Free Fare Proposal Getting Attention

By Urban Reform Staff | Feb 6, 2020

In an effort to reduce traffic congestion, increase air quality, and speed up travel times, Houston blogger and Fellow with the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, Tory Gattis, is proposing that Harris County’s transportation agency implement a free-fair policy going forward.

Last year, Gattis encouraged Metro Chairman Carrin Patman and the rest of the board to halt approval of $100 million in new fare-collection equipment because they’d only be collecting $70 million in revenue.

“$100 (million) could buy and operate enough buses to handle the surge in demand from going fare-less with only a 6 percent revenue loss,” Gattis said.

According to Gattis, only 4.9% of Metro’s budget comes from fares and foregoing that would produce a bigger return in terms of actual ridership.

He says that people are attracted to what’s free and shifting to a free model would also increase the number of discretionary riders, like tourists, who otherwise wouldn’t go through the process of obtaining a Q card. He points to Columbus, which saw a 2-3x increased in downtown ridership, and Estonia which saw a 10% ridership increase when they implemented free fares.

Other benefits, he says, are reduced congestion, increased air quality, reduced drunk driving, and stimulation of local economy. Outgoing Harris County Commissioners Steve Radack has echoed similar sentiments.

According to reports, financial analysts with the organization are currently looking at whether they should move forward with reducing or eliminating fares and they will produce a report for the board.

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