redistribution of wealth.

      • adirondacker12800

        In contrast, the unlicensed churro vending is more a problem of city and state regulations making it too onerous to sell food

        What’s a little food poisoning now and then? Except for the occasional hospitalization or death.

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s difficult to get an ice cream truck into a subway station. Much less a whole restaurant.

        • JD

          The cap on permits and the insurance/rent expenses of operating them in a subway station are indeed something to note. Also, a friend who is former department of health mentioned there is a churro sweatshop where the churro supply for several of these vendors these are made, and which is without working bathrooms, which they had raided in the past. So there is, or at least was, that kind of enforcement on this issue.

    • rational plan

      Come on that reeks that of condescension to the poor. “They can’t be expected to behave they know no better”. Let me tell you many working class people like law and order and a good public realm. At the end of the day they are more affected by a shitty public environment than the wealthy who can retreat to their upper middle class bubbles and not have to deal with the antisocial. it’s the poor who suffer from more from dirty streets and parks. Poor policing, public housing with anti social tennants etc etc, So spare me the must not have moral standards dictated to from the rich, because that includes you.

      • Lee Ratner

        There are also proudly dysfunctional people across the socio-economic spectrum. See Santa Con and other events for affluent proud dysfunction.

      • Lee Ratner

        I don’t think Aaron was saying he agreed with this position. He was just pointing out a common activist position on transit in the United States. For the far right and the far left, transit is a social service for poor people rather than a general transportation service in the United States. The difference being that the far right sees this as a reason to hate transit and the far left as a reason to support it.

        • Alon Levy

          It’s not the far right or the far left, can we please keep these terms for the most radical 10-20% of the population on each side rather than for anodyne center-left and center-right politics?

  13. James S

    It’s funny that the US is all about “making things run like the private sector”.
    Stores dont have gates. They rely on people voluntarily going to the cash register and checking out.
    Shrinkage happens. It’s in the budget. And life goes on.

    What’s really at play is a class war issue. The whole “look at the poor person stealing bread, don’t mind the banker stealing $1m”.

    Commuter rail is essentially PoP. No gates to get on. If an inspector (conductor) finds you without a ticket, you either pay a fine or get kicked off. Sometimes the police are called. It’s telling that the NYC MTA police response is on subways and not on LIRR or Metro North, where you can evade a $20 fare. Rich people ride commuter rail, they’re not policed.

    • rational plan

      That maybe the US it’s not in the UK. The train companies are much more rigorous in going to the courts, mainly because the money involved in long distance commuting is so much higher. Also because as long as you are not going to the big London Stations once you get in to the evenings and weekends there is a big chance those stations gates will be open as they become unstaffed. I’ve had fare inspection before on a 1 am commuter train out of Paddington before. Which surprised quite a few people that night.

      • michaelrjames

        Yeah, but don’t confuse yourself or others. It is entirely because the government refused to adequately fund public transport. Counter-productive “user pays” econo-rat bullshit. Thatcher was pathologically psycho about it. Sacked London council on the pretext of fiscal irresponsibility over Livingstone’s Fair Fares (or Fares fair?) policy. Passed a law to forbid one penny of government money going toward Eurostar or HS1 (part of the reason it took 12 years after Eurostar began, and turned into one of the textbook cases of PPP/PFI gone wrong). She’d be turning in her grave (let’s hope) over CrossRail and HS2.

        No surprise it is one of things that makes some vote for Corbyn/Labour (re-nationalise the railways).

  14. RossB

    Yeah, this makes sense. I could see onboard payment systems going away. For smaller municipalities, transit should be free. For bigger cities, POP is appropriate. San Fransisco went to POP for their buses, and fare violations and dwell times both went down substantially. I can’t find the article, but there is some evidence that enforcement is largely unimportant. Most people will pay, one way regardless. There are likely to be cultural differences, so it is possible that in most American cities, it makes sense to have some POP officials. But you don’t need that many.

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  16. RossB

    In Seattle, we have an unusual situation. The mass transit (light rail) system is run by one agency, and the bus system(s) are run by others. Fare is split between the different agencies. So if someone rides a King County Bus, then a Sound Transit train, both Sound Transit and King County get money.

    This makes sense when people pay a fare, but many (if not most) users have unlimited monthly passes. There are various statistical ways of determining how much each agency should receive of that monthly pass. The agencies could then negotiate a split based on that data (or based on anything, really). But instead, each agency requires the card user to “pay” (tap the reader). This results in a very odd situation, where someone who owns an unlimited use monthly pass can be cited for lack of payment. They are cited in the same way that a fare evader is, even though they’ve obviously paid the fare. This is a very good example of how *not* to do things. As you wrote, passengers should be able to get on and off trains quickly, with minimum friction. Having unlimited pass owners crowd around the fare readers is only a little bit better than having them wait to push through a gate. It is still bad.

    • Alon Levy

      In Berlin there’s a similar situation – DB Regio runs the S-Bahn, BVG runs the U-Bahn and surface transit – and thus a similar issue arises of how to split revenues. It involves negotiations and confidential ridership data, but boils down to passenger counts, done (I believe) once every three years. To the passengers, this friction is invisible – I buy tickets on the BVG app but they’re equally valid on the S-Bahn, even on S-Bahn-only trips.

      • df1982

        This split also had an effect on the policing of fare evasion, as checks used to be a LOT rarer on the S-Bahn than the U-Bahn or tram, and in my experience the inspectors also tended to be more lenient, letting people off with a warning if they had a passable excuse, which would never happen with the BVG inspectors. But I think those differences have eroded by now. I certainly tend to see S-Bahn inspectors more than I used to.

      • RossB

        @Alon — That is the sensible way to do it. All of the agencies have counts, they just chose the laziest way to enforce things, then went ahead and enforced it with vigor.

    • Max Wyss

      In Switzerland, where consolidated fares have been in existence for more than a century, there are regular passenger counts. For local operation (bus, tram, regional trains) they use vehicles which contain a passenger counting system, counting the number of people getting off and on. Let’s assume that a bus operator has one equipped vehicle for each size (standard, articulated). Then they use it for specific services, and get the data.

      In smaller operations, I actually encountered that the driver just counted the number of people getting on and off (well, that was in a midi bus, or even smaller one.

      For more precise recording, there are teams of inspectors checking every ticket, and in the case of pass holders they ask from where to where the trip goes.

      Based on the statistics received with those means, the general pot gets distributed among the different operators. And the operators are normally satisfied.

  17. SB

    “New York would transition to a large discount through holding the monthly fare constant and hiking the single-ride fare”
    So what should the new monthly and single-ride fare cost?

    • Alon Levy

      I wouldn’t feel comfortable hiking the monthly fare in New York at all until the pay-per-ride fare hit $3.50, maybe even $4. It’s $127 now and 127/4 has a 32-trip breakeven.

    • IAN! Mitchell

      I’d say make the one-way $5 now in one big yank, removing the faregates at the same time as a PR move.

      $50 for a week pass, $127 for monthly, $1500 annual.

  18. Martin

    I think it’s also right thing to talk about the sum of the three:
    1) Fare-evasion loss
    2) Crime prevention costs
    3) Lost revenue from passengers avoiding system due to crime – can be inferred via a safety survey

    One could envision that stationing 1 officer / entry watching for fare evasion should bring that fare evasion down to nearly 0 regardless of types of gates, as well as put a significant dent at crime since anyone chased out of the system can quickly be apprehended.

    • michaelrjames

      Sure. Heavy policing, with militarised civil police carrying M16s, has so reduced the criminality and incarceration rate in the US! And of course it is not the least ethnically discriminatory ….

      • Alon Levy

        If you want to talk about racial discrimination, let’s talk about French incarceration rates. The absolute level is a fraction of the US’s, but the overrepresentation of certain racial minorities manages to be somewhat worse than in the US.

        • michaelrjames

          Not at all equivalent. Your first point is the more important one: absolute rate is way lower. Makes the second point much less important, even to those minorities (those minorities are much less likely to be subject to this treatment in France versus the US). In France and most places* it is highly correlated to poverty and recent immigration status. Which doesn’t make it any more tolerable but makes it understandable and an intractable problem, only ameliorating with the climb out of poverty and marginality. And the chances of being killed by police will be even lower. I’m not sure if there is the same DWB (Driving While Black) phenomenon? Maybe on ticket inspections on the Metro (not really, they seem to adopt the policy of everyone in a carriage or exiting the platform, will be checked).
          *Except in the actual immigrant nations of USA, Canada and Australia where crime rates are lower in immigrants!

          BTW, where did you get that data? Since racial identification is supposed to not occur in official stats. I am sure you are aware that there is a large perception bias about such things due to bias in reporting by media etc.
          But from a nation that does allows compilation of such statistics:

          A report by Statistics Denmark released in December 2015 found that 83% of crimes are committed by individuals of Danish origin (88% of the total population), 14% by individuals of non-Western descent and 3% by those of non-Danish Western descent. An index standardized for age shows that crime rates are 48% higher among male immigrants and 140% higher among male descendants of immigrants.

          Sweden is similar:

          Those with immigrant background are over-represented in Swedish crime statistics, but research shows that socioeconomic factors, such as unemployment, poverty, exclusion language, and other skills explain most of difference in crime rates between immigrants and natives.

          The Wiki section on France is truly pathetic (not worth publishing or reporting but I am sure it was):

          A 2009 study found “that the share of immigrants in the population has no significant impact on crime rates once immigrants’ economic circumstances are controlled for, while finding that unemployed immigrants tend to commit more crimes than unemployed non-immigrants.”[83] A study by sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar, director of studies at the EHESS, found that “Muslims, mostly from North African origin, are becoming the most numerous group in [French prisons].”[84][85] His work has been criticized for taking into account only 160 prisoners in 4 prisons, all close to northern Paris where most immigrants live.

          • Alon Levy

            It’s not just the one study by Khosrokhavar, though… IIRC it’s overall about 50% vs. 8%, so still factor-of-11 overrepresentation relative to population (and no, Muslims do not commit crimes at 11 times the rate of non-Muslims in France), just not the 2/3 in the original study.

          • SB

            Is there any country where ethnic minority which is poorer than rest of the population is not disproportionately inprisoned?

        • michaelrjames

          SB, 2019/11/15 – 09:51
          Is there any country where ethnic minority which is poorer than rest of the population is not disproportionately inprisoned?

          I answered that earlier:

          *Except in the actual immigrant nations of USA, Canada and Australia where crime rates are lower in immigrants!

          The crime rate of immigrants in those countries is lower than the non-immigrant communities. I suppose one possible rationale is that in other ‘old, established’ countries most people consider their nation to be their ancestral home, and so resent interlopers (and contrive to keep them poor & marginalised), while in the New World, almost everyone knows they come from somewhere else in relatively recent history, and it is accepted norm that the new arrivals will quickly integrate just like all of us have done. I read that even Japan (an extreme case obviously) wants to blame Chinese immigrants for a rise in crime (linked to criminal syndicates, they claim) which may or may not be true but reveals the cultural attitude behind the phenomenon.
          You can add NZ to that list, so it is a perfect correlation with “immigrant nations”. Though, dare I say, and FWIW, it also perfectly correlates with the Anglosphere …
          In his acclaimed book on the creation of modern Australia, Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes noted that this nation was founded as a dumping ground for criminals whom the motherland ejected nevertheless rapidly turned into one of the most law-abiding nations on earth.

      • Martin

        michaelrjames , you’re rather confused. No one asking for M16s. Geez…

        No one will jump a fare gate 10 feet in front of uniformed police officer. How did you come up with M16s?? Good lord!

        • michaelrjames

          Terribly sorry. Not being American I don’t know my semi-automatic high-powered weapons at all well. Maybe I meant A15s?

          • Nilo

            AR15 is what you mean. And I’ve never seen a normal cop using a rifle. Not that need to, the glocks they carry are plenty deadly.

  19. Reedman Bassoon

    BART has a three-pronged problem that it is dealing with concerning fare-evasion.
    1) BART has distance-based fares. So, you have to swipe-in AND swipe-out. Plus, there are airport surcharges. It is $12.40 to go from Fremont to SFO (a 30 mile drive).
    2) BART has had teen-gang problems, where a dozen kids hop the fare gates, rob/assault the passengers, and leave en-mass at the next stop over the gates before any law enforcement appears.
    3) The San Francisco stations have public areas before the gates. The #1 cause of escalator failure is human waste. Any maintenance on these escalators requires wearing haz-mat suits. Moving the gates upstream is a consideration.

    • Nilo

      BART charges too much, runs too little service, and its stations are too deep underground. Also its fare gates are an awful design to boot. What a wonderful system!

      The Swiss at least do zonal fares with monthly passes.

      Your second point sounds like moral panic.

      The third problem could be fixed if cities actually worked to provide public restrooms either free or at a nominal cost outside every station. There are at least a couple in SF (24th and 16th and Mission) that do this.

      Anyways BART isn’t special

  20. Michael

    In the context of most US metros, I think looking at transit fares in isolation is a mistake. We should be moving toward ALL in-city transportation should being pre-paid annual passes. I think what we really want to do bundle an annual transit pass, annual bikeshare, street parking pass, plus a local tolls discount, airport access pass, etc into a vehicle registration fee.

    And that should coincide with a transition of everything to a paid model, with app-based day/weekly passes. i.e. if someone from outside the metro drives and parks on-street they have to either meter or pay daily parking rates on a app.

    That would move most adults onto annual passes. Non-car owners would be able to buy an annual pass. Visitors would be on app based daily or weekly passes. Everything is proof of payment.

    • Alon Levy

      You specifically don’t want discounts on tolls, though… the point of tolling is to discourage car traffic, e.g. to reduce road congestion for other road users (inc. other cars).

      In Paris, Navigo can be used for bikeshare, but the fares aren’t integrated, only the fare media.

  21. Adrian

    Caltrain has an unlimited annual “GoPass” (http://www.caltrain.com/Fares/tickettypes/GO_Pass.html) they only make available to large employers, who must pay based on total eligible employee headcount and not actual employee usage.

    Until recently, the GoPass was a flash pass … no tagging required. But this meant Caltrain (or employers) had no data on actual usage. So Caltrain is transitioning the GoPass to require tagging on and off (Caltrain uses ~12.5-mile fixed fare zones as a super chunky proxy for more equitable true distance-based fares) … which will for the first time yield a cornucopia of data about GoPass use (station pairs, time of day, day of week, how often and by which employees of which program participants, etc.). But this also means a valid GoPass user could ironically be cited for fare “evasion” if they fail to tag on! And also that Caltrain may realize based on the new data whether they should be charging participating employers more or less, etc.

  22. metheth

    With regard to other countries in the Anglosphere, I think Singapore and London actually do have monthlies:

    Singapore has the “Adult Monthly Travel Card” allowing unlimited use of bus and train services for a month islandwide, for $120. Think this is a relatively recent initiative, maybe withn the last 5 years or so.

    London has monthly / yearly travelcards, but not on the “capping” system – you have to pre-purchase them and they’re valid for the month / year. For zones 1-2 for instance the weekly version is £35.10, monthly £134.80, yearly £1404, presenting some savings if you’re able to commit to the amount up-front!

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  24. at19204

    Why should systems like the Washington Metro spend money to tear down their faregates and adopt Proof of payment, spending money to make it easier to avoid paying the fare? That doesn’t make any sense.

    • Alon Levy

      Because it reduces maintenance costs and eliminates a serious bottleneck to pedestrian throughput, and I don’t think systems with faregates have lower fare evasion rates than systems with POP.

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  26. lcpitkan

    Slightly curiously Stockholm has faregates (as you certainly know). Nordic public transport is generally based on German practice, but this is an exception. I wonder how this came to be?
    The original plans for the Helsinki metro did take into account the possibility of installing faregates. Occasionally there is political lobbying and we did have at least one trial at one station. But most of our metro stations are not even staffed, so fare gates would be a huge cost for limited advantage. Trains and trams are also PoP.
    On most of our bus lines drivers check tickets on boarding, but we seem to be transitioning away from this as well. Our recent trunk bus lines have open boarding and both Helsinki and Espoo have indicated to the regional authority that they want more open boarding. This is hard to accept for our (moderate) right out of principle, but they now seem to be listening to solid arguments for operational efficiency.

    • Alon Levy

      I have no idea why Stockholm has fare barriers. I imagine Stockholm looked elsewhere than Germany in the 1950s? Evidently it did non-German things like building a full metro in a then-small city rather than a Stadtbahn and having Lokalbanan terminate in outlying areas with a T-bana transfer rather than trying to through-run them as S-Bahns.

      • lcpitkan

        I guess there could be some aspiration to greatness. Sweden was an empire once and Stockholm is the capital. In this context the metro is not totally out of place for German practice, just for bigger cities. And the metro did develop from a tram system as was once planned for the heavier Stadtbahns.
        I’m not sure about the Lokalbanan. Pendeltåg is the proper S-Bahn / RER after all and that started in 1968. Similar remnants to Roslagsbanan and Saltsjöbanan do exist in Germany as well. eg. the Albtalbahn before it was converted to tram-train.

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  28. Yossi Sprei

    Why have fare collection at all. If fares generally bring in X amount of revenue, then why would increasing tax revenue by X be bad. In reality, this would actually be a cost saving measure because any system to collect fares, be that fare gates or proof of payment, is very expensive, so getting your revenue from taxes instead of fares would actually be cheaper for the residents.

    • Alon Levy

      It’s not very expensive at all! London for example spends <2% of fare receipts on collection costs. And you can go even lower with barrier-free systems like Germany's…

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  30. michaelrjames

    FYI, I just came across this report (June 2021) on the fare crisis in the UK, as they come out of pandemic. [my selected extracts]


    The UK has one of the most backward commuting settlements in Europe in this regard. We are far behind some of the leading nations in terms of our approach to publicly available transportation. As examples in this report will show, commuting agreements around the world are far more progressive with regards to the distribution of the costs of commuting. Cities in both Germany and France, for example, are even trialling free public transport, with huge increases in passenger rates recorded.9
    According to the present report, there is a common misunderstanding as to what commuting really is and how it should be accounted for. This skewed thinking has meant that substantial financial burdens are being placed upon commuters (not to mention the public at large) whilst other beneficiaries of commuting (employers) are not contributing to its financing. This situation requires not only a shift in the thinking concerning the ownership of commuting infrastructure, but also a radical restructuring of its funding model.

    • The cost burden of commuting is unevenly and unethically distributed amongst the beneficiaries of this utility. These costs are financial, environmental and also pertain to health and wellbeing. In the majority of cases, commuters pay the fare, take the time and bear the brunt of the health costs.
    • These costs should therefore be understood as ‘hidden taxes’: they fall disproportionately on commuters and on the public purse, and benefit employers.
    • This report puts forward a relatively simple ‘Claim the Commute’ scheme as a solution to this problem.
    • ‘Claiming the Commute’ requires employers to pay for half of the commuting costs of their workforce that pertain to (more environmentally-friendly) modes of transport.
    • Such a scheme would save the working population billions of pounds every year, and will help rein out of control transport fares. Up to 20 million workers would see increases in real incomes. In the case of rail commutes, for example, £2.6 billion would return to the pockets of commuters should the scheme be fully rolled out.
    • Claim the Commute schemes can take the form of season tickets subsidies (STS), fare receipt claims, bike purchases, bus route subsidies, or petrol receipt claims if the job absolutely requires car transport.
    • We base such a policy on international examples wherein commuting costs are also born by employers, the state, or a combination of employer, state and commuter.

    Compared to other major European countries, commuting costs take up a considerably larger amount of workers’ pay (Table 1).
    Country…….From ……….To……….Month pass…%av earnings
    France……..Étampe……..Paris………£68 ………….2%

    • Alon Levy

      Cities in both Germany and France, for example, are even trialling free public transport, with huge increases in passenger rates recorded.

      Um, no. The norm here is that big cities fund urban rail out of fares; the U-Bahn breaks even here, and I think also in Munich. In France there are subsidies to suburban rail and buses, but the Métro is most likely profitable by itself (the fares are barely lower than here, the operating costs are the same, passenger traffic density is a lot higher). It’s true that Dunkirk is trialing free public transport, but Dunkirk isn’t exactly a shining example of good transit – and its free transit trial mostly reduced cycling rates with barely any effect on driving rates.

      You can sometimes find left-populists here who promise great fare reductions, but these just soak up subsidies that could go to better service. For example, some fringe party that won’t make it to the Abgeordnetenhaus has election posters promising 30€ monthlies, down from 86€ today; BVG fare revenue was 766.3M€ in 2019, and the reduction, around 500M€/year, is similar in scope to the size of the ongoing investment plan, around 2 km of city center subway or 3 km of suburban subway; the Berlin map I just posted has 24 km of new tunnel inside the Ring (ex-S21 bits already under construction) and 32 outside, so fare reduction subsidies are in competition with such expansion and should not be pursued.

      • Sassy

        > The norm here is that big cities fund urban rail out of fares; the U-Bahn breaks even here, and I think also in Munich.

        Then the S-Bahn probably gets a lot of subsidies at least outside of the trunk areas. I guess the numbers on Wikipedia are old, but according to its list, neither BVG nor MVV break even on fares.

        This would be different from London, where Underground makes a sizable profit, and Overground about breaks even.

        • Alon Levy

          BVG doesn’t break even on fares, but that’s because of buses, not the U-Bahn. And the S-Bahn gets subsidies because of lower suburban ridership, same as the RER/Transilien.

          • Sassy

            > And the S-Bahn gets subsidies because of lower suburban ridership, same as the RER/Transilien.

            And the Overground runs nearly break even, which I think is what the report was complaining about.

      • michaelrjames


        OK, you’ve nit-picked one thing from that report. I’m not sure how much they were promoting free transit (I only browsed it) but their predominant conclusion about UK policy on fares and costs was solid. I am on record on your blog as not supporting free transit, but I certainly believe in reasonable fares which inevitably means some ‘subsidy’, though it is true that it should not be called that, rather a sharing of costs among all those who benefit from transit. For Ile de France the versement transport VT payroll tax has at times funded 40% of StiF’s operational costs (I don’t know how that breaks down for different modes) and it sounded like they were proposing something like that for the UK.

        This report is by a NGO so almost zero chance of anything like it being adopted by a conservative government.

        • Alon Levy

          It isn’t broken down for different modes, because it’s a single system that’s mostly fare-integrated, unlike London and very unlike American cities. Likewise, even though the Helsinki Metro is profitable, it works in conjunction with buses, trams, and commuter trains that are not, it’s just that there’s an imputation of revenues by mode/operator offered in Helsinki and (sort of) Berlin but not in Paris.

          • michaelrjames


            Right, but buses represent a small fraction of total pax, certainly in the centre but presumably more in the outer regions (where they will also be less cost-efficient).

            Anyway, you’re getting stuck in the weeds and one would almost think that is some kind of distracting argument away from the main game: affordable and equitable transit. (We know this is not true as evidenced by–as one example–your upcoming conf.) The Anglosphere does a shockingly poor job on this. But speaking of … this year begins the process of contracting out some RER lines to private management, seemingly driven by right-winger Valerie Pecresse. I don’t know if the EU’s Open Access is involved but this wilfully stupid experiment has plenty of evidence to suggest where it ends. I mention it because it brings up awkward issues of those subsidies: do they extend to these private entities? The answer inevitably will be yes, and this despite paying high salaries and absurd high bonuses to senior execs etc (which went on even as those companies marched into bankruptcy.) In fact, the UK’s disaster of rail privatisation saw much higher subsidy from central government than before privatisation! And of course worse service. Or maybe it is part of a longer-term game by Pecresse and conservatives to kill the VT which was made more ubiquitous by Mitterrand (the Chevènement law). Here’s (below) the usual b.s. about improving efficiency etc that has been utterly discredited. Is France really going to repeat this nonsense?

            Île de France Mobility wants to improve service quality, achieve greater operator responsiveness, find innovative solutions and improve passenger information. It also wants to improve efficiency in order to procure a better rail service for Ile-de-France residents without increasing operating costs.

          • fjod

            I don’t think anyone could reasonably make the argument that rail privatisation in the UK saw worse service. Privatisation is expensive, uncoordinated and dysfunctional, but the trains are nicer and come more often.

          • michaelrjames


            That’s not my impression but admit I don’t have direct experience for several decades now. Even my last, reluctant, trip there I was forced to take a very early bus from Brighton to Heathrow. That was my old ‘home’ ground, ie. the routes that after privatisation were run as Southern. Perhaps this is a Grauniad beat-up but it would have to be on a Trumpian scale. The dissatisfaction with Southern was legendary.

            Southern is a story of rail failure. But the real agenda is to crush the unions
            This is the most farcical privatisation even by the comedic standards of British railways – and the aim is to defeat one of the last holdouts of organised labour
            Aditya Chakrabortty, 19 July 2016.

            The only thing predictable about the service is that it’s always awful: the train you want is odds-on to be late or cancelled. If the next one is running, it’s so crammed you can’t get on. Every commute brims over with aggro. Wedged in overcrowded carriages, fellow passengers suffer panic attacks. The local newspaper reports how other commuters have missed work so often, they’ve lost their job; how students have missed exams or holidaymakers haven’t made flights.

            And it’s part of the largest train franchise in Britain, Govia Thameslink. Also known as GTR – majority owned by the Go Ahead group – it ferries commuters from across the south coast into London Bridge and Victoria. It takes tourists and business travellers to Gatwick and Luton airports. Its empire stretches from Peterborough to Tonbridge to Bognor Regis and Brighton. In a country that has, stupidly, bet everything on London, GTR is utterly crucial to the national economy.
            And it does an appalling job. It cancels more trains than all the other rail firms in Britain put together. It boasts the worst record on significant lateness. It is the worst performing train operator of the lot. And it shows little sign of improving.
            Its response last week to the cancellation of so many Southern trains was to issue a new timetable, removing one in six of its trains. Of all the oddities thrown up by rail privatisation, this must rank among the oddest: a train company in the business of running fewer trains.

          • Phake Nick

            Japan’s railway privatization and broken up was also said as for the purpose of crushing railway union. It caused continuous scale back of services but all see it as a natural result of motorization and expansion of highway into rural area, in addition to aging and reducing population in rural area, although even the Japanese COmmunist Party is support of the union against privatization failed to imagine the scale of effect it’s causing right now in their PR material at the time.

          • borners

            @Phake Nick Sorry that narrative is wrong, the pro-car consensus was if anything more dominant 1950-1987, highways and railways were actually paired together e.g. in Niigata with Tanaka using both to molify Tsubame-Sanjo divisions. The JR companies failures with conventional rail outside the megacities are a point of continuity with JNR not a departure. Ridership on those marginal branch lines was cratering before. Ridership was concentrated in too-old-and-poor to ride a car. The lack of S-bahn style operation patterns in the non-megacity regions is a failure of government and private-sector since no-ones pushing it. Sendai for instance is very much concrete before electronics/operations. Rural mode-share collapse isn’t about private vs public its about the mismanagement of regional cities and their relationship to their hinterlands. And that’s before we get to lack of light-rail.

            Viewed through a regional city perspective JNR was bad, the neglect of infill alone, I counted 15+ new stations on the Sanyo mainline alone all of them getting 2000 riders a day, and only a minority where in Hanshin area! DMU branch lines as political patronage are a waste! Even today way too many stations on the Iida or Yonesaka lines while too few on the Kagoshima area ones, the urbanised Ou line areas or the Yosan line. Get the Niigata/Sendai/Morioka/Aomori/Akita/Matsuyama right before complaining about the Senboku/Daigo/Iiiyama places where nobody lives and a railway which is a high-capacity system is increasingly a poor fit.

          • Eric2

            I just looked at Sendai. Wow, I had no idea a Japanese city could have so much car dependent sprawl! Their policy may be concrete before electronics/operations, but much of the city isn’t even close to any concrete.

          • Frederick

            @Eric2 Some of the sprawl was developed during the bubble era , but the public transportation was scrapped after the bubble burst.

            Would you say that SNCF fails to provide good service to the regional cities of France?

    • Sassy

      Is it even desirable to reduce commuting costs?

      Most people move further from the city to save on housing costs, but that is balanced by commuting costs and time. While commuting time is always going to stop people from living too far away, I can’t see how lowering commuting costs isn’t going to push a lot of people further out than they currently are.

      Japan has a norm of subsidized commuting costs (mostly employer subsidized, but the amount of government subsidy increases as income increases since it comes as a tax benefit), and while it’s cool that people can and do commute via Shinkansen from exurbs over 100km from the city center, I don’t think that is behavior the government should promote.

      If the goal is to get people to stop driving to work, then making driving more expensive and housing cheaper, and promoting denser inner suburbs, seems like the much better choice, as politically difficult as that is.

      • michaelrjames


        Affordable transit, along with affordable housing, is just one thing in not only creating an equitable society, but as economists now realise (doh!) a healthy economy too. Not least, via job access.

        • Sassy

          Transit, even expensive transit, is nearly always affordable as is. Maybe concession fares are needed for the very poor, but the costs of even expensive transit pale in comparison to the cost of even heavily subsidized car ownership nevermind accurately priced car ownership.

          If subsidized transit leads to people moving further out and leading more car oriented lives, it could even increase transportation costs, as people saved money on housing by moving to a further out area, but end up needing a car for many non-commute trips.

          • michaelrjames

            @Sassy: “If subsidized transit leads to people moving further out and leading more car oriented lives, it could even increase transportation costs, as people saved money on housing by moving to a further out area, but end up needing a car for many non-commute trips.”

            I more or less agree but then if we compare Greater Paris with Tokyo, the former with very affordable transit and the latter with more expensive transit, then clearly it doesn’t always follow, ie. cheaper transit promoting sprawl.

            That is a ridiculous and misleading claim. It is taking all the land area of Ile de France and ignoring that huge parts of it are either farmland (eg. 70% of department 77 Seine-et-Marne) and has huge forests and national parks (eg. the Foret de Fontainebleau is 2.5x the size of intramuros Paris! 250km2). As I pointed out in a recent post, Melun which is on the other side of the river Seine to Fontainebleu about 45km from central Paris, has ≈50,000 residents at density ≈5,000/km2.
            The most urbanised zone is Paris + Petite Couronne: 6,695,233 (2011) on 761km2 = 8,786/km2. I have seen a claim of Ile de France urbanised zone as 3,640/km2. On similar basis Greater Tokyo is 2,788/km2 which is still quite dense compared to US cities or urbanised areas.

            And you really have no excuse for not understanding this as I explained it all, here:

          • Sassy

            > I more or less agree but then if we compare Greater Paris with Tokyo, the former with very affordable transit and the latter with more expensive transit, then clearly it doesn’t always follow, ie. cheaper transit promoting sprawl.

            For commutes, especially the suburban crowd, transit is essentially free as to user, as it’s paid for by the employer, and the income is untaxed by the government.

            Cheaper transit is promoting sprawl in both cases.

            > It is taking all the land area of Ile de France and ignoring that huge parts of it are either farmland (eg. 70% of department 77 Seine-et-Marne) and has huge forests and national parks (eg. the Foret de Fontainebleau is 2.5x the size of intramuros Paris! 250km2)

            It’s a comparable region to Greater Tokyo (the most common Itto Sanken borders) which includes a lot of farmland and is predominantly wilderness. Even the Tokyo MEA which is just municipalities with 10% commuting into the 23 Wards is a ton of wilderness, as wilderness area is included in municipal borders (zero unincorporated land, all wilderness belongs to a municipality administratively).

      • michaelrjames

        @Sassy: “Japan has a norm of subsidized commuting costs (mostly employer subsidized, but the amount of government subsidy increases as income increases since it comes as a tax benefit), and while it’s cool that people can and do commute via Shinkansen from exurbs over 100km from the city center, I don’t think that is behavior the government should promote.”

        I wasn’t going to get into that argument but you’re right. However, again one should compare the compact arrangement of Ile de France versus what happens with Japan & Tokyo’s laissez-faire ‘development’ policies.

        • Henry

          > However, again one should compare the compact arrangement of Ile de France versus what happens with Japan & Tokyo’s laissez-faire ‘development’ policies.

          The entire Tokyo metro area has a population density of 2642 people per sq km, whereas Paris has a population density of 1010 people per sq km. The greater sprawl is mostly because Tokyo is the larger capital of the larger country, with more than triple the population of Paris in terms of metro area.

        • Sassy

          For cities and the innermost suburbs:

          * Paris + Petite Couronne are 762km^2 with a population density of 8.8k/km^2

          * The 23 Wards of Tokyo are 619km^2 with a population density of 15.1k/km^2

          For the metro area as a whole:

          * Île-de-France is 12,012km^2 with a population density of 1.0k/km^2

          * Itto Sanken is 13,500km^2 with a population density of 2.6k/km^2

          * Kanto + Shizuoka (wide enough to cover pretty much every Tokyo commuter including distant Shinkansen suburbs, though is dominated by wilderness and includes many towns that don’t have commute links with Tokyo at all) is 40,200km^2 with a population density of 1.1k/km^2

          While it would be much better to have density presented as a map with high granularity, the overall figures suggests that Tokyo is more compact and denser.

          In any case, it should be clear that both Paris and Tokyo could be much more compact than they currently are. Both are negatively impacted by heavy commute subsidies. Subsidizing transit commutes is certainly much better than subsidizing car commutes, but the end result still seems like it could be much better if commutes were less subsidized.

        • Nilo

          You really have no reason to be making this claim. Just please stop being ridiculous. If you want to do an apples to apples comparison go find satellite data and use it. Until then stop acting like these “exceptions” that exist for Paris won’t exist for Tokyo.

  31. Phake Nick

    In Hong Kong MTR system, with both the gated heavy rail system and open access light rail system, the operator have employed a lot of additional fare inspector at all stations, to the point multiple of them are visible at every ticket gate, trying to curb down any attempts at undermining the system’s revenue, following a trend of distrust against the political stance in operation of the MTR system. Multiple use of violence by these inspectors. have been recorded, including against people with mental disability trying to validate their ticket with their disability discount count, with fare inspector questioning authenticity of the disabled passenger’s proof of disability, and MTR have defended these actions by saying they are allowed to use reasonable violence against those who suspected to have violated their bylaw.

    Fare evasion rate on Hong Kong’s open, non-gated, LRT system in year 2002-2005 was said to be only 0.4%, but there doesn’t seems to be any more updated data

    Another data shows, as of 2017-2018, among people using elderly traveler subsidy across all the public transit system in Hong Kong, only 0.11%, or 144 people, are actually abusing it. But the government still think this is a severe problem to the government budget, and is now proposing the adaption of a new ID-based system for the elderly discount, requiring elderly across the city obtain a new transit card with their name and photo printed onto it, and show the photo to drivers or ticket validators whenever they want to ride public transit, so as to avoid such sort of abuse. They claim such abuse could be costing the government hundreds of million in long term.

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