Thursday, April 22, 2010

Keeping perspective on fare collection

As discussed previously, Mike Jaccarino, the Bronx reporter for the Daily News, recently ran a story about the MTA's lax fare inspection practices on the Bx12 Select Bus pilot program. Jaccarino's simplistic "they're getting away with it" narrative completely missed the bigger story: that the MTA is losing money because the fare inspectors refuse to ride the bus, instead forcing it to sit for five minutes or more at each inspection.

Some readers were shocked, with good reason: I don't think any other transit agency does it this way. Sadly, this is not an isolated problem; the NYPD does not usually patrol buses for any other reason, leaving the driver in charge of law enforcement in addition to all their other responsibilities.

Jaccarino's simplistic report allowed Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz to duck responsibility for ensuring adequate bus service to his constituents:
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 believe Markowitz, the MTA lost money by converting the Bx12 Limited to Select Bus Service, and will lose even more with the B44 and any future Select lines. If his concern for MTA financing were genuine, Markowitz might be surprised to know that the Bx12 is New York City Transit's second most profitable route, with fares covering 123% of operating costs and 64% of total costs. We don't have pre-Select data to compare it to, but it's likely that the Select service has contributed to this success.

So how can the line be so financially successful if there's so much farebeating? First of all, the MTA insists that there isn't. But even if there is, the Select Bus Service offers enough value that it attracts additional paying customers who more than make up for the money lost to farebeaters. That's another important point that Jaccarino missed.

There are a number of reasons why it's still a good idea to get the MTA/NYPD to do proper fare inspections:

1. The current procedure is fucking nuts.
2. Now that Jaccarino spilled the beans, farebeating will probably go way up.
3. More fare inspections will bring that income even higher, possibly even paying for the capital expenses.

Most importantly, even with the fare evasion, it's still a very good idea to put Select Bus Service on the B44. That line is currently the 40th most profitable route in New York City Transit, recovering 88% of operating costs and 46% of total costs. If Select service brings that up over 100% of operating costs, that would save almost $29,000 per day, or $11 million per year. Not a ton of money, but nothing to sneeze at.

1 comment:

Alon Levy said...

Having fare inspectors board the bus would require zero capital expense. Having fare inspectors carry handheld MetroCard readers, allowing them to verify unlimited monthly cards without the need to swipe, would require a trivial capital expense.