Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How not to do fare collection

Recently, the Daily News has been looking at fare-beating, starting with two pieces by Pete Donohue on March 17 and March 18. Earlier this month, Donohue's colleague Mike Jaccarino filed a report of fare-beating on the Bx12 Select Bus.

This offered Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz a ready-made excuse for his tepid support of the proposed B44 Select Bus service on Nostrand Avenue:

I’m not fighting it, I’m open to it, but I am just concerned that the system is set up in a way that it is easy for those that want to use the bus not to pay a thing and we lose even more money for the MTA.

If you've spent any time in Paris, you know what it means to take fare control seriously. In Paris, transit passengers are required to have a ticket or pass on them at all times. There are dedicated teams of "contrôleurs" who travel around the city on foot and by transit, setting up checkpoints at bends in subway corridors. On buses and commuter trains, they board simultaneously at the front and rear to cut off the possibility of escape. They work as the bus moves and get off when they've checked everyone.

By contrast, the Select Bus enforcement teams do not actually ride the bus. In some bizarre scenario out of CHiPs, the control teams drive up to the bus in an SUV, board it and check everyone's receipts, then get back in their vehicle and drive away. While this is happening, the bus just sits there, so everyone's trip is delayed by at least five minutes.

Of course this undercuts any attempt to market the Select buses as an alternative to a private car. But worse, if there are too many of these sweeps, it would wipe out the time advantage over traditional bus service. Jaccarino quotes a number of people who are legitimately angry that other people are riding for free while they pay, and have to futz with the validation receipts. But they assign vague blame to "the MTA" - a classic "bad MTA" story - instead of looking at what exactly the MTA is doing wrong: accommodating enforcement personnel who think they're too good to ride the bus.

The News could actually do a great service by printing a series on the myriad ways that New York City residents and taxpayers lose time and money by accommodating law enforcement personnel who think they're too good to ride transit. It would be on a par with their Boulevard of Death series, and a tremendous improvement over the simplistic "Queens Parking Crunch" series. But I'm not holding my breath; who reads the News, after all?

If the News is able to drum up enough outrage to bring about effective fare collection, great! More revenue is a good thing. But it is not worth adding more delays to everyone's trip and undermining the goals of Select Bus Service.


Allie Cat said...

We here in Southern California (and really throughout the state- BART is the only fully faregate-controlled rail system we have) have been doing Proof-of-payment for coming up on two decades. On my particular commuter rail line, a team of LA County Sheriffs boards the train at it's departure station, checks each car between stations, then alights in Los Angeles, repeating the experience on a return trip. Similar enforcement patterns prevail on the Los Angeles Metro system, including the Orange Line BRT.

That proof-of-payment inspectors would actually hold up a bus for five minutes... and a BRT, no less... is unconscionable. Tell the NY MTA that they're supposed to be a better role model for American transit.

CityLights said...

They do what? If I heard this from a less credible source, I probably wouldn't even believe it. The enforcement teams don't ride the buses? What a bizarre, convoluted scheme. I would've never thought of it. I thought they all do it the same way as in Paris.

Alon Levy said...


Q: what is the difference between a unicorn and a competent American government agency?

A: fewer people believe unicorns exist.