I talk about public transport a fair bit, and I love public transport. There are plenty of annoyances, of course, but I love the concept of buses, trains and ferries, and mostly I love them in practice. I hate sitting in traffic in the car, I like to be able to sit back and relax when commuting, and (perhaps most significantly) I like drinking alcohol, so a public chauffeur is necessary!
What I am generally less thrilled about is paying fares. Not because I don’t want to pay for transport at all, but because, to me, it seems to go against the ethos of public transport. So I offer my preferred solutions.
[Note: I am enormously in favor of publicly-owned public transport, so my ideas really only work with government-owned and -operated networks.]
Public transport that is free at the point of use
Free. Free buses, free trains. You want to go into town? Get on the bus. It’s free. Going to work? Jump on the train: nothing to pay. Easy. Of course public transport would still need to be funded, but I prefer the idea of everyone paying through the tax system.
I hear grumbling from drivers already. “Why should I pay if I don’t use it?” Firstly, of course, because good public transport is good for society as a whole, even if it doesn’t benefit you as an individual. But also, just because you are not physically sitting on a train doesn’t mean you are not using it. Really good public transport systems that lots pf people use do benefit drivers, mainly in the way of fewer cars on the roads. They’re also really useful when your car breaks down. Or, yes, when you’re drunk.
My instinct would be to restrict free public transport to local and commuter trains and buses, with fares remaining on intercity services, but I can’t really explain why.
However I am aware that totally free public transport is a difficult idea to push, so if we are continuing to pay fares:
Cut-price peak-time travel
At first thought, it goes against all logic. Everyone wants to travel at rush hour, so peak-time travel is premium travel, and people should pay more. Of course!
There are two main reasons for premium pricing: either you want to discourage people from using the service at a particular time or you realize you can make a tidy buck by charging more for a service when more people want to use it. I hope it’s clear that I don’t want to be discouraging people from using public transport – ever – and I think that cashing in on people using services at particular times is pretty shady behavior.
I’m, again, assuming a state-owned public transport network, but really we want to be encouraging more people to use public transport at peak times. Again, fewer cars on the roads etc. I’d rather see people going to work on the bus or the train rather than driving in. So to me it is nonsensical to put fares up at precisely the time we want more people to use the service. In my world, rush-hour would be the cheapest time to use public transport.
Given the world we live in, I don’t expect either of these things anytime soon, but it’s nice to dream.