Spare the Commuters Day

Another spare the air day, and another example of how to waste public money. Funding people’s family days out does not seem like a valid use of the limited funds.

The evening ferries to the east bay on previous spare the air days, including yesterday, have been packed full of people returning from a free day trip to the city. The ferry service was running two additional boats to cope with the extra passenger load (most of whom would probably have stayed at home had the service not been free).

If the goal of funding transit is to encourage commuters to use public transit, then there are many better ways of funding them. If the goal is to allow everybody to get out of their houses and travel around the bay area for free, then the current scheme is great, but why do it only on hot weekdays? How about a weekend of free travel so those of us that have to work can have a family day out for free too?

Here’s a few suggestions for how to use the spare the air funds a little better. These come from conversations I’ve had on the ferry on the last few spare the air days with other regular commuters who also believe that the current system is not working.

  • Provide free trips only during the morning commute, ending at 9am or 9:30am. Commuters who use the service will essentially get a half price commute (which will still be cheaper than driving over the bridge to the city).
  • Provide free trips on the morning commute (ending at 9am or 9:30am), but hand out special return trip passes as people get off the boat. That way only those travelling during the commute hours get free rides for the day.
  • Require all ferry riders to show tickets as they get off the boat, but do not collect them. That encourages them to use it another day. For those who are buying single tickets, reduce the price to the same as the commuter pack rate.

Of course, that works well on the ferries but it doesn’t really deal with train or bus services. BART, with its automatic ticket system, could require tickets that would have been valid for the journey, but just not deduct any fare. They could also issue return trip passes valid for the same day, although that might require changes to the ticket system programming (and given how good BART is at updating its software this might be best left alone).

Another thing worth thinking about: by spending the money more wisely, it would be possible to fund more spare the air days in the year. As it is now, most regular commuters I spoke to will be happy that today is the last free transit day this year. Perhaps next year the money will be spent more wisely…

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