January 10, 2010

Trains, Busses and Budget Mobiles

The SF Bay Area transit authorities are having a huge problem. The poor economy has forced riders to cut back on their transit budgets. That, coupled with poor budget policy by the powers that be in Sacramento, where a huge portion of the State's various transit authorities get their revenue, has caused what amounts to an economic emergency for the Bay Area.

Ridership is down, cuts have been made to service and prices have been increased to improve the bottom lines, but revenue projections are still in the tank. This was all reported as front page Sunday Paper news in the San Jose Mercury News today. They eloquently worded the situation as the search for the Answer, with a capital "A".

The answer is to cut prices and service together. Ridership will improve when people realize their commute would be cheaper than by driving. Currently, ridership is being lost to driving because people are finding that the basic single stop fee for any transit system in the Bay Area is just too expensive. If you increase the cost of something to the point where your competition is less expensive you lose to them, which is exactly what's being described as happening in this case. What the transit authorities need to do is reduce their operating costs by reducing service, and then reduce their prices to lure customers back to their trains. Unfortunately, this is California. Because ridership is a given in the revenue predictions they use to figure their future budgets they will never understand that if you increase the cost to the customer the customer will invariably find a new way of doing things. This is doubly true when you're talking about people who have a ready alternative available. In their prediction methods reality should allow for the assumed DECREASE in ridership with any given increase in pricing. The hard nut here is that the typical transit authority executive is going to be a California Liberal (YES! THIS IS POLITICAL!), so an increase in price is exactly the same as an increase in taxes. People will find another way to do business, or leave. End of story.

I hope this won't be the end of story for the Bay Area Mass Transit System. I use it regularly because at this point it is cheaper than my commute, and also because my usage is subsidized to encourage my usage. I know you can't subsidize general ridership, but increasing their prices as an alternative is not the answer.

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