Saturday, April 05, 2014

Roosevelt Island's Foray Into Free Public Transportation

An exciting public-transportation experiment is underway on Roosevelt Island. The iconic red bus that shuttles people around the island is now free (the fare had been 25 cents).

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. took the step to improve traffic on the island, raising parking rates to make up the difference.

The RIOC's explanation, via the Roosevelt Islander blog:
The elimination of the fare will help keep traffic on Main Street moving with faster boarding times, encouraging the use of mass transit on the Island. Making the Red Bus free to ride will also reduce operating costs by eliminating the need to collect fares from the buses.
Many cities, including San Francisco, have considered making transit free. After all, the farebox recovery rate (the percentage of a transit system's operating budget that's covered by passenger tickets) is often fairly low.

For the New York MTA, it's 55 percent. But in smaller cities such as Seattle or Portland, it's less than 30 percent.

It's hard to imagine the 25-cent Roosevelt Island fare was covering much of the costs of running the buses, so making the buses free seems like the right call.

Two happy Red Bus riders.

The experience for passengers is now dramatically different. In the old days, there were long lines to board the bus. Passengers struggled to find a quarter to drop into the slot. And while the bus accepted dollars, the process would require you to wait to get your change credited to a special card. (MetroCards were never accepted.)

Now passengers can board from either sets of doors, and the loading time is quite fast. Buses move quickly, and it even seems to be making my NextBus app more accurate.

It's also been a week, but I would describe the change as an unmitigated success.