MBTA's fare recovery rate vs other cities

A couple months ago, the Federal Transit Administration updated its National Transit Database to include data from 2011. Their database analyzes the country's major public transit systems in many ways, including by size, usage, and budget.

The NTD includes "Fare Recovery Ratios" for transit systems across the USA. This is the percentage that passengers pay - out of pocket - compared to what their rides actually cost.

The data is further broken down by system and within each, by mode of transportation - so, subway (light rail and heavy rail), but also commuter rail, bus, an boat rides.

Passengers in Boston and in Massachusetts pay wildly different percentages of real costs. (The data is from 2011, prior to the July 2012 fare increases.)

Heavy rail transit riders (Red Line, Blue Line, Orange Line) pay about half of what their rides actually cost, as do light rail users (Green Line). Commuter rail passengers pay about 44% of the cost of their rides.

Demand response users (which I believe means "The Ride", here in Boston) pay just 4.14% of the cost of their rides.

The MBTA reports this information, too (Page 12). Although it's from 2009, the report I found details how the T compares to other major US transit systems when it comes to cost recovery.

Heavy rail users in Massachusetts appear to be paying just a bit more than riders in other states, at almost 54%, but light rail users are getting smacked, paying the highest percentage among six major metropolises. Ferry boat riders cover more than 60% of the cost of their rides, far and away the highest percentage, nationwide.



Free tagging: 


hear that, handiassholes?

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Demand response users (which I believe means "The Ride", here in Boston) pay just 4.14% of the cost of their rides.

Hear that? Take the bus like everyone else. Society's obligation definitely doesn't extend to paying 94% of your personal chauffeur costs.


That's 95.86%, actually.

Plus, I'm sure that if you were a handiasshole who lived a half mile from the nearest bus stop, you'd be extremely grateful for The Ride.

Your hostile language is

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Your hostile language is uncalled for.

But paratransit is a great example of a well-intentioned social service getting out of control.

It was supposed to be temporary, until transit systems could buy accessible buses and add elevators to subway stations.

But then its mandate got extended to cover people who couldn't use the regular transit system even if it did have elevators.

And then a lot of people got approved for it who shouldn't have.

So now that the bus system is 100% accessible, as are almost all subway stations, the T is still stuck paying the huge costs of paratransit.

And paratransit service is overburdened, so the people who really need it can't depend on it.

Another thing to bear in mind...

Paratranist isn't just about whether buses and subways and whatnot are physically accesible. The Ride also provides services to individuals with cognitive deficits, development delays, or mental health impairments that are otherwise unable to navigate public transportation on their own. Yes, this service is expensive, but it is a valuable service that enables individuals to participate more fully in society who may otherwise be effectively homebound. Referring to the Ride as a personal chauffeur is both short-sighted and offensive.

Why should it come from the

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Why should it come from the transit agency's budget, instead of a social services budget?

And what limits should be placed on the costs, service levels, and eligibility thresholds?

Well, I can't tell you why it

Well, I can't tell you why it -should- come from the transit agency's budget, rather than social services. However, I can tell you that it comes from the MBTA's budget because the Americans with Disabilities Act requires transit agencies to provide these services. I believe there is also additional transportation services run through MassHealth and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to transport individuals to and from non-emergency medical appointments who would be otherwise unable to get there.

As for your second question, there are limits on service levels and eligibility. I should also note that you have to physically meet in-person with someone to determine eligibility. It's more than just a "fill out this paperwork and have your doctor sign it" type of situation.

In New York, some city

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In New York, some city councilors sent Access-a-Ride applications to *every single person* over 65 in their district, with a letter saying, "Hey, did you know you can get door-to-door van rides anywhere in the city for the cost of a subway fare? Vote for me next November!"

That's how a well-intentioned social program spirals out of control.

As a Ferry Rider, all is I can say is, your welcome

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$20 round trip from Hingham including parking and we can buy beer outbound as well. I'll take that anyday over taking a BC car from Park Street to the stop before Chestnut Hill for $5.00 round trip anyday.

I'm all for cutting out a few grandma/grandkid trips in the middle of the day as well to cut down on expenses for the boat.

You're Welcome

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Sorry. Long day, poor grammah.

Didn't the T used to have a

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Didn't the T used to have a policy goal of keeping fares very low, to keep the farebox recovery ratio around 25%?

Clearing up confusion

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This is the percentage that passengers pay - out of pocket - compared to what their rides actually cost.

Not quite. That makes it sound like increasing ridership spills more red ink. For example, if a piece of candy sells for $2 but it actually costs $4 to produce, then the merchant is losing $2 per sale. But that's not how it works with transit.

Instead, the MBTA invests a fixed amount of money (say, $20,000) in providing service on a particular route for a day. Then, each rider contributes their fare and that is subtracted from the $20,000. So if there were 9,000 boardings and each paid $1, then you would gain revenue of $11,000 for a net cost of $9,000. Then some analyst would come along, divide $9,000 by $20,000 and claim that you had a "45% farebox recovery rate."

Then the next day, if suddenly 1,000 more people boarded, then you would have a 50% recovery rate.

Regarding the NTD numbers, they just take the overall revenue associated with say, Light Rail, and the overall operating expenses, and divide them. For example, I already have the PDF summary for agency 1003 "MBTA" open, let's take the LR numbers: $71,723,787 / $146,314,137 = 0.4902 = 49.02% indeed.

You can also see how they get values for "average fare paid per rider" by just dividing revenue by boardings: about $0.96 for LR.

These numbers give you a broad picture but don't really help with specific analysis. For example, it doesn't tell you details about each routes' revenue and expenses. You can get that from the Service Plan or the RPI. Although it appears there is still some aggregating going on (read the SDP), which makes the numbers somewhat less useful.

At this point, I want to emphasize that while profitability is nice, it is not the sole goal of the MBTA. Recall that it is an agency that is charged with providing a social service, so while it wants to recover costs, it also needs to spend money in directions that do not bring in revenue. One of those goals might be "coverage" which means having a route near as many people as possible, even if it is not profitable. Another goal is "equity" which can mean a lot of things to different people, but generally means providing the opportunity for the same service to all regardless of their ability.

And finally I have to say that NTD's numbers are sometimes inconsistent with the MBTA's numbers, and their reporting requirements seem to be a bit vague at times. For example, I looked at the revenue-vehicle operating hours for light rail over the past decade or so, and there are a bunch of incongruities which I cannot explain. Another oddity is the reporting of commuter rail expenses, which seem to indicate that the MBTA is getting a really good deal compared to other American agencies. I have a lot of trouble believing that. Another one for CR: the NTD claims $301 million cost for FY2011 while the MBTA Audited report claims $366 million. There was a discrepancy last year too.

Thank you. Great Info

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My thanks to John Keith and Matthew for terrific information and analysis.

Like John Costello, I ride the ferry which is an expensive luxury, but it's truly the only way to commute. Civilized!

Th $366 mil number in the

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Th $366 mil number in the audit includes "commuter rail and other local service subsidy". The "other local service" includes The Ride para transit contracts, the boat contracts, and the contracts for the small number of buses that are operated by private operators for the T (like the Winthrop buses or Lexpress subsidies)

The NTD $301 mil number is just commuter rail

Interesting, but

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It's plausible that the "local subsidy expenses" are as you say, but that leaves a $65 million gap that needs to be filled by such "local subsidy expenses."

The demand response (paratransit) service is entirely "purchased" but comes in at $98 million, well in excess of the total gap, so I don't think it can be that.

That leaves ferry ($9 million) and whatever the cost of the 17 vehicles operated by "purchased transportation" is. I can't imagine those add up to $56 million.

So I'm still puzzled. If you don't mind chiming in again, what services exactly come under the heading of "local subsidy expenses?" Or are the paratransit service costs somehow divided up into different categories to make it fit?

The local services line item

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The local services line item besides the MBCR contract includes the Ride, boat, and private bus contracts.

The MBTA buys the diesel fuel for commuter rail direct, and that is not included in the MBCR contract. So the audit number is para transit, boat, private bus, and commuter rail (not including the diesel fuel costs), while the NTD number is the MBCR contract plus the commuter rail diesel fuel costs.


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So, then if I'm understanding this correctly, that puts locomotive diesel fuel costs (and possibly other costs) at approximately $40 million.

The summary sheet doesn't have fuel costs but the spreadsheet data does, so that's about $31 million, and then there's a collection of other costs also listed which brings the total up to about $36 million under CR operating expenses. I'm probably missing something else. Close enough for government work. Seems plausible.

NTD great wealth of info!

Spreadsheet data allows people to calculate and graph all sorts of interesting data, like diesel bus MPG over the years. It took a dive around 2005. What would be nice to get is boarding data by stop for all modes.

Note how the red line is heavily used, yet big usage communities don't pay a fair share! Quincy gets all kinds of MBTA services while having lower assessments as one of the 54 communities. Cambridge gets Chapter 90 road maintenance funding for residents and workers (as all do) despite many using the red or green line rails instead of roads - MBTA should get that money.