It’s a classic problem of “sunk costs”

If you've already purchased a car, there are big financial incentives to drive it. Image: Better Institutions

Today's tangent comes from Streets Blog's "The Big Leap From Car-Lite to Car-Free"

I was thinking wouldn't be great if we could model car use after mass transit use, there in front of your house is a free car and to use it you just have to plop down $25 for the first 20 miles (average daily cost and average daily travel distance rounded to nice numbers). Just think how many more would use a car more often with that model.

Wait, what? You think car use would go down if we charged per trip? Well that's my point, why are we using this model to "sell" mass transit? When I moved to New York City they offered a discount if you bought tokens in bulk. And with a pocket full of tokens I was more likely to pick mass transit as my travel mode, that is to say I had already sunk my money into mass transit so I used it.

But here in Maryland it is very different, a single trip is $1.60 a day pass is $3.50, 30 cents more for what a ideal round trip should cost but our routes are so convoluted that a day pass is considered a bargain because you are going to have to take more than one line to get anywhere. - That is not selling mass transit as a viable option!

And then there is the weekly pass, ideally if you took mass transit to and from work 5 days a week or ten trips that would cost $16 so for 50 cents MORE you can get a weekly pass. Again only a bargain because of our poorly designed routes. - That is not selling mass transit as a viable option!

For completeness there is a monthly pass that is exactly the same price of 20 round trips. I really have to ask what is the incentive here for someone with a car to try mass transit? If you happen to live/work someplace where one line will serve your needs there is no incentive to sink costs into mass transit, and if you live/work someplace where you need to take more than one line so these options are a bargain but the wait and transfers are a nightmare so that is not an incentive.

While we do need to un-spaghettize our routes we really need to offer a discount at least on the monthly pass to help put mass transit on the same playing field as owning a car.

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