What transit fare is fair? Translink riders want lower fares, particularly for short trips

Translink’s comprehensive fare review, the first since the modern system was established a generation ago, is finding strong support for lower fares for frequent riders making short trips.

But is such a fare system fair?

As transit expert Jarrett Walker has explained, the fairness of fares can vary depending on the trip, the rider and many other factors.

Translink expects to release a range of new fare structure options in the first half of 2017, with a final decision some time in 2018. The new structure, based on the Compass card and the reams of data the new fare card is producing, could have a dramatic impact on city transit riders.

The first round of consultation, which included both a market research study and a public questionnaire filled out by thousands of riders, found “lower fares for shorter distance trips” a priority for both groups. Translink reports that 59 percent of trips under 10 kilometres are taken by people reporting income of under $25,000 a year, a fact which underlines the social justice  aspect of fare policy.

But in Metro Vancouver’s brutal housing market, people with lower incomes are often forced to make longer and longer trips between work and home.  These long distance trips can touch three zones and cost the maximum if Skytrain is involved, but a trip of similar length by bus is a single zone fare.

These are the issues Translink must reckon with. The City of Vancouver’s transportation engineers are monitoring the fare review closely to make sure the views of city transit riders are heard. As things stand, Vancouver riders would like lower fares for frequent riders making short trips — people like them. Is that fair? Time will tell.