Home Buses RPA: Cut bus fares on crosstown routes

RPA: Cut bus fares on crosstown routes

by Benjamin Kabak

Getting across town in Manhattan is something of a nightmare. While buses run down the major thoroughfares fairly frequently, it’s often faster to walk from one end of the island to the other than it is to sit in crushing traffic while on a bus.

To that end, the Regional Plan Association thinks they have a solution: Eliminate fares on crosstown buses. The logic is really quite simple. Most riders on crosstown buses will eventually pay for a connecting subway ride, and by eliminating the fare, the MTA would speed up travel times to the point that the agency wouldn’t really be losing money.

Pete Donohue first reported on this proposal in the Daily News last week:

Eliminate [the fare] process on routes like the M34 and the M42, on 34th and 42nd Sts., and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority still might not absorb a big loss, according to the Regional Plan Association…

For most crosstown bus riders, the trip is just one leg of a larger one that includes the subway. Transfers between the buses and subway trains are free. So, bus riders can simply get on without paying, according to an association report on possible mass transit upgrades.

“Most of the people riding those buses are taking the train, so you capture the revenue anyway,” said Jeffrey Zupan, senior transportation fellow at the association. Any revenue losses probably would be offset by improved efficiency, Zupan said. Bus trips would become quicker, meaning fewer buses would be needed.

I’d have to see the numbers, but it sounds like a good plan. Of course, with money tight and a fare hike on tap for 2009, the MTA probably won’t institute a measure that would, in the short term, result in less revenue for the agency. The authority is more likely to explore pre-boarding fare payment options.

Still, ideas like these could help improve surface transit in the five boroughs. Until New York can adequately enforce bus-only lanes, proposals from the RPA and other like-minded organizations should get their days in the sun.

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Peter October 20, 2008 - 8:34 am

Very intriguing idea. There remains, of course, the amount of revenue generated from the farebox of those numerous crosstown lines, that would have to be replaced.

Allow crosstown buses only to have Full Exterior Advertising Wraps, perhaps, or employ other innovative revenue generating media? The crosstown lines are probably not quite as ubiquitous as Avenue buses, but still are highly visible at major intersections, which they cross more frequently.

Alon Levy October 20, 2008 - 8:55 am

Why not allow full exterior advertising on all buses?

Thomas October 20, 2008 - 10:46 am

It is absolutely true that its quicker to walk. I walk from the UN everyday at First Avenue, along 42nd Street to Grand Central at Lex. I outpace the M42 each time.

Gil October 20, 2008 - 11:39 am

This is genius.

50% of the time of a ride at the 23rd street crosstown bus is waiting for people to swipe their metrocards. Imagine if people could enter and exit–no swiping–from the front *and* back of the bus.


Frozen Panic at the Trader Joe’s - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com October 20, 2008 - 12:36 pm

[…] closer look at the Regional Plan Association’s suggestion that making crosstown buses free will save money in the long run. [2nd Ave […]

Steven October 20, 2008 - 1:37 pm

Demand may very well go up, too, potentially offsetting any increase in efficiency.

David F October 20, 2008 - 2:55 pm

It sounds like a real no brainer, considering the MTA collects you fare when you purchase your metrocard, long before you actually use the fare why not?

Mike G October 20, 2008 - 3:35 pm

sounds like a brilliant plan. open both doors at every stop and lengthen the bus stops. very very rarely do you see people pay their fare in coin, so the logic must be that either most people transfer or already have a monthly.

it also can’t hurt to try this for a trial period and see what happens.

Marc Shepherd October 20, 2008 - 5:19 pm

There remains, of course, the amount of revenue generated from the farebox of those numerous crosstown lines, that would have to be replaced.

Well, the whole premise is that the net revenue of those buses is close to zero, which would be true if most of the riders are transferring to north–south routes anyway.

Then again, if you make them free, perhaps ridership goes up. After all, when you change price, you change behavior.

Ed October 21, 2008 - 2:38 am

I’m pretty sure NYC buses are the only instance in the world where the bus stops, people line up and pay the fare, and the bus waits while people do that. Its not the only reason why buses here are so slow but its one of the main ones.

There are lots of alternatives to this, but one I like is that you don’t pay the fare to get on the bus, you pay the fair to get off. Move the fare collection to the middle of the bus, you can get on the bus without paying the fare, then once the bus starts moving you pay in the middle of the bus, then move to the back where they let you off. Don’t pay the fare and you stay on the bus until the end of its route, where the transit police are waiting.

NYC buses are also much too big. Get three times as many buses one third the size and there is less of a wait while everyone boards the bus. Even two times the buses one third the size will be an improvement, though more people would have to stand.

Alon Levy October 21, 2008 - 7:39 pm

Get three times as many buses one third the size and there is less of a wait while everyone boards the bus.

This will requires three times as many bus drivers. The reason trains have a better farebox recovery ratio than buses is in large part that you can run ten-car trains with just one engineer and one conductor, whereas running ten buses requires ten drivers.


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