Cities that have experimented with free mass transit

Some communities have tried free mass transit but it doesn’t often lead to increased ridership:

The earliest urban experiment in free public transit took place in Rome in the early 1970s. The city, plagued by unbearable traffic congestion, tried making its public buses free. At first, many passengers were confused: “There must be a trick,” a 62-year-old Roman carpenter told The New York Times as he boarded one bus. Then riders grew irritable. One “woman commuter” predicted that “swarms of kids and mixed-up people will ride around all day just because it doesn’t cost anything.” Romans couldn’t be bothered to ditch their cars—the buses were only half-full during the mid-day rush hour, “when hundreds of thousands battle their way home for a plate of spaghetti.” Six months after the failed, costly experiment, a cash-strapped Rome reinstated its fare system.

Three similar experiments in the U.S.—in Denver, Colorado, and Trenton, New Jersey, in the late 70s, and in Austin, Texas, around 1990—also proved unfruitful and shaped the way American policy makers viewed the question of free public transit. All three were attempts to coax commuters out of their cars and onto subway platforms and buses. While they succeeded in increasing ridership, the new riders they brought in were people who were already walking or biking to work. For that reason, they were seen as failures…

Another report followed up 10 years later, revisiting the idea of a fare-free world. The report reviewed the roughly 40 American cities and towns with free transit systems. Most of the three dozen communities had been greatly successful in increasing ridership—the number of riders shot up 20 to 60 percent “in a matter of months.” But these successes were only to be found in communities with transit needs different from those of the biggest cities; almost all of the areas studied were either small cities with few riders, resort communities with populations that “swell inordinately during tourist seasons,” and college towns. In other words, slashing fares to zero is something that likely wouldn’t work in big cities.

Despite that, one big city has tried. In January 2013, Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, announced that it was making public transit free to all of its citizens. A study released a year later revealed that the move only increased demand by 1.2 percent—though it did inspire Estonians that year to register as Tallinnian citizens at three times the normal rate. The authors of the Tallinn study reached the same conclusion as the NCTR: Free subway rides entice people who would otherwise walk, not people who would otherwise drive.

Two thoughts:

1. More evidence that once people can drive they don’t want to go back to mass transit? We might expect this in the United States but could it also be true elsewhere in the world?

2. Even experimenting with this sort of strategy requires a long-term perspective. thinking about giving up fares for the good benefits of less driving. I’m not sure many communities would be willing to undergo such a test.

The effect of terrorism on New York City: more security measures

There is little doubt that what happened on September 11, 2001 was consequential for the United States. But it is also necessary to think about how this event (and other terrorist acts) have affected the American way of life.  The AP looks into what it means for the daily lives of New Yorkers – here are a few snapshots of an altered city:

Visitors to the Statue of Liberty must go through two separate, airport-style security checkpoints. Taking pictures of the PATH trains that run under the Hudson is illegal. Even the city’s architecture is changing: closed “sky lobbies” are replacing ground-level public spaces; vehicle barriers are de rigueur.

At Rockefeller Plaza, concrete barriers emblazoned with “NYPD” blocked part of the streets running through the promenade, which draws thousands of visitors to see its Christmas tree and ice skating rink.

In the subways, train conductors tell passengers, “If you see something, say something.” So do posters and ticket machines. Police conduct occasional spot checks, setting up a table in stations and searching travelers’ bags at random.

Times Square — now partly transformed into a pedestrian mall — sports wider sidewalks aimed at creating buffer zones around high-profile buildings. Nearly every lamppost now has at least two domed cameras and an antenna for beaming live images to police.

“Cameras, cameras and more cameras,” said Robert Jacobs, 30, a visitor from Chicago. “Makes you wonder who’s got time to watch it all.”

The overwhelming theme in this story is security: a greater separation of pedestrians or workers from potential harm while at the same time increasing vigilance through cameras, checkpoints, and the active participation of residents.

But what does this mean for the average resident? A little more inconvenience and time to travel? Some visual reminders that terrorism is a consistent threat? What I would want to know: has terrorism significantly altered people’s mindsets (perhaps stress levels about possible attacks) and behaviors? Do people or businesses not move to New York City because of the possible threats? This article suggests terrorism hasn’t altered much beside raising the general level of anxiety by some amount.

h/t The Infrastructurist