$1 Bus Fares in Milwaukee – An Idea Worth Exploring
Milwaukee County Supervisor Mark Borkowski proposed lowering Milwaukee County Transit System fares to $1.00 from $2.25. Borowski, who has introduced the idea before, suggested it again in light of a budget shortfall of $10.2 million for MCTS next year. The idea is worth exploring given that MCTS has some of the highest fares in the nation, 90 new buses coming this summer, new fareboxes on the way, and failed to capture the ridership gains that other systems saw in 2008 when gasoline prices crossed $4 a gallon.
Making adjustments isn’t as risky as one would think, as with nearly all transit systems, fares make up only around 30% of MCTS’s revenue. In addition we have statistical analysis of MCTS fare and ridership data that shows there is a negative correlation between fares and ridership. This research indicates that any fare decrease is very likely to result in an increase in ridership, instead of simply decreasing the revenue the system has to work with.
- Introduce a weekend fare – MCTS could offer a reduced rate for weekend riders. Weekends currently aren’t a high traffic period, and getting more individuals riding mass transit is only going to make it easier to get to festivals for drivers. Connected with promotions by local businesses (or even better, business districts), reduced weekend fares could encourage more people to come downtown on the weekends.
- Create a weekend pass – Currently passes are sold on a week or month long basis, there is also a 10-pack of tickets available to ride at a reduced rate. There is however not a weekend only pass. In conjunction with VISIT Milwaukee, MCTS could offer up a $2 all you can ride pass for Friday evening until Sunday at midnight. This would be a great way to encourage tourists to use the transit system, and again it might be a great way to get more people to come downtown (or to the Third Ward and East Side where parking is perceived to be difficult) on the weekend.
- Introduce a night-time rate – MCTS ridership is highest during the day, particularly during commute hours for the 9-5 crowd. To encourage more evening and night-time riders, MCTS could offer $1 rides after 7 p.m. Bonus side effects? It has a chance to reduce drunk driving and may encourage suburban residents to stay downtown longer, improving the local economy.
- Have a 10-Pack Sale/Holiday – A 10-pack of fares currently is available for $17.50, a measurable discount off the cash-fare cost of $22.50. This fare is still not as discounted as buying a monthly or weekly pass is, however, the 10-pack of fares can be used whenever the rider chooses (and can be shared amongst a group). MCTS could offer up the fares for sale one-day (or weekend) only for $12.00. Taking a cue from the gift card industry, this would allow MCTS to not only profit from the interest on the cash-flow boost, but have a greater chance of the fare going unused.
The best way to ensure a long-term fare decrease is find a dedicated funding source for the system, something the proposed regional transit authority would have solved. To the credit of those at MCTS, in honor of the system’s 150th year of operation they have rolled out a number of days this year where fares are reduced or eliminated on certain routes or pass types.