METRO board considering elimination of fares

Report will be presented next week

HOUSTON – The METRO board is considering of doing away with fares and making buses and trains free for everyone.

The goal is to put more people on METRO trains and buses, especially Park & Ride buses, to get more cars off the street.

“We would have to determine at what cost because there are always some unexpected circumstances if you were to move in this direction, and that’s part of what’s being evaluated at this point.” says METRO Media Director Tracy Jackson.

A big part of the cost would be the loss of fare revenue, which currently accounts for about 11% of METRO’s operating budget. Urban planner Tory Gattis of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism says it could be made up without additional revenue sources.

“A relatively tiny percent of their budget.” Gattis says. “The vast majority comes from sales tax. And it’s something that basically would be made up with a couple of years normal sales tax growth in Houston.”

While smaller cities alike Portland, Oregon, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and recently, Kansas City, Missouri, have gone to “no fare” public transportation systems, it’s never been done in a city the size of Houston.

And not everyone is enthusiastic.

Some riders told us they’d be concerned about on board security if there were no fares.

“You know anytime anything is free or anything like that you gotta be secure.” METRO rider Kim Kelly said.

Former METRO board member Christof Spieler says the best way to attract more riders is with better service.

“Does the bus go where I need it to go?" Spieler said. “Does it run late enough? Does it run often enough? Is it reliable enough? Is it fast enough? All of those are things that can be solved by investing money in more service or investing in capital facilities.”

The staff is looking at all the options and is due to present a report to a METRO committee next week.