Should All Bus Rides Be Free?

September 1st 2022: As i write this its September 1st and to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of OCTA all bus rides across the county are free for riders. The question is should all bus rides be free every day? The question is not as strange as it sounds as in Los Angeles on the huge Metro system there have been discussions about making it happen or at least trying this option.

Already in Orange County OC Bus has implemented a youth ride free plan which has seen a huge increase in youth ridership. I wonder if rides where free how many people would keep their cars in their garages and, commute by bus.

Don’t we need fares to cover the cost of the buses?

It varies by agency but generally the majority of the funding for public transport comes from a mix of Federal, State or local funds. Generally a public transportation agency has to cover 20 percent of the costs from the fare box to get matching federal funds for example.

Over the last few years OC Bus has struggled to make that 20 percent and, has canceled services in South County and beach cities for example to cut costs. The agency has refocused bus service on core cities such as Anaheim, Garden Grove, Westminster and Santa Ana where population density and ridership is highest.

If the majority of the funding for bus service in Orange County doesn’t come from the fare box why not see about making up the difference and, eliminating the fares.

Why get rid of the fares?

As i have seen today without the fares the bus service is quicker and more efficient as there are not the delays as people pay as they get on. Often the buses are delayed as people try to pay their bus fare, some of the common reasons for delay are as follows

  • Fare box does read the bills first time so they have to be reinserted several times.
  • Plastic pass doesn’t read so has to be reprinted
  • Coins are rejected and have to be put back in again
  • Digital passes don’t get read by scanner right away and have to be retried
  • Customer has no fare and has to plead with the driver to be let on
  • Customer tries to use expired passes
  • Customers phone dies or bus pass app freezes
OC Bus

Improved traffic across the county?

Orange County is built out there is only so many places that we can squeeze more lanes on streets or add freeway lanes. The cost to purchase private land and add a freeway lane in both directions on a few miles of freeway is enormous. If buses were free some of the people who currently drive might decide to take the bus which would help with traffic as well as mean less pollution.

Look i don’t think people that drive would suddenly decide to do their weekly shopping by riding the bus. But if you are on a major bus route and you could come and go to work on a bus without paying for the gas and maintenance on your car it could be a viable option.

Higher density transit communities

Why not build high density transit friendly developments? When larger plots of land become available like old shopping malls, such as Westminster Mall for example why not build transit orientated communities.

If you have a high density residential community with free public transportation linking it to the outside world you make it a viable place to live without always driving everywhere. No people are not going to all get rid of their cars but if they use them less because they have an alternative its better for everyone.

Transit only lanes

Bus only lanes need to be built in Orange County wherever possible to speed up the bus system. There are many old railroad right of ways or no longer used railroad spurs or unused right of ways that could be used by buses.

Free buses are not going to solve every problem in Orange County but being able to get around quickly and hop on and off free buses would be a boost for the economy. This should tried at least for a few months even if its only certain routes at first.

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