Chart of the Day: Gas Tax vs. Transit Fare Increases over Time

Another one from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, comparing increases in the gas tax and transit fares for Metro Transit from 1988, the last time the gas tax was increased prior to 2000. It’s technically an “infographic”, I supose:



7 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Gas Tax vs. Transit Fare Increases over Time

  1. Matt Brillhart

    I was hoping somebody could add context to what the proposed 6.5% sales tax on gas would do. Anyone – what would the sales tax do to gas at $3.00/gallon? $4.00/gallon? If it were simply added on top of pump price of $3.00, that would yield an additional 19.5 cents per gallon. Added to the existing 28.5 cents, that’d make 48 cents per gallon. Wouldn’t that be double taxation though?? (Layering a state sales tax on top of other state and federal excise taxes).

    The main thing I wanted to address was transit fares, and whether they’re too high, too low, or just right. Looking at fares around the country, it would seem that our $2.25 for local bus and LRT trips is “just right”. The vast majority of trips are made during rush hours, so I tend to not even consider the non-rush fares ($1.75) when doing comparisons between different transit systems. It’s actually very rare among our peers to have different fares for rush hours and off-peak. I think it’s kinda dumb and unnecessarily complicates the system. Just make them all $2. Or make them all $2.25 and pour the extra revenue into better service during those off-peak times.

    Where our fare system really beats most others is the 2.5 hour *unlimited* transfer window. Our system allows any transfers, in any travel direction, between bus and rail and back again. Not many systems can claim that. That benefit comes on top of just having a single metro fare system in the first place, which we definitely take for granted. Many of the largest cities in the US have multiple fare systems and do not allow free transfers.

    I do think you could make a case for charging more than $3 for the longer haul express routes (Forest Lake, Lakeville, etc.), though speaking strictly subsidy-wise those actually perform pretty well due to the buses being quite full over limited numbers of trips. If you take away the actual subsidy per passenger consideration, it just seems really unfair to charge the same price for a 20-mile express trip and a 6-mile express trip. Would express “zones” really be that bad? It actually wouldn’t add confusion to the system, as most suburban express riders likely only use that one route.

    1. Matt Brillhart

      Can you imagine what transit ridership would be like today if local (peak) fares were $1.50* and express routes were $2.00*?? Bonkers.

      *That’s a 33% reduction, or roughly in line what the CPI calculation suggests they ought to be, based off 1988 fare levels.

      For the transit system to “break even” (e.g. present subsidy levels) you’d then have to increase ridership by 1/3, without adding any new bus trips, correct? Seriously though, how much would it actually cost the public if fares were reduced by 1/3, but total ridership spiked 5%, or 10%, or 15%?

  2. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    Partially in light of Matt’s comments, one thing the chart does well is show how transit fares have increased far differently from the gas tax.

    What the chart DOESN’T show is that, generally, about 80% of a transit agency’s operating costs are in the form of salaries, wages, and benefits. And the cost of benefits especially (in particular medical/health) has skyrocketed far faster than the CPI.

    1. Jim Erkel

      It may be that a lot of Metro Transit’s costs are wages, salaries and benefits and may have increased at a rate higher than CPI. However, the same cost pressures would also seem to apply to MNDOT’s own personnel costs and the personnel cost of its contractors. The fact that such costs are less than that of Metro Transit means we have to look at how MNDOT’s non-personnel costs have fared. MNDOT maintains a construction cost index. It reflects changes in excavation costs and the cost of asphalt, concrete , and steel used in construction. Between 1988 and 2012 (the last numbers its has reported), the CCI increased by 170.7%, much more than the CPI. If the state gas tax had kept up with the CCI, it would be 54.1 cents, not 28.5 cents.

  3. Sam

    I do think it would simplify the system quite a bit to get rid of rush and non-rush fares, for the following reasons….

    It can be quite confusing if you’re boarding a bus right around the time it switches, as the driver may or may not have already switched it over.

    Some drivers never switch it over (for 4 months I only paid $2.25 to take the 94 during afternoon rush hour until the driver moved to a new route).

    Some drivers never enforce the higher cost. You can see someone insert a transfer and then pretend to dig around in their pocket long enough until the bus driver says “just go ahead”. The same people do the same thing every day.

    I agree that our unlimited transfers are an amazing benefit, but I see them get abused far too often, such as people handing transfers to others, or taking expired transfers from the floor and pretending there was a mistake. Also, I still am not sure I understand the math on a transfer. I can take a local bus at 5:58am and my card is only charged $1.75, then I transfer to an express bus at 6:15am and am only charged $.75 more. I’m paying less than everyone else, and while I like it, it’s definitely not fair seeing as how I’m actually taking up MORE resources than they are. Whatever math they are using, they know they are using it because their trip planner shows me the cheaper cost by taking an extra bus! This save me $2.50/week = $130/year!!

    Most my problems with our fair system would be resolved by fully switching over to 100% electronic payment (if paying on bus). Cash payments should not be accepted on buses. We need a bigger push to make this happen.

    1. Dennis

      London is cash less Sydney has some bus routes that are Prepaid only.Metro Transit should charge extra for paper transfers to get peopleto use GoTo cards.

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