Wednesday, December 2, 2009

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Hardly a day goes by without someone on Twitter crowing about how they got a free bus ride because the bus farebox was broken. Here's an example from the other day.

dmlaenker Woo free bus ride! THANKS #wmata AND YOUR DYSFUNCTIONAL SMARTRIP INFRASTRUCTURE. #metrofail

In our own, highly scientific poll, more than half of those who answered said they'd had a free ride in the past month. Even if the majority are lying and only 10 percent actually got free rides, that would be a considerable revenue leak in a "cash strapped" agency. Metro estimates that bus ridership is about 450,000 a day. Do the math.

You'd think WMATA would want to plug that leak, especially when it's considering fare hikes and service cuts.

We asked Metro a while ago to provide statistics about broken fareboxes, but they only said they didn't send buses out with broken fareboxes.

After hearing more and more cases of free rides, we went back to Metro to ask if they keep any kind of data about how much money they lose over things like this.

They said they don't keep the data. "This is data that would be helpful to us," they said, but they are, like many other things, "examining" tracking it.

And reader Russ offers up another example of easy money escaping WMATA:

I park at the Grosvenor station each day. Some days, especially if I am running a little late, the parking lot is full. I usually will drive in at that point, but some days, I will park in the "reserved".

About 50 percent of the time, I will get a $50 parking ticket from the Metro police. This has happened three times in about as many years.

The best part about it? The tickets are meaningless. In theory, I should be able to go onto the Montgomery County Web site to pay them off, where they are supposed to appear within 24 hours. However, and I think this is a lot more than a coincidence involving me, the tickets never appear. I can search using my tag number or the ticket number, and neither ever shows up.

So, not that I WANT to get charged the $50 for the ticket, but here is yet another example of Metro employees not following through on their job, and, losing a revenue stream because of it.
Other items:
TOC monitors to begin safety checks (WaPo)


Anonymous said...

on a related note, until recently MARC used to give away free rides during the extreme evening rush hour. the conductors' logic was typically, "the train was too crowded to move through and collect tickets." interesting plan right there.

Anonymous said...

I've gotten at least 3 free bus rides in the last two weeks (including this morning) as have many of my fellow riders. That is a huge amount of money lost for them, not to mention creating some confusion among the riders and surely frustrating the bus operators...

Anonymous said...

When they first started having you pay for parking at the Metro with your Smartrip card, I figured out I could go negative forever on my card and would still be let out of the garage. I put one dollar on that card and used it everday just for parking. I think I was negative 500 dollars or more by the time Metro figured it out.

Scott Gentzen said...

Don't count on lax enforcement for the reserved parking spaces.

At Vienna, there's a Fairfax County cop that does a walkthrough every morning before the 10am cutoff. You will get a ticket. The only exception is if you get in right before 10. Then you might be able to get in because of the problem of only one guy covering two garages.

Also, speaking from experience, those tickets pop up on the site pretty quickly and the fines escalate from $50 to $75 in 2 weeks or so.

Anonymous said...

Also, as far as the Anonymous #2 comment about SmartTrip and negative balances....

In the Vienna parking garages at least, you have to have the full amount on the SmartTrip card for it to let you out now. I rolled up with like $4.15 on it the other day and got denied. Had to use the credit card machine.

You can still go negative on SmartTrip on train fares though. It won't let you in with a negative balance, but it'll let you out. I've gone as far in the hole as $4-something.

Dan Franzen said...

"Metro estimates that bus ridership is about 450,000 a day. Do the math."

If someone gets a free ride because of a broken farebox, does he/she get counted among the 450,000? Or are we talking X people getting free rides on top of the 450,000 people? It's still a loss of revenue, obviously, but if these people aren't being officially counted then the ridership is even higher than Metro thinks.

Anonymous said...

I feel unloved. I've not got a freebie from Metro in ages. I've had my ankle severely bruised from train doors shutting without warning. I've had my farecard gate not work. I've been hit in the head with empty water bottles from unsocial teens. I've even had a broken train dump yesterday (par for the course), but alas! Alas my assterisk, I got no freebies.

Anonymous said...

With the free rides, i gues you get what you pay for.

J. Thomas said...

The free ride is a very common occurrence here in Baltimore on MTA. At least twice a week, there's a fair box broken on the 10 line. Which is usually awesome, unless I've bought a day pass, which then irks me because the money's already spent.

Anonymous said...

I had the same experience at Landover. I wanted to fight the ticket and sent the letter in, but PG county couldn't find the ticket. That was 8 months ago.

Anonymous said...

Because a parking ticket doesn't show up on MOCO's website does not mean a Metro employee didn't do his/her job.

How about you just park where you are supposed to? It is because of rude/inconsiderate people that Transit Officers get taken away from other more important duties to enforce the "reserved parking". Don't have a reserved parking permit? Don't park there!

And, so you know, Metro receives NO revenue from citations...

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