You’ve gotta keep an eye on our Hartford lawmakers because every now and then they come up with a wacky proposal that makes no sense, except perhaps for their re-election plans. Case in point, the suggestion a few years ago by then State Senate President Don Williams that senior citizens be given free transit rides statewide. He said that they had “earned” it.
(Full disclosure here: I am a tad over 65 and am all-in for my senior benefits, though I’m not sure how I might have “earned” them simply by my age.)
The Senator’s theory was that by offering free rides, seniors would flock to the state’s buses and trains and form an important advocacy group for public transit. Really?
The reason that seniors don’t ride our buses is not the fares, which already kept low. With a senior discount a bus ride in Stamford and Bridgeport just 85 cents. There is no cheaper form of transportation except for calling your son-in-law for a ride to the mall.
No, I don’t think it’s the fares that are keeping seniors off our buses: it’s the service. Our bus service doesn’t go where they need to go and doesn’t offer the frequency of service that makes it convenient. Worst of all, I’m guessing that many seniors don’t feel safe on buses. Reducing the fare to zero will change none of that.
What about the people that do take the bus… the working poor, immigrants without cars or drivers’ licenses and even students? One could argue that they deserve a price break. Does a Senior in Greenwich deserve a free ride to Stamford while a low-income Mom in Danbury or Bridgeport must pay full fare to get to her minimum wage job?
As it stands, bus fares cover only one third of the cost of each ride. That means they enjoy a 66% subsidy from taxpayers (compared to a 24% subsidy on Metro-North). Certainly the marginal cost of adding additional riders on a less than full bus is pennies, but giving seniors a freebie probably means that other passengers, or taxpayers, will pick up the difference.
And while we may have empty seats on some city buses, the Senator’s proposal would also have included Metro-North and Shore Line East, where we know we have crowding already.
Commuters from, say, Bridgeport to Grand Central, pay a one-way fare of $19.50 at rush hour or $14.75 off-peak. Senior fares (only good outside of rush-hour) are $9.75, half of the usual one-way fare. That’s quite a bargain.
Now imagine if the Senator’s bill had passed and a senior, riding free, was vying for a seat on a over-crowded train filled with paying passengers. That could make for an interesting conversation.
Clearly, Senator William’s plan was just not thought through, which is why it was killed in committee. Or more likely, coming from the bucolic burgh of Brooklyn CT, he’d rarely ridden Metro-North at rush hour… something I’d suggest all state lawmakers should do… and didn’t know the implications of his bill.
I’m all for doing what we can to encourage everyone to use mass transit, seniors included. But the answers are not in offering a free ride, but in providing the kind of service they, and all of us, are willing to pay for.
Reposted with permission of Hearst CT Media