In Ohio and elsewhere, buses are free as a result of the Covid 19 crisis. Here’s why this can make both drivers and drivers safer.
The spread of the corona virus has created difficulties for American transit agencies. The number of drivers has dropped – as much as 70% on the Bay Area’s BART system – bring a corresponding decrease in tariff revenue. With millions of Americans working from home looking for shelter, health professionals and city guides are trying to prevent unnecessary travel. However, many key workers rely on public transportation. Even when those in charge of the agencies reorganize their budgets, they try to protect their drivers and employees while at the same time offering passengers a service that offers no other way of getting around. You are in an unenviable position, to say the least.
Several transit agencies have chosen a novel and not intuitive strategy to survive the current crisis: Let the passengers drive for free. For example, on March 16, agencies in Akron, Canton, Toledo, and Youngstown announced that they would stop collecting tariffs until the virus died down. (Disclosure: I did consultancy work for the city of Akron.) Many other systems Vermont to Nevadatake a similar approach.
Those responsible for these agencies imagine that toll-free transit can achieve two urgent goals at the same time. First and foremost, the move can help protect transit passengers and employees. Because the corona virus can easily spread among groups in close contact – which ones the CDC defined as people within six feet of each other – transit officials were particularly concerned about the risks of getting on the bus if passengers gather in front of the door before standing inches from a driver while paying their fares. There are also signs that the virus could live on paper and metalthat can contain currency and farecards.
Drop tariffs – along with Introduction of boarding guidelines only for back doors – could make public transport safer by limiting close interactions between bus drivers and passengers and eliminating the need for passengers to band together before boarding. Kirk Conrad, the canton’s SARTA agency CEO, said in early March that he found transit agencies in European countries liked this Switzerland had started using tape to make room between bus drivers and drivers. “I had to avoid as much contact with the operator as possible,” he says.
The free transit can offer yet another benefit: a financial cushion for drivers struggling during the pandemic. “Many drivers have jobs in the service industry, but they have lost their jobs and they are crawling,” says Dawn Distler, managing director of Akron’s METRO system. “They don’t know how to pay bills and we want to make it easier for them.”
Dean Harris, managing director of Youngstowns WRTA, repeated this sentiment, saying in an email that his agency is lowering tariffs to “help passengers affected by lost wages at all closings”.
To be clear, these agencies have promised Break Collective tariffs during the pandemic, do not end permanently like their colleagues in Kansas City and Olympia, Washington hope to do. According to Conrad from SARTA, his agency’s tariffs in normal times are between $ 150,000 and $ 200,000 a month, an amount he may have to cover. “I can’t give up the tariffs permanently,” he says. WRTA’s Harris says that when the state of Ohio ends its current state of emergency, its tariff collecting system will resume. Only the METRO distler was denied and said: “If we find that we can continue to drive for free, it is possible that we will keep it.”
There is a reason why these relatively small transportation systems in Ohio are able to temporarily stop pricing while maintaining service levels: their operating costs are already heavily subsidized by the government. The SARTA system covers around 15% of its operating costs from tariffs (the so-called “Farebox Recovery Ratio”), while METRO only collects around 10%. If these agencies continued to burden drivers during the pandemic, their Farebox recovery rates would be even lower than normal due to declines in passengers (around 25% for METRO, 30% for WRTA and 40% for SARTA).
Agencies with low Farebox recovery rates may be able to cope with a short-term drop in tariff revenue without quickly cutting service because most of their revenue comes from government sources. For larger ones like MTA in New York City, Metra in Chicago or New Jersey Transit this is not possible: these systems will be fine over a third of operating income from tariffs. The chairman of the New York MTA has already made an application Billion lifeline alone for his agency. As CityLab’s Laura Bliss writes, large, price-sensitive transportation systems in major cities need some kind of emergency funding to avoid catastrophic long-term damage caused by driver falls.
However, public transport advisor Jarrett Walker believes that temporary free travel for transit systems in smaller towns across the country could be a wise decision. “It probably makes sense to sacrifice a little fare to increase the safety of people using the transit system,” he says. “The amount of money at stake may be manageable.”
That doesn’t mean it will be easy for these agencies to find the money they need to go on without charging tariffs during a continuing pandemic transit drought. None of the executives I spoke to offered details on how they could do this.
On the other hand, these transit leaders have other concerns. METRO’s Distler put aside a question of how much it will cost to move their agency: “Sometimes you only have to help our drivers and our drivers. I have to say that we will take care of it later, but we will. “
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