| Fast Pass: Good, Bad, Or Ugly? Ugly!
By Wheelman, Member 'I Love my Wheels' Mar 20, 2009
It seems to be the nearly universal view of the San Francisco community that the MUNI Fast Pass is a wonderful innovation; I disagree.
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My first introduction to the Fast Pass was back in the late 70s or early 80s while I still walked or rode my bike to work. One cold, wet, winter morning a neighbor offered me the use of his Fast Pass provided I returned it to him before his evening shift. During that day and ever since, I have wondered why a perpetually deficit ridden transit system like MUNI would give away free rides, particularly to people well able to pay a reasonable fare.
Back during my mid-western youth I had learned by the 3rd or 4th grade to always carry two nickels in ‘car fare’ money whenever going to school or some other destination, I also had a student discount card but as an 8-year-old was seldom asked for it.
During my college years on the east coast I learned to pay the full adult fare on the Washington, D.C. buses and the New York subway; I also always got a transfer if it was free. In Chicago in the 60s and 70s transfers were free but carried a number of restrictions; they were for a relatively short period and you could only go in one direction of travel not make a round trip.
When I got here, I was surprised to learn that with a transfer I could go downtown for an hour or so and still use the same transfer to get back home. I was rather surprised that The City so generously gave out ‘free’ rides.
However, the real breakthrough on ‘free' rides came with the invention of the Fast Pass. It is not only an invitation to ride for free but it has opened the door to massive failure to collect fares across the board.
Nowadays bus drivers seldom even glance at whatever card or object is flashed in front of them by passengers. Senior passes, youth passes, disabled passes or baseball cards, its all the same, “just keep it moving!” Moreover the advent of this monthly pass system has meant that rear entry in all vehicles has become standard procedure, particularly on the busy lines. Many of these passengers have no pass at all.
So what can be done? How about simply going back to the old fashioned notion that every rider should pay the correct fare!
On several recent trips both abroad and in the U.S. I've tried but failed to find another city that uses the ‘dishonor system’ in operation here.
Many cities do offer some sort of discount to frequent riders, but they are all set up to ensure that the fare is in fact paid. On the Metro in Paris buying a set of ten tickets — a ‘Carnet’ — will save a bit per ride but each ride requires the use of a ticket to both enter and leave the system. In Amsterdam a multiple use fare card is offered at a discount but again each ride must be accounted for. I know we are supposed to be ‘cutting edge’ out here but, do we really have to be stupid?
Moreover we have the example of BART close at hand. A BART ticket offers just about the same convenience as a Fast Pass and is good for multiple rides but none of them are free. So next time MUNI comes out with a dismal report about how fare revenues are not keeping up with costs how about going back to the concept that all riders should pay for each ride?
Your Wheelman Neighbor
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