Town Square

VTA OKs $1.3 million study to cut fares for low-income residents

Original post made on Feb 5, 2013

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has awarded the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority with $1.3 million for a two-year study on reduced fares for low-income customers.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, February 5, 2013, 10:52 AM


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Posted by MV resident
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Feb 5, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Does anyone else see the irony in spending $1.3 million on this study? Couldn't they just use the $1.3 million to pay for VTA tickets for low income folks until the money runs out?

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Feb 5, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Remember those names... when they wish to extend their political ambition.

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Posted by SP Phil
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 5, 2013 at 3:12 pm

MV resident, my understanding is that the $1.3 million "study" is to do what you propose--provide VTA tickets to low-income people--and to determine how effectively to do do this by evaluating various approaches. A confirmation of my understanding would be welcome.

While many of us use public transportation only occasionally (and get complacent when schedules are reduced and fares increased), low-income people(and young non-drivers) in our community rely on public transit to get to employment, education, and shopping. I applaud efforts to make this more affordable.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 5, 2013 at 3:21 pm

It tells us something when public transportation is found to be unaffordable. And then a 1.3 million study is required to confirm it. Where to begin with this one...

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Posted by Otto Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 5, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Hmm.. the numbers don't quite work for me here.

If a monthly pass for the bus is $70 that would mean the low-income person is making $210 a month.

I'm sure they are making more than that. Even a minimum wage job part-time would pay more than that.

If someone is spending 33% of their income on transportation they either live too far from their place of employment or they have way too nice a car.

They definitely aren't spending 33% of their income on public transit that for sure.

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Posted by SP Phil
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 5, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Working the numbers: Think in terms of a family, not a single person. A family of 4 could mean 2 x $70 = $140 (for two adults), plus 2 x $45 for children/youth (ages 5-17). That's a total of $230 for the family.

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Posted by NeHi
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 5, 2013 at 5:31 pm

I'm not sure there was enuf information in the article to be worthy of discussion; I'd like to know why the Voice picked it up.

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Posted by ME
a resident of North Whisman
on Feb 5, 2013 at 6:33 pm

This is preposterous! Just use the 1.3 million dollars for the two years TO REDUCE THE FARES FOR low-income customers! Has the Metropolitan Transportation Commission gone totally mad? What an incredible waste of money - shame on you!

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Posted by Doug Pearson
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Feb 5, 2013 at 9:29 pm

I like the idea of giving low-income riders a discount. How do you decide which riders are low-income? What is the cost of getting the discount to them? (I recommend Clipper Cards, by the way.) How much money is left over for the actual discount? I find it hard to believe that the study will cost $1.3 million, and even harder to believe the result would be worth $1.3 million. But, I'm pretty sure the number of low-income riders is large enough that $1.3 million would last at most a few months.

Seniors, people with disabilities, kids, teens, and certain students already get a discount. In addition, VTA has what they used to call Eco Pass--a steeply discounted monthly pass for everyone employed by a given company or living in a certain housing complex. (Everyone, meaning whether they use VTA or not.) Seniors pay $275/year; adults pay $770. In both cases, 12 months for the price of 11, another discount. The monthly fare is itself a discount. For example, I ride approximately 40 times a month (a ride to work and a ride home). As I Senior, I would pay $40 per month for $1 per ride but I have a monthly pass and pay only $25. I'm happy to take advantage of this discount, but I'm not low-income.

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Posted by David
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2013 at 9:46 pm

This is US politics. It is 'politically right' to waste money (and time, of course) as long as you don't put the money into your own pocket.

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Posted by John
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 5, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Smart people do not run government agencies anymore

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Posted by Scott Lamb
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 6, 2013 at 11:04 am

The actual report is here: Web Link

Seems to make a good argument for VTA subsidies - these people are likely to be commuting long distances and willing to use public transportation. Apparently subsidies would improve their quality of life and help the rest of us by getting rid of a lot of highway congestion.

Regarding that statistic and the cost of the study: it seems expensive to me, too. I skimmed and don't see a definition of "low-income" or a break-down of "transportation costs". But if the latter are no more than VTA passes, the family of four SP Phil described must have an income of about $8,300/year (10 hours a week between them at minimum wage). Sounds strange. According to the 2011 American Community Survey 5-year estimates, there are about 11,000 families (2.5%) with income less than $10,000/year in Santa Clara County. I'd guess many are retired couples, but let's say they're all families of four. The face value of free passes would be $59 million over those two years. Families up to $15,000/year would add $40 million. (Maybe the VTA is not enough, so families with incomes up to $15,000 might be paying 33% of that in transportation. But if their costs are much higher than the VTA passes, VTA subsidies don't help them as much.) So the study would be about 1.2% of my high estimate of the total cost of just doing it. Hopefully they give at least a percent of people free passes for that time and compare their well-being and infrastructure use to a control group who receive cash. Otherwise the study costs $1.2 million and teaches us nothing.

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Posted by MV resident
a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 6, 2013 at 11:35 am

OF COURSE it's a waste of money to spend $1.3 MILLION dollars trying to figure out how to charge poor people less money to ride the bus! How can a study cost $1.3 million? That's like hiring EIGHT people (salary and benefits) working full-time for a whole year to figure this out? Puh-leeze.

Isn't this what these people were elected to office to do? Study the issues and make good, informed decisions? Seems like every time I open the Voice, the City Council is shelling out more money for a "study" on the problem du jour.

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Posted by Ike
a resident of Slater
on Feb 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Many federal, state, and city employees qualify for free bus and train commuter passes and steep discounts regardless of income. The VA hospital in Palo Alto is one such source of these passes. Those should be eliminated first. The way it works is mostly a scam according to the people I know who receive them and sell them to "the poor".

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Posted by Susan
a resident of Castro City
on Feb 6, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Give the people the money. No Study!!! Stupid all the way!
Use our tax dollars for good deeds not lining consultants' pockets.

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Posted by Mary
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Feb 7, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Criteria for low income?--- Below a set $ amount per year eg $18.5K for a single person and ~$40K for a family of 4 would be near current national stats.

It's not too difficult to determine a valid number for this program.

And all questions about that factor seem to me to be attempts to sidetrack the process and to delay or demolish the program.

IF you can't see the self-evident wisdom of public transit availability to under-paid folks then I think you need a brain transplant, or perhaps if you are an employer you could pay your employees enough so they can afford to own a car. :)) TaDA!

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Posted by Louise A.
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2013 at 7:50 pm

"Study" is a poor description. It's a pilot project. VTA is going to create a limited-scale program for low-income fares and then evaluate how it works. You can see a presentation on it at Web Link (Item #14 - have to page down a ways to reach it.)

So the idea is that the money will go to subsidize low-income VTA passes - but with an evaluation plan in place so that after two years they can see if it is accomplishing its goals.