Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I knew it!

This just in from the Sydney Morning Herald:
SYDNEY commuters are paying the second-highest public transport fares in the world.
It is nice to have a gut instinct confirmed without having to do any of the research myself. The comparisons appear to be made on a metric that Sydney transport actually does reasonably well at too: the cost of one 10K ride.

There are two really big problems that I see with Sydney pricing schedules that this doesn't capture: (1) there are no free transfers and the system is on a hub-and-spoke, for the most part, so unless you want to go to the CBD (which is a pretty boring place!) you get to pay the full fare all over again, as well as spending lots of time to-ing and fro-ing and waiting for your second or third ride; (2) fees rise quickly as you go further. Sydney is a sprawling city. I live in one of the closest residential 'hoods to downtown, and yet, that is 3 bus zones away from where I can catch a bus/ferry to other parts of the city. Now, I cheat (too much of the system is on-your-honor!) and use a 2 zone pass most of the time. I plan on using my thickest Southern drawl if I ever get caught. But to purchase a ticket that will legally allow me travel that third zone (an extra couple of stops!) is almost twice the cost.

Furthermore, in general, the system isn't particularly well integrated. While it is possible to buy an unlimited card that can be used on all modes of public transport, there are no other cross-transport options. Unlimited is great if you are a heavy user, but since I walk almost everywhere I go, I would do better buying multiple ride tickets -- which I do for the bus and the ferry (separately). But I can't buy a multiple ride train ticket, and I can't buy a multiple ride ticket that doesn't care about the mode. So I have to carry lots of paper tickets (easy to lose in a large purse!) and I have to spend a lot on the expensive single ride tickets to take the train anywhere.

Now that is all complaining about me, but it does mean that Sydney makes it harder for two important classes of people to use public transport: those who would use it regularly but not as intensively as a daily commuter and poor people who live far away from the center. So the pricing is regressive, when it should be progressive, and it makes the trade-off between using a car versus public transport less obviously in favor of public transport.

I expect that this is one of those situations where if the city were smart about pricing, mostly lowering the marginal costs, and maybe adding some non-spoke routes, usage would increase dramatically, and congestion on the roads would ease some. All good reason to stop spending government money on roads and spending it on transport instead! (Of course, Sydney is currently doing the opposite--when will people learn that increasing road capacity almost never reduces congestion???)

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