TriMet’s proposal to limit Fareless Square to rail-only saves $800,000 per year, according to a memo released from the TriMet Board of Directors this morning. The change would decrease fare evasion from people who board buses in Fareless Square and keep riding outside downtown without ever buying a ticket.
TriMet estimates it loses $1-2 million in fare evasion annually due to Fareless Square, says a study commissioned last year. If TriMet nixed Fareless Square entirely, they estimate they would make $2.7 and $3.3 million more in revenue annually.
But this projected revenue increase is difficult to calculate because it is unclear how free transit affects demand for transit. It is likely that many would choose to walk instead should buses in this area begin charging fare. In other words, downtown bus fares won’t make TriMet new money; they would simply lose less money.
TriMet is looking at a $31 million deficit, which it plans to close with wage/salary freezes and federal stimulus money, in addition to service cuts, which were approved in March. But these cuts still leave TriMet $3.5 million short, which brings us to the proposed elimination of fareless buses and "small reductions in bus frequency."
In the last month, TriMet has been taking comments on their proposal. Of the 553 comments received, 52 percent support the rail-only proposal, 19.5 percent want to keep Fareless Square as it is, and 11.6 percent believe it should be eliminated altogether (16.3 fell into the “other” category).