Sunday, July 1, 2012

Happy New (Fiscal) Year

Can you hear the fireworks? The MBTA has brought you a brand new fare increase! Well, actually those fireworks are probably some overeager teenagers who just got back from NH. And you didn't want the fare increase. But how much will it discourage daily ridership, which has been booming lately? A CTPS study suggests between a -3.4% and -7.8% effect, based on past experience. The corresponding increase in overall private vehicle-miles traveled is projected at +289,244, or 0.28%, while the increase in vehicle-hours is +17,491 (0.55%).

Other research, recently pointed out to me by Alon, also found that while the relative cost of private vs public transportation seemed to affect car usage, the correlation was not significant. On the other hand, an increase in the absolute cost for the private mode was linked with high confidence to a decrease in automobile usage. This model seems to imply that car usage and corresponding public transportation ridership could only be affected a small amount when fares change within a reasonable margin. Another interesting thing they found was that two of the most significant variables linked to car usage are size of the rapid-transit network (urban rail) and average speed of the roadway network.

Although these data come from East Asian cities, this result seems to agree with the general feeling of most people that fare hikes are tolerable, but service cuts are not. For people who depend upon a route, a service cut is almost tantamount to an eviction from their residence, as they may be forced to move elsewhere in order to continue to use the system (assuming they do not have other options).

In related news, Acting General Manager Jonathan Davis is crediting the recent surge in ridership to the front door-only policy:
The MBTA launched a pilot program on the E branch of the Green Line in January requiring all riders to enter and exit only through a trolley’s front door except during rush hour periods. The policy was expanded to the C branch in February, the D in April and finally the B in May, the first month when the back door ban was in full effect across all four branches.
Acting T General Manager Jonathan Davis told the Herald that the policy likely contributed to ridership on the light rail system rising 9.1 percent last month over the same period last year.
It seems that the T is grasping for straws here to justify the policy which inconveniences riders, increases dwell-times and slows down operations. The problem with GM Davis's reasoning is that the front door-only policy was not strictly enforced on the "B" and "C" until June. I say that as a rider and someone who spent the latter half of May wondering when they were going to start forcing me to exit through the front door. It seems a little premature to be pointing to these statistics and claiming that they are evidence of effectiveness.

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