Fare increases are happening more often these days -- nearly 90 percent of all US transit agencies have raised fares in the past two years -- but of course that doesn’t make them any more popular. Passengers don’t like fare increases, and transit agencies dread going through the mountain of paperwork and lengthy public hearings associated with fare changes, often to wind up with a lower increase than they budgeted for. We can reduce the pain by introducing regular, small fare increases scheduled to take effect on a consistent date (i.e. January 1 every year). For most agencies this would mean charging an extra 5-10 cents per year. It’s also possible to have a very small increase each month or a few times per year.
Automated fare collection equipment makes it much easier to charge uneven amounts when most people are paying with smart cards or tickets. Riders can be encouraged to use smart cards or tickets by charging more for payment in cash or offering free transfers only on a smart card. This reduces the “dwell time” when the bus is sitting at the bus stop.
For riders, it’s much easier to afford and accept a fare increase if it’s small and you know it’s coming. When you make your budget and plan your lifestyle you know how much your transport costs will be for the next few years. The current system imposes a real burden on the poorest users because they have trouble suddenly coming up with another $10 a week. Ridership won’t drop quite as much if the fare increase is small and expected.
Transit agencies stand to collect a lot more revenue over the long-term -- raising the fare 5 percent each year yields much more revenue than waiting five years and raising it 25 percent. If you can go through only one public process at the beginning, you save countless employee hours, paper and money, as opposed to going to the public each year. This means more time spent on core job functions and more money available to actually operate bus service, which is why you needed a fare increase in the first place.