Jefftran Has Deeper Problems than Fare Revenue
Recently, Jefferson City’s City Council voted against raising fares on its public transportation system, Jefftran. The proposal would have increased full fare from $1 to $1.50. Jefferson City’s transit director lamented the decision, stating that the fare increase would have brought in an extra $30,000 to Jefftran.
But in reality, if Jefftran is to become financially stable, it should start by reexamining how it runs its buses. In 2013, Jefftran carried about 335,000 riders. However, Jefftran’s expenses were more than $2 million in the same year. That means for every person who stepped on board a city bus, Jefftran spent about $6 . However, on average, each passenger paid only 60 cents per trip. Percentage wise, that’s a huge subsidy; a subsidy that is ultimately borne by local and national taxpayers. By raising fares 50 cents, revenue from riders would go from covering about 10% of operating costs to covering almost 12%. That’s more than a drop in the bucket, but not much more.
Rather than aiming for a little extra money from fares, Jefftran could look into how its buses operate. Despite Jefftran’s extremely low fares (half the cost of riding a bus in Saint Louis), it has struggled to attract customers. In fact, ridership on the system is down more than 25% since 2008.
Jefftran buses have low utilization for the service level they provide, and that utilization has decreased in recent years along with ridership. It’s clear that the service Jefftran offers is not serving the needs of residents, at least not in a way that is commensurate with the amount of resources the system requires.
If Jefftran is truly to become an efficient transportation system, it needs to be prepared to ask tough questions about its operations. Questions like: What type of services do residents demand, and would be willing to pay for? Are traditional bus routes a cost-effective way of providing mobility in Jefferson City? Is Jefftran running the type of routes that maximizes ridership while keeping costs low?
However Jefftran answers these questions, it seems clear that Jefftran has problems that will not be solved with a 50 cent fare increase.