information request: fare revenue impact of free transfers

We're looking for case studies in which:

  • A transit agency that had been charging for transfers (changing from one transit vehicle to another) eliminated that charge.
  • No other major changes happened at the same time.
  • A result could be measured in fare revenue, and also ridership.

If anyone's familiar with cases, or with studies of this issue, please let me know.  Thanks!

12 Responses to information request: fare revenue impact of free transfers

  1. anonymouse October 5, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    MBTA used to not have transfer discounts at all, outside the free transfers in the rail system. They now have free rail/bus, and bus/bus transfers, while bus/rail transfers cost the difference in fare between bus and rail (the latter is more expensive). But this only applies with CharlieCard. CharlieTicket and cash customers don’t get the benefit of any of this.
    Another fairly famous case is the introduction of Metrocard in NYC, whose introduction also included free transfers between subway and bus, thus leading to large parts of Queens no longer being “two fare zones”, and taking only one fare to get to Manhattan.

  2. Patrick M. October 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    In between getting home from one job to the next, luckily I remembered this article and found it fairly easily.
    Can’t recall if it meets the caveats, but it is about specific instances of free transit coming into affect, both good and bad.
    Hopefully this helps.

  3. ajedrez October 5, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

    Here in NYC, free bus->subway transfers (outside of a few that were made to replace demolished subway lines) led to an increase in bus ridership of around 30% (I’m not sure if it was systemwide or just one routes that went out into subwayless areas).
    The farebox recovery ratio went down for both the bus and subway, but ridership did increase.
    In addition, a lot of those “two-fare” zones started asking for express service to Manhattan. The express buses used to cost about 2 times the subway fare (so those people were paying what they would pay back in the old days), but they’ve been raised to about 2.5 times the subway fare, unless you have a weekly pass.

  4. John October 6, 2011 at 5:01 am #

    Keep us posted on what you find out about this Jarrett. I think this is an interesting topic.

  5. Alon Levy October 6, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    Ajedrez: on the other hand, the express buses cost even more to provide.

  6. Zoltán October 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    @Alon Levy
    Is that so? I’d heard that express buses make the MTA money, but that seems quite improbable, based on what I know of express buses elsewhere.
    Somewhat related, I never understood the point of the Manhattan express buses.

  7. Corey Burger October 7, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    BC Transit recently changed the time and type of transfers here in Victoria, without many other system changes. I know it isn’t exactly what you asked for, but they do claim an increase in revenue.

  8. Zoltán October 8, 2011 at 4:41 am #

    @Corey Burger
    exactly what did the changes entail?

  9. Aleks Bromfield October 8, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    @Alon: It’s not important whether express buses are profitable on their own, but rather, whether they save the system money. There are lots of ways that the latter could happen without the former.
    What it boils down to is that express bus riders pay a lot more for their privilege, and so as long as the extra cost to run express buses (instead of more local service) is less than the extra revenue from the higher fare, then express buses are worth running.
    It’s true that I’m looking at express buses from a strictly economic viewpoint (as opposed to social equity, for example), but I think that’s reasonable. From a social service viewpoint, express buses are never worth providing, because you could use that money to increase coverage instead.

  10. Tsuyoshi October 8, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    Also here in New York, Westchester County’s Bee-Line in 2007 switched to the Metrocard, and there are now free transfers between the Bee-Line buses and MTA subways and buses. Before the Metrocard, transfers between two Bee-Line buses were 25 cents extra. I don’t know if this would unfortunately count as a another major change, but at the same time they raised the fare from $1.75 to $2 to match the MTA fare. However, the fare increase must have been less important than free transfers, because as a result, ridership went up but farebox revenue went down.

  11. ajedrez October 13, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    @ Alon Levy: True, and I think much of the reason for most of the express lines coming into existance is because of political pressure from the area. I’m sure the MTA would’ve been very happy if everybody just made the bus->subway transfer.
    @Zoltán: They’re the biggest money losers in the system, at least wholistically. The average local route recovers around 80% of its operating costs, compared to around 45% for the express buses.
    @Aleks Bromfield: Ultimately, the MTA ends up losing more money by running the express buses vs. adding local service.
    Think of it this way: The user would’ve paid for the subway anyway, so you’re talking about giving a free ride for a mile or two, versus charging $3.25 to go all the way to Manhattan. The local buses can carry 100 riders (even more on articulated buses), whereas the express buses usually don’t carry more than a seated load (57 passengers), so they don’t save money.
    However, you can argue that they are capturing a segment of riders who doesn’t want to be bothered with the transfer, or with the “riff-raff” and crowding on the local buses and trains. So they’re losing money, but it still benefits the environment to have them.
    Staten Island has no subway service, so its express bus service tends to be better used. If there were zoned fares on the express bus system, it would have the highest FRR in the express system. However, because it is the furthest out, its express buses are on par with the express buses from the other boroughs.
    However, on the weekends, the high ridership and non-peaked service pattern results in the SI routes having an FRR comparable to many local buses.

  12. Corey Burger October 20, 2011 at 12:42 am #

    @Zoltan They changed the transfer system to indicate the day it was given, not just a letter. And they changed the transfer time from 90 to 60 minutes.