Last week at In Washington, DC, the board of directors of the Metropolitan Area Transit Authority did something almost unheard of: It offered passengers more service for less money.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, as the drop in ridership caused financial problems, the agency cut metro and bus service in the region. Now he has vowed to ramp up buses and trains on weekdays, weekends and late at night, with some bus lines operating even more often than before the pandemic. Passengers, meanwhile, will pay a flat fee of $ 2 on weekends instead of a rate based on distance traveled, they won’t have to shell out for bus transfers, and they’ll get a break on the bus. weekly passes. The plan “will better meet the needs of existing passengers, reflect new modes of travel and lifestyle changes, and attract new and new customers,” the The head of the metro said.
These new modes of travel remain unclear. But officials in Washington and elsewhere are reflecting on the roles that buses, subways and trains will play in cities transformed by a year-long public health crisis. They want to win back the runners and they are willing to try some out-of-the-box strategies to get there.
Agencies in Boston, Cleveland, Las Vegas, the San Francisco Bay Area, and New Orleans offer reduced fares or free rides, temporarily, to attract people to public transit. Others are considering removing tariffs altogether. Los Angeles is explore a 23 month old pilot that would give students and low-income residents free rides. The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority removed fares in March 2020 and does not intend to bring them back. “The return on investment of empathy, compassion, social equity far exceeds the return on investment of concrete and asphalt,” Robbie Makinen, CEO of the agency, said Stateline Last week.
Others target an even more sacred cow: rush hour service.
Historically, commuters carrying a briefcase and laptop have been the primary target audience for public transit. Therefore public transport was designed to meet their needs. Commuter trains, running between the suburbs and downtown business districts, ran more frequently during rush hour. Agencies bought more buses and metro cars to handle rush hour crowds, and sometimes paid extra drivers just to spend a few hours during rush hour. They’ve created park-and-ride services, to help people who drive part of the trip to work but don’t want to deal with traffic in dense cities.
Now the future of rush hour is complicated. Large employers like Apple, Amazon and American Express have said they will continue to allow workers to telecommuting a few days a week, even after most immunizations and offices reopen. On average, this will result in smaller crowds at peak times. Meanwhile, planners have noted increased interest in off-peak service since the mid-years, and have started to rethink the service to make it more useful to people working shifts, running errands after school or going to social occasions.
Agencies are taking advantage of the troubled times of the pandemic recovery to introduce schedule changes. In Los Angeles, officials at Metra, the local commuter train, said this month they would test new schedules that “stray” from the pre-pandemic standard at rush hour, “in favor of a more balanced approach “which spaces trains more evenly throughout the day. In Boston, authorities implemented pre-pandemic plans in April and began running more frequent commuter trains outside of 9-5 hours. This is part of a larger vision to transform the world. system into a more equitable regional rail network that serves more than the traditional office worker. Off-peak passengers are more likely to be immigrants, women, people of color and low income. The pandemic, as local advocacy group TransitMatters observed, may have given the local agency “political space” to effect long-planned changes. There are fewer people now to complain that the operators have taken their specific train.