Distance-Based Fares Aren’t Very Fair

Riders using a Red Line extension to 130th could pay higher fares the further they travel. Photo by Flickr User, SoStark

Riders who live at the edge of the Red Line may be unfairly required to pay higher fares the further they travel. Photo by Flickr User, SoStark

Mayor Emanuel and President Clinton’s announcement of an “Infrastructure Trust” has gotten many people thinking about innovative ways to revamp our aging transportation infrastructure.

I’m all for exciting new transportation ideas and ways to fund them. Having toured some innovative transit systems around the world, including Mexico City’s bus rapid transit line, I know we have some catching up to do.

But some ideas that work in other places may not be right for Chicago. I was surprised to read this in the Sun-Times article that covered the infrastructure trust press conference:

“CTA riders could be asked to pay higher fares for buses with front and rear boarding that operate in dedicated lanes with traffic lights that turn green automatically… Riders using a Red Line extension to 130th could pay higher fares the further they travel.”

As a member of the CTA Board, that last bit about the Red Line was news to me. The Board has not made any decisions or even had a discussion about distance-based fares.

I don’t think distance-based fares are the right way to help pay for transit improvements. It strikes me as unfair to make the poorest residents pay more to travel than wealthier people who live closer to downtown. We should not punish those who have been forced farther out of the city’s central core by rising real estate prices with increased transportation costs, especially when they have been denied the good transit access that many of us have enjoyed for so long.

We will find innovative ways to finance transit—I have some thoughts that I’ll share with you through this blog—but charging those who can least afford to pay more is not one of them.