SMART Fares – Ouch?
SMART is conducting a survey to get public reaction to a few fares. The reaction on NextDoor was pretty uniform: the fare choices seemed high and the public wasn’t given the chance to comment, suggest a fare or even select “none of the above.” We thought we would look into whether the suggested fares were in fact high compared to taking the bus or driving a car.
Here were the three choices on the survey:
We used the Golden Gate Transit site to plan weekday morning rush hour trips from Downtown Santa Rosa, Downtown Petaluma and Novato San Marin to the Transit Center in San Rafael. We did not look into round trip fares. We looked at the car cost using the 2016 IRS rate of $.54/mile, which factors in fuel and wear and tear. The approximate mileage for each trip is: Santa Rosa – 37, Petaluma – 22, and Novato San Marin – 12.
Many of us think about the car cost as mostly gas – unless you are commuting regularly when you factor in wear and tear, insurance, etc. We calculated the gas cost at $.15/mile ($3/gallon and a gas-guzzling 20 mpg). Prius and electric vehicle drivers are chuckling at this point.
Note that we did not address discounted fares for commuters, seniors, kids, or passengers with disabilities, which SMART will have like the other public transit choices. SMART is going to use a Base Fare + Zone approach, where more zones means more expense. San Rafael and Novato are in different zones. The three Survey trips cover more than one zone. Finally, we have not addressed the important issue of affordability for low-income residents.
So, here is how the choices stack up.
|To Downtown SR||SMART||Golden Gate Bus||Car ($.54/mi)||Car (Fuel at $.15/mi)|
As reference points, it costs $12.50 to take the bus from Santa Rosa to downtown San Francisco, and it costs $10.50 to take the Larkspur Ferry to SF . . . but you still have to get to Larkspur from the SR SMART station.
Why take SMART?
SMART is supposed to get people out of their cars. What will make that happen? For some, the environmental impact will tip them to SMART and SMART emphasizes that they are the green choice. But for many of us, SMART has to also be more convenient, cheaper or both in order to be a realistic alternative to driving.
Is SMART cheap enough to get you out of your car?
Depending on how you evaluate the cost of your particular vehicle (and whether you have to pay to park), SMART can be expensive especially for the short trip to Novato. SMART faces a conundrum. Cars are getting cheaper to run as we shift to more hybrids and battery powered vehicles. That means SMART has to be more convenient – easy access, good schedules and faster than being in traffic have to be their selling points.
Is SMART more convenient than driving?
Who knows? On the one hand frequent trains and comfortable, breezy rides past the stalled commute traffic should make SMART a winner when it comes to convenience. But it won’t matter if access is a problem.
Let’s assume that the trains run when you need them. (This could be wrong because they are less frequent mid-day.) Convenience will depend on your experience before and after your train ride. How do you get to the station? If you need to drive and you can’t park at the station, you are going to stay in your car. If you have to get off the train and take another transport to your destination, you are more likely to stay in your car. These so-called ‘last mile’ issues are really important. SMART’s success may well depend not on pricing but on local connecting shuttle and bus services.
Back to NextDoor
So, why the sticker shock reaction on NextDoor? Maybe it is because most San Rafael residents don’t take the bus heading north (and aren’t sitting in morning commute traffic coming from the north) and so they have no comparison point? It does look like a lot when compared to what it would take to fill your tank and go. After all, we are Californians! Maybe we are surprised because we thought that we could get up to Petaluma for about $5, have lunch, shop or whatever and pay another $5 to pop back down to San Rafael. Magical thinking. We won’t even be able to get to Novato for that.
SMART has started their PR campaign with this survey. And while my reaction was “Wow! That is expensive”, now that I have looked at the numbers, I can see how they justify the fares. But I don’t think I will be taking SMART to Novato or Petaluma – I’m jumping into my car.
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