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Streetcars on the "honor system"

Like most other rail street transit systems in the world, the DC streetcar should operate as a proof of payment honor system. This system requires passengers riding the streetcar to have proof that their current ride is paid for, but does not require riders to show their ticket until asked by an inspector. This system is extensively used in Europe and in various American cities like San Diego, Portland, Phoenix, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

Photo by viriyincy.

Honor system boarding allows people to board at any door of the vehicle and speeds up vehicle travel speed. If you have a valid day or week pass or prepaid cash ticket, nothing would be required. Just board and go. If you have a SmarTrip card, readers at each door would be available to register your payment. Cash fares could be paid at the driver's door only, but this could be discouraged by increasing the cash fare (for example, by charging $2.00 at the farebox instead of $1.50 at a ticket vending machine in the station). The goal would be to encourage as many riders to prepay their fares so the boarding process can happen smoothly and with a minimum of delay.

Fare verification would require sampling inspection of tickets. First-time non-payers could be warned, repeat offenders could be fined or (in rare cases) ejected. A reasonable first fine (after a warning) could be $50, with a maximum $200 fine. Citations could be paid by mail or contested at the Metro or DDOT office, with judicial appeals available if required by law. I'm not sure what to do about passengers that are not carrying photo ID. Some systems have difficulty compelling fare evaders to show ID, at worst they could be asked to leave the vehicle.

Having enough inspections to give people more than a 10% chance of being asked to show payment is a reasonable balance between too many inspectors and rampant fraud. With this level of inspection, the TCRP reports that most transit operators see between 1 and 6% non-payment rate. For example, Phoenix's new light rail transit line reports about a 1% non-payment rate with about a million rides per month. For DC's streetcar lines, three to five full-time inspectors for each line should be sufficient to provide this level of coverage, supplemented by additional temporary staff inspectors occasionally to provide more robust coverage and audits.

Alternative to honor system: Encase the station in plexiglas. Photo by BuenosAiresPhotographer.
Inspections would be kept brief, paper fare media could be inspected visually, and SmarTrip payment or passes could be validated by hand-held readers. To reduce confrontation and security risks, inspectors might be sent in pairs, boarding the vehicle at both doors and meeting in the middle.

There are some alternatives to the honor system. One would be to require all passengers to board at the front door and pay or show a pass, involving longer waiting times at stops. Another would be to have a conductors at each door (I saw this in Germany) which would increase operating costs. Finally, DDOT could somehow limit access to streetcar stations except through faregates, which is likely impractical or impossible without encasing the station and providing street-side doors like in Curitiba.

Since these alternatives are slower or more expensive, I recommend that DC follow other cities and use proof of payment/honor system for collecting streetcar fares.

Michael Perkins serves on the Arlington County Transportation Commission, though the views expressed here are his own. He lives in Arlington with his wife and two children. 


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Couldn't this be construed as entrapment since the first two streetcar lines will be in Southeast and H Street?

On the other hand, with strong enforcement, it might obviate the need for a loitering law.

by oboe on Sep 23, 2009 1:55 pm • linkreport

Studies show that the honor system saves transit agencies money. Basically, the cost of putting in gates and slowing service is more than the cost of fare evaders.

by BeyondDC on Sep 23, 2009 2:06 pm • linkreport

Baltimore Light Rail's maximum fine for non-payment is $500....

by Mike on Sep 23, 2009 2:11 pm • linkreport

Add 30 days in the pokey, and you might have something.

by oboe on Sep 23, 2009 2:19 pm • linkreport

Proof of payment has worked so spectacularly in Los Angeles that they're installing faregates in all of their heavy rail stations....

That said, why couldn't the station be in a neat plexiglas box rather than the loopy structures in Curitiba? I think that it could potentially provide additional aesthetic context vis-a-vis the rest of the Metro system.

by J.D. Hammond on Sep 23, 2009 2:22 pm • linkreport

Heavy rail is an entirely different story than light rail. You already have dedicated mezzanines and platforms that are at the very least fenced-off from the outside. Since access to the platform is controlled anyway, the formula for whether or not fare gates are worth it is TOTALLY different from the formula for an on-street service.

by BeyondDC on Sep 23, 2009 2:26 pm • linkreport

If this is a good idea for streetcar rail, does it follow that DC should ALSO use the honor system for its buses? If not, what's the difference?

(I am not being rhetorical; I honestly want to learn more.)

by tom veil on Sep 23, 2009 2:28 pm • linkreport

Faregates work much better in an environment that trends towards heavy rail, with distinct platforms, mezzanines, etc. LA's light and heavy rail stations won't be that hard to add faregates to.

Streetcars, on the other hand, don't need much more than a curb for a stop. They're more like a bus.

by Alex B. on Sep 23, 2009 2:29 pm • linkreport


by beatbxox on Sep 23, 2009 2:34 pm • linkreport

The key difference is that streetcars go where the rails are. They may not have a full platform like light rail, but they have distinct stops and can put a farecard vending machine there. Putting that same kind of fixed infrastructure in place for buses might make sense for some express routes, but it would likely be too expensive for every bus stop. And if you don't have it at every bus stop, then you still need on-board fare collection.

By having pre-paid fares, you get the benefits of boarding and disembarking from all the doors, and you pre-pay the fares - both of which speed up service. You could do the same thing with buses, too.

by Alex B. on Sep 23, 2009 2:38 pm • linkreport

I like the idea, but what serves as proof of payment for Smartrip users? Are you proposing that the vehicles have ticket printers?

by taylor.nmt on Sep 23, 2009 2:47 pm • linkreport

Someday we could do buses the same way if we allow users to pay with their cell phones. I've heard of this being done in Europe, but I don't recall where.

by David C on Sep 23, 2009 2:49 pm • linkreport

What about just using SmartTrip so it is compatible with what we already have? Presumably the trip history is already stored, so inspectors could have a hand-held card reader to scan people's cards to make sure they paid.

There could easily be a second SmartTrip card reader at the second door to speed boarding.

by Pat O on Sep 23, 2009 2:49 pm • linkreport

I should definitely read the whole post before commenting...sorry everyone.

by Pat O on Sep 23, 2009 2:55 pm • linkreport

(Sounding like a broken record with this lead in) But in Amsterdam they have a ticket booth RIGHT IN THE STREETCAR! It was a little strange but it made sense. I don't mean a machine, an actual person selling tickets in the car. I should have taken a picuture.

by Boots on Sep 23, 2009 2:59 pm • linkreport

@Boots, that's great if you want to nearly double your operating cost.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 23, 2009 3:01 pm • linkreport

I'm all for the honor system but most places with it have a completely different fare model than we have here.

Typically under a honor system you buy a flat-rate ticket for a single ride in particular zone(s) that you validate upon boarding the bus/tram/train, or you buy a discounted package of these tickets, or (most commonly) you buy a daily/weekly/monthly pass that you only have to validate once. Usually, ticket and pass vending machines are available at all transfer points or even on the bus/streetcar itself.

When you board you don't need to do anything at all if you have a pass, assuming it is properly validated. This is what really increases efficiency under the honor system.

Under our current system most people pay for transit a la carte (because obtaining passes is very cumbersome and not even that economical) so WMATA really needs to make passes cheaper, SmarTrip-compatible and easier to obtain before it makes sense to move to an honor system model.

by Phil on Sep 23, 2009 3:04 pm • linkreport

@tom veil: I think the difference is that once you go honor system you have to have a audit and monitoring program, which increases your operating costs slightly. If you don't get a corresponding improvement in boarding time (by having lots of doors and lots of passengers) then you end up losing money, both to the personnel costs of having inspectors, and the fare evasion costs.

For many bus lines, the savings aren't there. But imagine all the passengers for a two-car light rail train boarding at the front and processing cards/paying fares at the farebox. It would be really slow.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 23, 2009 3:09 pm • linkreport

The honor system could never work here. DC has way too many politicians and other untrustworthy types for this to be effective.

by Chris on Sep 23, 2009 3:24 pm • linkreport

I'm with taylor.nmt

How do we know that SmarTrip uses paid? Seems like issuing a paper ticket to a SmarTrip user defeats the whole purpose of electronic fares.

by Adam L on Sep 23, 2009 3:26 pm • linkreport

@phil: A significant fraction (like 25%) of bus customers use flash passes. They're cheap and convenient.

Smartrip passes were supposed to arrive this month for bus passengers, but are delayed for some reason and I haven't been successful in getting Metro to explain why.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 23, 2009 3:26 pm • linkreport

I don't think that first-time fare evaders should be let off with just a warning. Otherwise, everybody would just ride for free until they got caught the first time. You should at least have to pay a reasonable penalty fare of, say, 10 times the regular cash fare (assuming a 1 in 10 chance of getting caught), so that it doesn't make economic sense to try to push your luck.

Maybe the fare inspectors could be given some amount of discretion in cases where it's clear that someone was legitimately confused about how the fare system worked. But I could easily see that discretion being abused.

by Johanna on Sep 23, 2009 3:31 pm • linkreport

Someone else pointed out the Amsterdam system already, which actually works remarkably well.

During busier hours, the center door has a conductor who sells you tickets (by # of zones you're crossing), during non-peak hours, the driver handles that. You can also buy "strip cards" in advance that can be validated when you get on to speed things up.

by Chris on Sep 23, 2009 3:36 pm • linkreport

Honestly, the first time I got on honor-system transit (Vancouver SkyTrain), I was really confused and rode without paying. Similarly, when I was younger and visiting other cities, I was confused by tokens and zones - because D.C. doesn't have that. Part of that %1 non-payment bracket may be the confused out-of-towners.

by James M on Sep 23, 2009 3:42 pm • linkreport

POP is a joke in San Francisco. Fare evaders outnumber honest riders. In fact, the situation is so dire that MUNI is struggling with ways to correct it.

Create a system that allows people to ride for free and they will. Outside of the Market St. subway stations people can board any door of the train. If you want to pay for a fare you can only do so at the first door with the train operator. This creates delays as trains wait for people to pay and board. Only a couple lines have ticket vending machines at surface stations, most of which are broken or slapped with a sticker telling people to pay on the train.

by Mark on Sep 23, 2009 4:25 pm • linkreport

Weekly Metrobus passes really aren't that convenient at all. You have to order online and get them mailed, or buy them during business hours from the sales office at Metro Center which many people rarely visit.

Also Metro still doesn't offer a monthly pass option like most transit systems do, so if you are a regular commuter that means you have to get a new pass every week.

by Phil on Sep 23, 2009 4:29 pm • linkreport


They can also be brought a grocery stores and many people go to those at-least once a week which is not inconvenient

I just want to hear the explanation of if we have the honor system on the streetcar why cant it be done on the bus; regardless of mode of transit people will figure out a way.

Unless the fare checks were at every stop they will be useless; what stops a person from getting on one stop and getting off a few stops later without a paying you can not do that on most buses because you will have to pass the driver with a streetcar you board any door so it creates a problem.

I want to know how the fares will be structured will they be based on metrorail or metrobus fares.

Since they got weekly passes for bus and rail why not merge the two and when the streetcars eventually operating have unlimited weekly passes for all transit types.

by kk on Sep 23, 2009 4:54 pm • linkreport

The honor system is a joke in San Francisco because it is not enforced. It could be easily corrected by assignment of just a couple of additional police officers.

by BeyondDC on Sep 23, 2009 4:59 pm • linkreport

These solutions aren't difficult or unique.

There is no reason why anybody needs to be able to pay the fare on the train. In Baltimore, single tickets (as well as passes) are available from machines at each station. If the MTA is able to keep this system functioning in Baltimore, surely DDOT can keep it working in DC. We already have a prototype: The parking meters that also sell Circulator tickets.

And since so many people seem to have missed it in the original article, payment with SmarTrip cards can be verified using a hand-held device. This is how the MTA plans to implement SmarTrip (or the MTA's equivalent) on MARC. The fare could be paid either at a fixed spot at the station like the London Docklands or on board the train like the current bus system but with multiple targets on each vehicle.

by Stanton Park on Sep 23, 2009 5:39 pm • linkreport

Proof of Purchase works pretty well in Baltimore. I know people who don't pay sometimes, but when officers check tickets, I've never seen anyone get caught, and most people seem to buy a ticket before boarding.

My question is this: how do we handle transfers between Proof of Purchase streetcars, and [more] closed-system Metrorail? The incompatability of the two has lead to some confusion in Boston, where the Green Line spends some of its time as above ground trolleys, and some as subways; when MBTA introduced their smartcard, they did away with the tradition of letting people ride free from trolley stops southward (away from the subway portion), and now riders boarding at a trolley stop will either have to wait in line to board at the operator's door, or flash their Charlie Card, hoping that the operator will give them the benefit of the doubt that it has a weekly pass loaded on it.

by Lucre on Sep 23, 2009 6:07 pm • linkreport

POP does not need a large number of auditors, as long as the fines are high. In London, it's 100 pound on the spot, or 1000 before a judge.

Central London's buses are all POP. Each stop has a little machine to dispense tickets. You can pay with one of those tickets, or use a pass or smart card.

Budapest is also POP. I got two free rides. One happened when I wasn't on the bus long enough to validate my tickets. The other happened when the validation machine was broken. I was audited once coming out of the Metro.

I've also been audited in London and L.A.

by Chuck Coleman on Sep 23, 2009 7:07 pm • linkreport

Check out this image from Istanbul. They have turnstiles for their tram line running through the center of the city, and stations are surrounded by hip-level glass barriers (see above photo). I see turnstiles for a tram-style service as a great "middle ground" between an honor system operation and a buy on-board operation. It doesn't take customers any longer to buy a ticket and THEN enter a turnstile than it does to just buy a ticket from a machine and hop on board. The real delay comes with buying on-board tickets. Although people can clearly enter the station from the street without paying, I suspect the "station" turnstiles serves as a psychological deterrent to this kind of behavior, and random ticket checks could still be done at platforms to ensure complete compliance.

by Anthony on Sep 23, 2009 8:43 pm • linkreport

In Seattle (which I just rode), they have an ORCA system which you tap once on the platform before the light rail comes, then re-tap on the platform once you leave the light rail train to have the correct amount deducted. I presume the inspectors have card readers to verify that the e-passes are "validated". Otherwise, you print paper tickets from the similar machines, which we did. It would be interesting to see if WMATA could move to a proof of purchase system completely.

by Aaron on Sep 23, 2009 10:41 pm • linkreport

Isn't the Circulator on the honor system? Does anyone ever board in the back if they already have a validated SmarTrip? Would the driver know what's going on?

by Guest on Sep 23, 2009 10:53 pm • linkreport

CharmCard on MARC? When did they say this? And what about these handheld SmarTrip checking scanners? That would be a good way to enforce POP.

by Mike on Sep 23, 2009 11:05 pm • linkreport

As far as honor systems go, I saw a number of different ways to do it during my time in Europe. The key is doing the enforcement correctly.

In Rome, they have uniformed fare inspectors, meaning that scofflaws (if they are paying attention) just hop off the bus/train before the officers get on. You can see them a mile away.

In Berlin however, I got on a train and noticed a youngish looking skater type kid got on, and then as soon as the doors closed he pulled out his badge and started inspecting everyone's tickets. In this case anyone getting on the bus could be a cop, in Italy, you know when they are coming. I'd bet that scofflaws in Germany are much lower because of this.

by Boots on Sep 23, 2009 11:32 pm • linkreport

I was once a skeptic of POP fare systems. But it works very well on New Jersey Transit's three light rail systems, including the 34 mile interurban RiverLINE. And, much to my surprise, it works very well in urban areas such as Newark, N. J. There is very good inspection coverage and surprisingly very few fare cheats. I'd say that it would probably work very well on street cars in Washington, D. C.

by TransitJeff on Sep 24, 2009 12:09 am • linkreport

A popular website called identifies over 3,000 locations near train stations in nine western cities (so far).

by Randy Luethye on Sep 24, 2009 12:16 am • linkreport

POP is a joke in San Francisco. Fare evaders outnumber honest riders. In fact, the situation is so dire that MUNI is struggling with ways to correct it.

Fare evaders do NOT outnumber honest riders. The evasion rate is higher than other POP systems, but not nearly as high as people think. Shortly, Muni will release numbers on this.

@BeyondDC: Because of Muni's size and coverage (POP on the rail lines is simpler because there are so few of them and because a lot of boarding happens at stations) having enough POP officers is a challenge, given that all-door boarding essentially occurs on about 30% of Muni's bus lines (many of which have higher ridership than entire light rail systems in other cities). There are only about 45 fare inspectors at Muni, 15 of which are out at any one given time (remember that coverage needs to be during all service hours). Labor is very expensive (esp in San Francisco), especially for a dangerous job like that - assaults are not uncommon - and you dont really make back the money directly in fine collections. However, if you provide enough of a presence, it can act as a disincentive to encourage people to pay.

by ID on Sep 24, 2009 3:07 am • linkreport

With the SmartTrip system, which many many many people use even on the buses, fare collection is pretty fast. Given the likelihood of serious nonpayment, charge, and as the SmartTrip card becomes even more ubiquitous, dwell time will be less of a problem.

This is less of an issue/nonissue. Charge.

by Richard Layman on Sep 24, 2009 9:06 am • linkreport

In regards to SmarTrip customers:

Handheld RFID readers to exist. I know that when MARTA installed its smartcard 'Breeze' system, the agency got the handheld readers to use during major events when faregates were overwhelmed.

Since WMATA's and MARTA's fare systems were constructed by the same company, it would certainly be possible for WMATA (or DDOT) to obtain these readers for SmarTrip cards.

by Matt Johnson on Sep 24, 2009 10:19 am • linkreport

Richard, a proof of payment system still requires payment. It's not free. You say 'charge.' I don't see anyone proposing to not charge fares.

by Alex B. on Sep 24, 2009 10:43 am • linkreport

The biggest problem with implementing this in DC will be the unions. The unions in NJ tried everything in their power to kill POP on the River Line. They wanted their people workings as "conductors" on ever single car, just like the wasteful system used by most heavy-line rail systems.

The problem is, once people get used to this kind of system, they start to realize that we don't really need conductors on any train, (save perhaps for long haul Amtrak trains), and we really don't need people attending booths inside every transit station (there go the hundreds of Metro employees who serve that very purpose).

by metronic on Sep 24, 2009 12:32 pm • linkreport


"In a tunnel below the Potomac River four years ago, Larry Mitchell was at the controls of a crowded rush-hour Metro train headed to Rosslyn when he saw a glimmer of red reflecting off the walls. The train's crash avoidance system indicated that the track ahead was clear, but Mitchell sensed danger in the distance. He decided to override the system and brake manually -- then watched helplessly as his train rolled to a stop just 35 feet short of a train ahead.

As a shaken Mitchell radioed Metro supervisors, he was interrupted by the operator of the train behind him, who announced that he had just caught sight of Mitchell's train and hit his emergency brake. "You could hear the panic in his voice," Mitchell said. That train ground to a halt 20 feet short of Mitchell's."

Humans are still necessary in emergencies. They also serve as a check on the machines in non-emergencies, like when your smarttrip is inexplicably not letting you out of the station because you didn't scan it right at the beginning of the trip. Train operators also open and close the doors. This is pretty important, as some stations require a lot longer to offload and board passengers than others.

If train operators were done away with, how would you propose to operate trains manually in case of an emergency, as we are doing right now? After the Fort Totten incident, would we have just had to shut down the system?

People are entirely too quick to write humans out of the system. We're still the most advanced technology around.

by taylor.nmt on Sep 24, 2009 12:47 pm • linkreport

A conductor is not the same thing as an operator. Metronic is not saying that NJ Transit wanted to get rid of operators, he's saying they wanted to not have someone moving between cars checking tickets.

by Matt Johnson on Sep 24, 2009 12:50 pm • linkreport

If I misinterpreted, then I withdraw that.

However, metronic definitely wrote that transit station managers are unnecessary. That's only true insofar as the system works as designed. I have to talk to station managers all the time when the turnstile system isn't foolproof. Also, think of the tourists.

by taylor.nmt on Sep 24, 2009 1:24 pm • linkreport

fare inspection is ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as fare collection. the light rail lines should be free. having fare inspectors come by and accuse you, implicitly, of being a criminal is humiliating, so we should not tolerate it.

by Peter Smith on Sep 24, 2009 1:57 pm • linkreport

Implicit accusation of being a criminal?

That's outrageous, Peter. Have you ever ridden a light rail line with proof of payment, and been on board for a fare inspection? There is no accusation. The guy comes on and yells out "tickets, please." Everyone shows their tickets. There is no accusation of fare evasion unless, you know, actually evaded the fare.

by Alex B. on Sep 24, 2009 2:12 pm • linkreport

You can add Houston to the list of cities that use POP. I rode their light rail several times and witnessed one occasion of fare enforcement. One person was caught trying to ride free in a car of about 40 passengers.

I was just in Las Vegas and took the bus about 10 blocks (I could have walked, but it was 100 degrees and I was wearing a suit). It took almost as long to ride as walk, because every single passenger had to push their 3 singles (yes, $3) into the collection box. We sat through three light cycles at one intersection just to let passengers board. It was the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. POP is used almost everywhere else on the planet but the US. I'm sure we are smart enough to figure it out, too.

by Steve O on Sep 24, 2009 9:26 pm • linkreport

Las Vegas transit is one of the only privately owned transit systems in North America. And it actually "makes" money! But it's a joke to have buses on Las Vegas Boulevard. If ever there was a case for light rail or street cars, it's there, with that huge volumn of ridership 24 hours a day. And the street is certainly wide enough to handle a set of tracks.

by TransitJeff on Sep 25, 2009 4:31 am • linkreport

Have you ever ridden a light rail line with proof of payment, and been on board for a fare inspection? There is no accusation. The guy comes on and yells out "tickets, please." Everyone shows their tickets. There is no accusation of fare evasion unless, you know, actually evaded the fare.

i rode the sf muni just a couple of years ago. i apparently forgot to take the ticket that the machine spits out once you enter the gate after paying with that weird combination of coins they force you to use -- or just lost it in my wallet somewhere -- whatever. the ticket cop almost arrested me. it was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. f*ck that cop.

The guy comes on and yells out "tickets, please."

this is no different from yelling "prove to me that you are innocent, please." they say 'please', but it's not a request, it's a demand, and if you refuse to act as some transit cop expects, you're in for a hell of a time.

There is no accusation of fare evasion unless, you know, actually evaded the fare.

you are accused of fare evasion as soon as the ticket inspectors demand to see your ticket.

i'd rather, if we're going to throw out the Constitution, we should do it to people in positions of power -- like heads of state, congressfolks, banksters, fed officials, etc. let's make them prove their innocence every once in a while instead of hating on everyday working-class folks who are trying to get by -- people who are poor enough to ride public transit. why pick on them?

we take the extra money and provide security and health services to the needy, etc.

there are myriad problems with ticket inspection -- when someone can't find their ticket, or even if they get busted, it embarrasses everyone on the train, not just the 'perp'. riding public transit needs to be awesome, not sucky and filled with fear of humiliation, etc.

watching people scramble to find their ticket in their pockets, wallets, etc. while some transit cop gets all crazy with the power trip? that's a dignified existence? no -- we should not tolerate that nonsense.

by Peter Smith on Sep 25, 2009 1:01 pm • linkreport

Melodramatic often, Peter?

by Chris on Sep 25, 2009 1:03 pm • linkreport

Wait, peter. You also said above that transit lines should be free. That's great, and all, but how exactly should a transit line operate without a revenue stream? Are you proposing to just charge your light rail fare to the "heads of state, congressfolks, banksters, fed officials, etc."?

I ride public transit every day. And it's not because I'm one of your "people who are poor enough to ride public transit". I like public transit. I could have a car if I chose to, but I'm not interested. But I know that without fares, there is no transit.

If POP is a better way of collecting fares, then it's no insult when the auditor comes to your car. It's just a part of the system.

by taylor.nmt on Sep 25, 2009 1:08 pm • linkreport

How is this different from Amtrak or MARC? On both of those you get on and then a conductor asks you for your ticket. Is that a violation of the Constitution? The only difference is that on Amtrak they always ask and on PoP they only sometimes ask. Maybe my Constitutional law knowledge has slipped, but I fail to see how that violates your rights.

by David C on Sep 25, 2009 1:09 pm • linkreport

Peter, I think you need some thicker skin and a refresher on the Constitution.

Speaking from my experience with POP, I've never seen an individual singled out. I've only seen fare checkers ask an entire car-full of people.

I'm sorry you had a bad experience in SF, but I think that has more to do with the demeanor of that particular cop rather than the concept of proof of payment. You're right, we shouldn't tolerate cops on power trips. I fail to see what this has to do with POP.

There are no issues with ticket inspection. Can't find your ticket? It's your responsibility to have your ticket - it usually says so right on the ticket itself. Would you expect to get on Metro without money or a SmarTrip card because you can't find it? Nothing has changed, except the point of fare collection and inspection.

by Alex B. on Sep 25, 2009 1:32 pm • linkreport

POP works and works well on New Jersey Transit. We don't seem to encounter many "issues" with it, even on an intercity line such as Newark Light Rail. People have grown accustomed to it and nobody seems to be offended if asked to show their ticket. I was once a big skeptic of POP, but it has proven itself to me. If it works in Newark and Camden, it'll work anywhere!

I think a big problem here is the usual fear of "change". When anything new is proposed, there are always naysayers and skeptics. After its been in use in Washington, D. C. for several years, nobody will even give it a thought anymore. It will just be abother fact of life and something that you "just do". It will be part of riding public transit.

And there are nasty people in all walks of life. There are cranky fare inspectors and very nice ones with a big smile on their faces. That's human nature. You take the good with the bad. Didn't you ever have a bad day? And some people aren't really geared for interacting with the public. They should be in an operator's cab, operating the car! So don't blame the theory of POP on an occasional cranky fare inspector.

by TransitJeff on Sep 25, 2009 3:09 pm • linkreport

but how exactly should a transit line operate without a revenue stream?

The same way thousands of highways operate -- government funding/subsidy. Only a very few highways have tolls, yet we continue to operate them without forcing riders to pay for using them, nor do we 'check tickets' for drivers. These highways are expensive to operate, as we know. Maybe even passengers should be forced to pay?

Are you proposing to just charge your light rail fare to the "heads of state, congressfolks, banksters, fed officials, etc."?

i'm all for instituting a progressive tax rate in this country again, so this is one idea to help achieve that.

But I know that without fares, there is no transit.

this statement is probably false.

How is this different from Amtrak or MARC? On both of those you get on and then a conductor asks you for your ticket. Is that a violation of the Constitution?

i hate this stuff, too. it's humiliating. leave me the flip alone, ticket nerd -- i'm busy working, or talking, or sleeping, or doing nothing.

it's a violation of the Constitution because it seems to violate all sorts of things we take for granted -- 1st or 4th amendments, probably. and if it's not a violation of the Constitution, then it should be (decided, perhaps, by the Supreme Court), and if that fails then we need a new law to protect us.

it reminds me of DUI checks -- clearly unconstitutional, but we put up with them. why? not sure. or maybe universal ID cards where the police can demand your ID on the street.

Peter, I think you need some thicker skin and a refresher on the Constitution.

yes, i need thicker skin, but i'm not sure what that has to do with anything. i don't think any of us should put up with being treated poorly.

And there are nasty people in all walks of life. There are cranky fare inspectors and very nice ones with a big smile on their faces. That's human nature.

this is exactly why we need to build systems that prevent this possibility as much as possible. if i was not white, i'd probably have been thrown in jail. we started to learn this recently with the arrest of Gates up at Harvard, the racist cop in Texas who prevented the black NFL player from visiting his dying mom in the hospital, and countless other crimes around the country.

by Peter Smith on Sep 26, 2009 1:24 am • linkreport

i'm all for instituting a progressive tax rate in this country again, so this is one idea to help achieve that.

Oh nonsense, Peter, we absolutely still have a progressive tax system in this country. From the 2007 statistics (,,id=96981,00.html), returns filing more than $100,000 in income made up 12.6% of returns, 53.4% of income, 63.2% of taxable income, and 75.1% of the income tax paid.

by Chris on Sep 26, 2009 9:58 am • linkreport

Peter: another fly in your ointment is that highway users largely DO pay for highway use, though it's more indirect. Gas taxes, vehicle registration taxes, and the like. Sure it doesn't cover the full cost and there's some subsidy involved (not so much at the Federal/state level, but moreso at the county/local level), but to say that we continue to operate them without forcing riders to pay for using them is a bit of a misnomer...

by Froggie on Sep 26, 2009 10:37 am • linkreport

Froggie, that's not so. I ran the numbers here and found that user fees pay a larger share of WMATA's budget than they do of the Maryland state highway program.

by Ben Ross on Sep 26, 2009 11:51 am • linkreport

Ben: that may well be the case in Maryland (which I'm not fully familiar with), but of course, your mileage may vary. The states I'm most familiar with (excluding Virginia) utilize highway/transportation-based revenue soucres for all of their state-level highway funding.

Also, your argument that gas taxes take away from sales taxes is not convincing, especially your claim that it makes the "general public, including transit riders, pay instead"...please explain that one.

You're also partially incorrect in saying that automobile taxes do not subsidize transit. Perhaps not at the Maryland level, but they very much do at the Federal level...where do you think FTA's funding comes from?

by Froggie on Sep 26, 2009 10:33 pm • linkreport

Oh nonsense, Peter, we absolutely still have a progressive tax system in this country.

we may have a progressive income tax system, but not a progressive tax system -- small difference, like, whether or not our tax system is progressive or not.

Peter: another fly in your ointment is that highway users largely DO pay for highway use

they may pay a very small fraction of the direct costs that we as a society so far have decided we should account for, but they hardly pay for highway use in any meaningful sense of the term. for instance, do cars pay for the insane pollution they spew all along their routes? no. looking at it from the other side, the figures we see for the positive economic impact of free public transit are astronomical -- it pays for itself many times over and is more just. We need some total cost accounting for highways.

by Peter Smith on Sep 27, 2009 12:59 am • linkreport

Since you put it that way, Peter, the University of Minnesota did just that back in 2000 for the Twin Cities metro, taking into account pollution (which BTW is not easily quantifiable), public safety costs, and whatnot, and concluded that highway users pay about 84% of the total cost of driving.

by Froggie on Sep 27, 2009 6:35 am • linkreport

we may have a progressive income tax system, but not a progressive tax system

Peter, if you don't think the net overall of our entire tax system is progressive, then we'll just have to agree to disagree.

by Chris on Sep 27, 2009 9:25 am • linkreport

Since you put it that way, Peter, the University of Minnesota did just that

i remain highly skeptical of that report -- though, i admit i haven't read it - anyone got a copy?

i'm skeptical because I can't imagine the report takes into the most damaging external costs of highways and driving -- that making it easier for cars to get around induces more driving, which chases bikers and walkers off the streets, which is a quality of life 'cost' that cannot be easily quantified -- even though the report claims to do so for nonmonetary costs. presumably that would include all the heart surgeries those highway drivers will need, and the heart surgeries of the folks who they have compelled to drive as well. we may account for these costs appropriately one day, but we're not there yet.

and what of the costs of having a third of the country glued to right wing/corporatist hate radio? how do highway subsidies contribute to the serious democratic deficit in this country?

what costs are allowed to account for the pain and suffering of those afflicted by air and noise pollution? those injured and killed in car wrecks? how about the survivors of victims? what monetary value should we attach to a dead son or daughter, mother or father?

i just came back from toronto. my friend and i were almost run down by a car on a dark, rainy night -- we were in the crosswalk, and had the crossing signal, of course. she was almost run down the other day by a truck. this stuff happens all the time, and it affects our behavior -- we don't go out as much, we don't walk as much, we don't talk to our neighbors as much (doing serious damage to the social fabric of our neighborhood, not to mention the economic impact), our health suffers from noise pollution, too (i'd be curious if the Minnesota study included this).

and we couldn't separate government subsidies for highways from those for cars, right? and the oil industry? ($5 Billion a year++). and the real benefits of our military expenditures abroad which facilitate oil price stability if not lower oil prices -- all government boons to highway/car travel.

and each time you start to unravel one of the myriad costs associated with highways and car travel, one realizes that it is nearly impossible to do so because each cost factor seems to affect wider circles in more manifold ways -- kind of like how Jane Jacobs used to describe her 'web thinking' -- everything is interconnected, and we're starting to see the 'wider circles' and 'manifold ways' in which highways are subsidized, and all the ways they do damage.

by Peter Smith on Sep 28, 2009 1:36 am • linkreport

Peter, if you don't think the net overall of our entire tax system is progressive, then we'll just have to agree to disagree.

I'd rather we figure out what the truth of the situation is and all come to an understanding of what that truth is, recognize it, own it. If I'm wrong I'll gladly apologize for being wrong -- I've done it a million times, and I'm sure I'll do it a million more times. It's not that big a deal -- admit your mistake, learn from it, be more careful next time, and life goes on. Easy.

That said, there's plenty of evidence to suggest the US tax system is regressive.

by Peter Smith on Sep 28, 2009 6:14 pm • linkreport

But cumulatively, we're not regressive - though there is room to be more progressive.

by David C on Sep 28, 2009 10:07 pm • linkreport

But cumulatively, we're not regressive - though there is room to be more progressive.

i looked at that article/study, but i don't think it's something to take seriously as a cumulative tax system study. any analysis of the tax system being regressive or not has to include analysis of subsidies -- i.e. 'reverse taxes'. these represent massive transfers of wealth from all Americans up to richer segments of society -- often heavily weighted towards the most wealthy (top 1% or so).

for instance, that new $1.2 Billion stadium for the Dallas Cowboys -- much of it was taxpayer-funded, through tax subsidies and all sorts of financial gimmickery -- regressive taxes (yes, as the article says, the whole NFL business model is based on these public subsidies). that represents a massive transfer of wealth from regular working-class and poor people to the wealthiest people. this stuff happens, as you know, all the time.

take highway/car/airport/airline subsidies -- who benefits from all that? people who can afford to fly and drive. compare those subsidies to public transit and Amtrak subsidies, and what we see, again, is a massive transfer of wealth, through the tax system, to the upper-classes of society.

corporations paying little or not taxes of various kinds to locate plants in particular cities or states? yep -- massive transfers of wealth from poor to rich. predominantly well-off stockholders benefit, and everyone else pays.

the entire pentagon system? yep -- massive transfer of wealth from poor to rich, but it's not easily qualified as a 'tax', so is not included in that Citizens for Tax Justice study.

i have a couple of pertinent audio clips from Chomsky speaking back in 1997. the first is on subsidies (1:43) and the next is on taxes (43).

Free Market Fantasies Capitalism In The Real World - Noam Chomsky - 12 - Subsidies.mp3

Free Market Fantasies Capitalism In The Real World - Noam Chomsky - 13 - Taxes

cuts to public transit service? that's a regressive tax.

raising fares for public transit? that's a regressive tax.

The full link to the audio at Amazon is here.

Some written stuff is here. Addressing Gingrich's Contract on America back in the day:

But the Contract calls for an increase in welfare for the rich, by the classic means: regressive fiscal measures, and outright subsidy. These include increased tax exemptions for gifts and estates, capital gains cuts, reduced regulation for protection of health and safety standards, investment subsidies, more favorable rules for depreciation, and most important: "strengthening our national defense" so that we can better "maintain our credibility around the world" -- so that anyone who gets funny ideas, like priests and nuns in Latin America, will understand that "What We Say Goes," as George Bush defined the New World Order while bombs and missiles were raining on Iraq.16

If i find a document/study that accounts for subsidies/etc., then i'll post it. Haven't found one yet -- mostly just the limited analyses like the one you posted.

A Welfare State, yes -- welfare for the rich -- provided by a regressive tax system.

by Peter Smith on Sep 29, 2009 4:37 am • linkreport

Raising transportation taxes/fees PERIOD is "regressive". Doesn't just apply to public transit...

by Froggie on Sep 29, 2009 5:57 am • linkreport


by Chris on Sep 29, 2009 8:14 am • linkreport

Ok, so you don't have a realistic solution for the fare payment structure of the Purple Line. Got it.

And no, a complete revamping of the US tax code and transportation funding isn't exactly a realistic way to address the problem.

Anyway, if you've got those bigger fish to fry, I'd suggest that drawing a line in the sand with light rail proof of payment probably isn't going to be the most effective way to get what you want.

by Alex B. on Sep 29, 2009 8:56 am • linkreport

Alex, I think I have a crush on you now.

by Chris on Sep 29, 2009 9:03 am • linkreport

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