Why is the bus more expensive than before the pandemic?
As a safety measure near the beginning of the pandemic, the use of physical transfer slips was suspended. As a trade-off, Metro cut the price of a single bus ride in half to $1.
Transit users who start their trip at a bus (a vast majority of them) and who need to transfer to reach their destination (another vast majority), the trip is more costly than before:
Bus ($1.00) + Train ($2.50) > Two-hour pass ($3.00)
Many start by boarding a bus, transfer to the Metrolink, and very likely have another final bus leg at the end of the trip. Since there’s no way to buy two-hours of transit on the bus at the start of your trip, you buy full train fare ($2.50) separately at the Metrolink station - not only slowing down the trip - but making it more expensive than the initial two-hour pass would have cost.
( Bus ($1.00) + Bus ($1.00) ) x 2 > Two-hour pass ($3.00)
Trips which don’t require a transfer to Metrolink likely require a transfer between buses. When a return trip is taken into account, a bus rider is paying $1.00 four separate times for a trip that would have, before the pandemic, only cost $3.00.
Not every trip, but enough to be concerned
Many trips are cheaper than before the pandemic, but for those who rely on the bus every day, the trend is concerning. We are still in an economic crisis, on top of a public health one, and people using transit are far more likely to lack any alternative to using the bus. Requiring them to pay more, while also vastly cutting back service is cruel and unfair.
One alternative as the pandemic remains present would be to return to the rear-door boarding on buses which Metro used March 21 - June 1, 2020. This would be a win, not just in improving fare equity, but in better protecting bus drivers and riders. Front-door boarding requires every person boarding a bus face the driver as they pay fare, exponentially increasing the risk of COVID transmission. We strongly believe this safety measure would help in incentivizing new hiring (and help to protect our existing operators!)
Rear-door boarding does come at the cost of some fares, but Bi-State development recieved $142.4 million in CARES funding for safe operation. In comparison, the entirety expected from fares in the 2021 budget is $23 million. We could easily afford safer, free bus service. Instead we’re left with service that is less safe and more expensive than before the pandemic.
Other fare options
Another option to improve fare equity is to implement fare-capping, a system by which those who buy their fare individually through the month or week don’t end up paying more than they would have if they had bought a weekly or monthly pass upfront. Once a rider has payed the same amount as a monthly pass, the rest of their rides that month are free. This solution isn’t all-encompassing, as it wouldn’t benefit those who lack a Gateway Card or a smart phone, but it would go a long way towards improving the experience for many riders.
Regardless, it’s clear in may ways that decisionmakers at Bi-State and Metro don’t seem to actually use our bus system, and their choices make abundantly clear that they don’t care. If our vision of a better bus system resonates with you, join Bus Riders United STL today. We also urge you to send Bi-State a public comment, which will be read aloud to them in their next public meeting.