Justine McIntyre says:
“I had the opportunity to study free public transit in depth for an economics project at HEC. Although my colleagues and I were initially favourably biased towards free transit, our study led us to conclude against it. Here’s why.”
This was in response to a post advocating free services:
Here’s Justine’s response:
- Modal transfer. Based on research from cities where free public transit was implemented, modal transfer is often quite low for drivers (20%) and higher for active transit users, like pedestrians and cyclists, many of whom are already occasional transit users.
- Problem misidentification. In fact, the obstacles to transit most mentioned by transit users or would-be users is not cost, rather: crowding, lack of frequency, and service interruptions. All of which risk being exacerbated by free transit.
- Social receptivity to taxation. The money to fund transit has to come from somewhere. Residents are extremely reticent (= they hate) being stuck with a new “transit tax” whereas transit users are already in the habit of paying to ride, as long as the cost remains reasonable.
- Rebound effect. In the short term, there may be a rush to “try out” free transit, creating temporary de-congestion on roads. Perversely, this could create an incentive for drivers to get back in their cars.
- In conclusion: Yes, we need to get more people taking public transit. Making it free isn’t the way to do it. Making it efficient, frequent, accessible, safe and clean is.
But where Justine and I agree with @TaylorNoakes, and appreciate his article on this topic, is that we’re going to need to be a LOT more ambitious, and start seriously considering ideas that up until now have been considered too risky / marginal.