Cities and municipalities around the world are finding ways to fight the existential threat of climate change — Asheville should join those fighting for expanded and fare free public transportation. Fare free buses would, in the words of the non-profit Fare Free Public Transportation, “lead to a decline in car-traffic and a surge in the demand for public transportation, which in turn would stimulate a much needed capacity and comfort increase in the public transport system.” Increased public transit dramatically cuts down on carbon emissions and reduces traffic congestion, both issues the people of Asheville are eager to address.
Prominent cities around the world, such as Melbourne, Manchester, Athens, and Oslo, along with American cities such as Boston, Miami, Columbus, Baltimore, and even Chapel Hill have all adopted fare free public transit. To see a full list of cities that have followed suit, check out the list cultivated by Fare Free Public Transportation at https://farefreepublictransport.com/city/. Asheville has the capability to be a global leader on this issue, and it’s time we take that leap.
Beyond being instrumental tool against climate change, fare free public transportation will help make the lives of Asheville residents more affordable. According to the City of Asheville’s Transit Department, an annual pass costs $220, but because many low-income riders don’t buy annual passes because they never have enough money on hand to purchase one, the cost is closer to $550 annually in order to get back and forth from work each day. Additionally, the only ways to get the discount fares are through Medicare, by being over 65, or having a disability. While it’s vital that those populations receive these important benefits, there are too many working people who don’t get those discounts who dearly need them.
So, how to pay for fare free transit? Fares currently account for only about 11 percent of Asheville’s transit system budget, with receipts in the current fiscal year expected to be $827,000.
My plan to go fare-free includes four elements.
- Our current curbside meters are hard to read at night, which is why parking is free when the sun goes down. When the City finishes installation of new curbside meters we will be able to generate upward of $600K per year by extending meter hours.
- We can and should expand curbside metering into Biltmore Village and West Asheville as well. Metering actually helps people find parking by eliminating day-long parking.
- Our parking garages should charge higher for tourists and lower for residents. This dual price structure could easily bring in another $200,000 per year, and probably more.
- Fare boxes on buses run to $15,000 per vehicle, and are slated for replacement. Skipping this expense offers a one-time saving upward of $300,000. When we purchase 6 all-electric buses in the 2018-19 budget year, we’ll cut $90,000 from that bill as well.
The people of Asheville want a more environmentally friendly city, and they also want their day-to-day lives to be more affordable. This is why fare-free public transit is so important.
Fare-free is entirely doable, and we need to get it done.