Consider the fact that fare revenue currently generates about 20% of Metro's expenses. This means that the other 80% is subsidized by taxpayers. In other words, if Metro were a private business seeking to make a profit, its prices would have to be substantially higher. Even though it currently offers a service far below its market value, ridership isn't even close to the break even point.
While it may be true that eliminating fares would increase ridership, why is this important? Ma tells us in Monday's Chronicle:
I've been concerned that Metro has been drawing the line in the wrong place. They're too concerned with the bottom line and not concerned enough that their job is to provide transit to people who really don't have any other option.If we take Ma at her word, then such concerns as revenue should simply be dismissed and Metro should insure that every Houstonian transportation, no matter the cost. Why not just cut to the chase and buy everyone a Prius? If the city bought a Prius for 100,000 citizens, the cost would be about $2 billion, which is considerably less than what will be spent on light rail.
Some might argue that this is an absurd proposal, and it is. But it is no more absurd than Ma's proposal. Ma wants taxpayers footing the transportation bill for those who "don't have any other option" and she is unconcerned with either the practical or the moral aspects of doing so.
For the impracticality of Ma's proposal, consider this little tidbit from the Chronicle article:
Metro spokesman George Smalley said the agency offered free rides on its downtown trolley service from 1998 to 2004, but use of the service never exceeded more than about 11,000 daily boardings. Metro later discontinued the service.So Metro has tried Ma's idea and it didn't work. We can't draw any conclusions from that previous experiment because that was then and this is now. Besides, that experiment involved trolleys and Ma is talking about buses and light rail. If we want to know how well Ma's plan will work, we have to try it. And when it fails, which it will, Ma will be long gone and one of her successors can clean up the mess.
Morally, Ma believes that if someone has a need then their fellow taxpayers have a moral obligation to fulfill that need. The needs of those taxpayers--such as paying for their own transportation costs--are irrelevant. The rights of those taxpayers--the right to dispose of their own money as they choose--do not matter.
Displaying the arrogance that is typical of politicians, Ma tells us that this is for our own good:
Eliminating fares, of course, would make cost-benefit analysis meaningless, since every route would be fully subsidized. But allowing passengers to ride for free might attract enough riders to reduce congestion for drivers and produce other benefits, Parker said.Taxpayers are too stupid to know what is really in their best interest, so Ma proposes to force to act as she desires. Ma can see the big picture, while taxpayers are focused on such petty concerns as paying their mortgage, putting gas in their car, and saving for their children's college tuition. Ma wants to do what is best for the "community", while taxpayers are concerned with their own private, selfish interests.
Ma told us that she wanted to be our nanny. She was serious.