Sunday, January 24, 2010

The 2008 farebox numbers

The National Transit Database has released its figures for 2008. One of these figures is the "Fare Revenues per Total Operating Expense (Recovery Ratio)." It shows, for each transit "agency" (including for-profit companies) that reports to the government, what percentage of the operating expenses are covered by the fares paid by passengers. Here are the top ten bus agencies:
AgencyFarebox Recovery Ratio
Trans-Bridge Lines, Inc.114.9
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA, Trolleybus only)110.6
New Jersey Transit Corporation-45 (NJTC-45)104.7
Community Transit, Inc. (Community Transit)101.3
Trans-Hudson Express100.2
Orange-Newark-Elizabeth, Inc. (Coach USA)100.0
Olympia Trails Bus Company, Inc. (Coach USA)99.3
Martz Group, National Coach Works of Virginia (NCW)98.0
Hudson Transit Lines, Inc. (Short Line)94.2
Suburban Transit Corporation (Coach USA)87.6
Academy Lines, Inc.84.1
Adirondack Transit Lines, Inc. (Adirondack Trailways)81.4
DeCamp Bus Lines80.9
Rockland Coaches, Inc.77.0
Lakeland Bus Lines, Inc.74.9
Monroe Bus Corporation73.7
Monsey New Square Trails Corporation73.6
Blacksburg Transit (BT)57.3
Chapel Hill Transit (CHT)56.8

The numbers are roughly the same as 2007. The Gainesville and Davis transit systems have been edged out by SEPTA's trolleybuses, which seem to be reported separately this year, and by the Martz Group (which appears to have started reporting just in 2008). Some agencies, like Bonanza and Trans-Bridge, made a relatively large profit, while some of the others lagged.

I noticed that after the Lincoln Tunnel buses (and the SEPTA trolleybuses), the other bus companies that have relatively high recovery ratios (i.e. over 37%) are all college towns (and NJ Transit): Virginia Tech, UNC, Florida, Penn State, James Madison, Texas Tech, Georgia, etc. This fits with Jarrett's observation that cities with low car ownership tend to either be old, poor or college towns.

Interestingly, there's not much overlap between the college towns that have low overall car ownership and those with high farebox recovery. I'm guessing that that's because the towns on Jarrett's list are mostly cities with additional populations, including a number of low-income riders, so they run a lot of unprofitable routes that offset the profitable student routes.

Finally, I took a peek at non-bus numbers. There are some oddities, like the inclined planes (funiculars) of Chattanooga (186%) and Pittsburgh (115%), which cater more to tourists these days. There are the ferry routes operated by New York Waterway (139%) and BillyBey (115%) across the Hudson between New York and New Jersey, which are profitable by the same principle as the Lincoln Tunnel buses.

Then we get to rail: the NYC subways (67%), BART (65%), WMATA (61%), the MBTA light and heavy rail services, Metro-North, SEPTA commuter rail, NJ Transit commuter rail, SEPTA subways, and the light rail systems of San Diego and Denver (all between 50 and 60%).

There seems to be a definite pattern:
Farebox Recovery RatioAgencies
70-200%Lincoln Tunnel buses, inclined planes, Hudson River ferries, SEPTA trolleybuses
40-69%Big city rail, college town buses
30-39%Big city bus and light rail
0.1-29%Small and medium city bus and light rail, plus assorted boondoggles
0Free services


Yonah Freemark said...

Unless we're discussing a different Chapel Hill Transit here, I'm not sure how it could have a 56.8% farebox recovery ratio... when it's fare free. Explain that one.

Cap'n Transit said...

Hah! Good catch, Yonah! Clearly, Chapel Hill Transit is fare=free, and yet they report that 50% of their operating expenses come from the farebox (PDF).

They do charge for game-day shuttles, but according to the town financial report (PDF, page 30), fares were less than 3% of operating revenue. They did get almost half their money in operating assistance from UNC, so they must have reported that as farebox revenue.

saosebastiao said...

Most university towns actually do have indirect fare systems, paid directly by the university. The universities intentionally subsidize transit cards for their students, in order to maximize usable space.

Chapel Hill Transit isn't exactly like that, but they do receive their operating budget partially from the University. They are probably counting the subsidies they receive from the University as fare revenue, to distinguish it from government.

Jarrett ( said...

Cap'n. Do all the top performers you list benefit from exclusive links through chokepoints, like the Lincoln Tunnel services? Or are there other key factors?

Cap'n Transit said...

Jarrett, of the bus services with more than 70% farebox recovery, every single one runs buses through the Lincoln Tunnel, except for Orange-Newark-Elizabeth, which appears to benefit from some exclusive bus lanes in Newark.

Martz runs several commuter buses from NYC to the Poconos, as well as some Virginia-to-DC commuter services, which use HOV lanes.

Since this is 2008, when the price of diesel was at its peak, I think the performance of the SEPTA "trackless trolleys" was high because they didn't use diesel. SEPTA doesn't seem to care, though, and does not plan to order any more (PDF).

arcady said...

I think the performance of SEPTA's trolleybuses can be explained by the fact that it's only three fairly busy urban routes. Most bus systems have a mix of busy routes and ones that operate at a loss to provide increased coverage, but I'm sure there are plenty of bus systems where if you split off a few routes, those would be profitable on their own.

Adirondacker12800 said...

The exclusive bus lane in Newark runs for about two blocks and doesn't serve the Coach USA lines. But then Newark makes it easy for buses to serve downtown. At peak there's no parking, standing, thinking about standing or otherwise blocking the the bus stops which, during rush hour take up whole blocks. ( Some lines use the leading end of the block, some lines use the center of the block and some lines use the trailing end of the block )

MLD said...

Came over to this from Greater Greater Washington. Great post. About college town transit agencies - if you look at the operating expense per unlinked passenger trip for those agencies, it's MUCH lower than other bus services. I believe this is because many of those services use volunteers (students) to drive the buses, so their operating costs are lower. That also helps explain the high recovery ratio.

Anonymous said...

How many of these agencies with high fare box recovery rates are privately owned or operated? I can't tell from your table.

Cap'n Transit said...

Good question, Anonymous! The only "agencies" with greater than 50% farebox recovery that are not privately owned and operated are SEPTA, New Jersey Transit and the two college services, Blacksburg Transit and Chapel Hill Transit.

Of course, many of these "private" agencies receive substantial capital subsidies. I still don't know what "NJTC-45" is, but it's listed separately from the main NJ Transit listing.