The High Cost of Public Transportation

I was reading this post by Nick Gillespie at Reason about “the Cincinnati Streetcar Boondoggle Coming Soon to a Town or City Near You if it Hasn’t Already it Certainly Will Be Just You Wait Goddamnit,” and became curious about my local public transit system, RTD (“Regional Transportation District” — catchy, no?).  RTD provides bus and light rail services in a several-county district in the Denver metropolitan area.  It is also in the process of building out substantial additions to its light rail network throughout the district.

Specifically, I was curious about the cost of running the system.  Not necessarily building it, but running it day-to-day.  The information I found indicates that in 2009, RTD generated $101,249,009 in fare and other revenue (primarily bus advertising plus some miscellaneous revenues) while operating expenses were $494,190,000 — in other words, passenger fares and ads account for just 20% of RTD’s revenues.   The rest is made up primarily through sales taxes, federal assistance (meaning more taxes), grants, etc. 

The total annual “revenue boardings” for RTD in 2009 were 83,337,000.  In 2008, RTD bus passengers had taken, on average, 6.0 one-way trips on an RTD bus during the past week.  The same year, RTD light rail passengers had taken, on average, 5.1 one-way rides on RTD light rail during the past week. 

A little math shows that each boarding — I believe that means a one-way trip — cost $4.97, while the average fare (including advertising revenue) generated just $1.02.  Each trip therefore appears to be subsidized (operations only, setting aside all capital expenditures) to the tune of about $3.95 — almost 4x the fare.  With the average passenger taking 5-6 trips per week, the average RTD passenger is receiving a transportation subsidy of $20-24/week, or about $80-100/month.  Again, that sets aside all capital expenditures.

I have not reached a conclusion as to the wisdom of providing such a subsidy, but thought the numbers were interesting.

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Published in: on July 13, 2010 at 3:36 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] (though some of it is incurred over time).  Here’s an idea, maybe we would not have to subsidize RTD trips quite so much if we didn’t make car ownership so expensive by taxing it so […]

  2. […] On The High Cost Of Public Transportation I while back, I wrote about the high cost of public transportation and the amount of subsidization required to support it.  At The Corner, Wendell Cox has some […]

  3. […] these systems never pay for themselves.  They also never attract the ridership that proponents claim they […]


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