New York City Transit already has the highest fare box operating ratio in the nation at 53%. That is the share of operating costs covered by fares. MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said in September that “when you compare the public support given to mass transit agencies nationwide on a per customer basis, New York ranks at the very bottom.
In comparison to New York City Transit’s 53% ratio, the average for large systems nation-wide that operate both buses and subways was 38% in 2011. That’s according to the Federal Transit Administration in 2011, its most recent figures. Looking at big cities that run both subways and buses, the farebox operating ratio in Boston was 38%, Chicago 44%, Los Angeles 27%, Philadelphia 37%, and Washington, D.C. 42%.
Forget big cities; let's look at cities with really low farebox recovery. These are the top agencies in the country, right?
|Agency||Farebox Recovery Ratio|
|The Greater New Haven Transit District (does not include CT Transit buses)||0.5 %|
|SunLine Transit Agency (Riverside, CA)||1.5 %|
|Southeast Tennessee Human Resource Agency (SETHRA)||2.7 %|
|Crescent City Connection Division (New Orleans Ferries)||2.7 %|
|City of Glendale Transit (AZ)||3.1 %|
|Twin Cities Area Transportation Authority (Benton Harbor and Saint Joseph, MI)||3.2 %|
|Broward County Community Bus Service (FL)||3.4 %|
|Muncie Indiana Transit System (MITS)||3.6 %|
|Clarkstown Mini-Trans (NY)||3.8 %|
|Cleveland Area Rapid Transit (OH)||3.9 %|
This is a really weird way to think about farebox recovery. There are a lot of transit systems in other parts of the world, and even in this country. that have a much higher farebox recovery ratio. If you don't want to go to Hong Kong, just head up to the Port Authority for a bus to the exotic land of Hudson County, New Jersey, where all the most frequent routes are privately owned and operated. Sure, the Port Authority runs the PATH trains and the state of New Jersey runs a slew of coverage and anchor routes. But if you added up all the routes, I'm guessing the farebox recovery would be way above 53%.
Does Hudson County have an inferior transit system? Well, yes. They only have two subway lines and one light rail line, and everything else is buses that can get stuck in traffic or ferries that don't go very close to people's homes. Some of the buses are crowded or noisy, or have saggy seats. But that's not because they have a high farebox recovery ratio. It's because the zoning is crazy, and encourages people to drive instead of taking transit. With all the parking that's been built, it's a wonder that anyone takes the bus.
People do take the bus in Hudson County, because it's frequent and convenient. That's a lot more than you can say for the buses run by the Southeast Tennessee Human Resource Agency, even if they are a bit newer and cleaner.
If anything, we should be shooting for a higher farebox recovery ratio. That would insulate transit users from the predatory demands of people like Lee Zeldin and Scott Vanderhoef. If we pay for all our transit, what would they be able to take?
The fact is that farebox recovery doesn't have anything to do with pubic support for transit, and it doesn't have anything to do with the quality of transit. It's a reflection of the efficiency of the transit system (supply) and the lack of competition from cars (demand). That's the bottom line. Hearing Gene Russianoff kvetching about high farebox recovery is discouraging, and hearing Joe Lhota repeating that is depressing.