Free Mass Transit

December 6, 1972

Report Outline
Proposals to Eliminate Commuter Fares
Federal Assistance to Transportation
Other Plans for Halting Transit Decline
Special Focus

Proposals to Eliminate Commuter Fares

No-Fare Plan for Reducing Congestion Pollution

There is general agreement that the country's urban mass-transit systems are in deep trouble. Fares increase, passengers turn to the automobile, deficits rise and service deteriorates. This pattern is recognizable in almost every sizable city in the United States. In an effort to break this cycle of cause and effect—and to relieve resulting traffic congestion and pollution—there are civic officials and transit experts who suggest free transit. Riders could board buses or subways without paying a cent.

Robert Abrams, president of New York's Borough of the Bronx, is an advocate of this view. “Mass transit should be provided without a direct charge to the user, just like other municipal services—fire, police or sanitation,” he has said. He proposed that the fare system be replaced in New York City by a $3 weekly surcharge on city income taxes and a 1.8 per cent tax on business profits—the latter because “business and industry have immediate access to the largest, most skilled and diverse labor pool in the world thanks to the New York City mass transit system.”

Predictably, opposition to free transit centers on the questions of how financially hard-pressed cities can underwrite no-fare transit costs and whether it is fair to tax non-riders for that purpose. Abrams' proposal was challenged soon afterward in the Monthly Economic Letter of the National City Bank of New York, which stated in its September 1971 issue: “A totally free service would naturally encourage a very high degree of utilization. To pay for the necessary increase in service, government expenditures would have to rise. And since the city's resources are not unlimited, this would involve reductions in expenditures for other services.” The publication suggested that the fare during rush hour be maintained or raised above the present rate while the off-hour fare be reduced by perhaps one-third to one-half.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Jan. 18, 2008  Mass Transit Boom
Jun. 21, 1985  Mass Transit's Uncertain Future
Oct. 05, 1979  Mass Transit Revival
Oct. 17, 1975  Urban Mass Transit
Dec. 06, 1972  Free Mass Transit
Jul. 08, 1970  Urban Transit Crush
Apr. 24, 1963  Mass Transit vs. Private Cars
Mar. 11, 1959  Urban Transportation
Dec. 10, 1952  Sickness of Urban Transit
May 15, 1942  Local Transportation
Jun. 26, 1931  The Motor Bus in Local Transportation
Dec. 20, 1928  Regulation of Motor Bus Transportation
Air Pollution
Public Transportation