Free Transit: It All Depends on How
Joshua Schank and Emma Huang recently authored the Mineta Transportation Institute publication, Free Transit: It All Depends on How.
The idea of free public transit has grown more popular in recent years and has spurred substantial debate. It has become popular in large part because it is simple, direct, and easy to understand. The call to “improve transit service” means different things to different people and is often challenging to sort out. But everyone understands what “free” means. Adding to its popularity is that it is perceived as improving equity in most American cities, potentially helping low-income people and minority groups facing legacies of discrimination. These two things work together to make it a potentially winning campaign issue for some mayors in Kansas City, Boston, Los Angeles, and others. As is often the case, a winning political issue does not always create the outcomes that people might be seeking. Free (or fareless) transit is presented as part of a solution to many problems — low ridership, growing income inequality, racial discrimination, and even climate change. While it is wholly unrealistic to expect fareless transit to solve any of these challenges on its own, the fact that it is a popular idea presents a substantial opportunity. It is worth asking — how can the ideas behind free transit be combined with other policies to make a dent in some of these goals? This paper presents some ideas, grounded in real research, that show promise. Choosing one of them ultimately depends on the goal policymakers are trying to achieve.
You can access the full Mineta Transportation Institute publication here.