WMATA Rail-to-Bus Transfers Are Expensive Among Major Cities

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Transit systems need to get people from point A to point B, and it is my fixed opinion that transfers shouldn’t cost more, and certainly not much more. If I take rail, then transfer to a bus to get to my final destination, I shouldn’t be penalized. However, WMATA has the least generous policy of the top 10 heavy rail systems in the US for rail to bus transfers.

I’ll get to the comparison of transit systems in a bit, but first I want to say that these transfer fees are insult to injury because those who transfer. Bus riders are more likely to be lower income, and live in places that aren’t as posh. If they take bus to get to the rail, they obviously don’t live in more posh rail-transit accessible areas. They don’t benefit from walkability to rail, and instead already have to lose a nice one-seat ride. Why should we penalize bus-to-rail transfer?  A WMATA Metro Rail rider transferring at Metro Center doesn’t pay more because of the transfer (yes, they pay more in distance), but not the transfer itself.  Also, WMATA even eliminated the penalty of transferring from Farragut West to Farragut North, making it free with the Farragut Crossing Program.

Also, when it came to the Silver Line in Northern Virginia, many of the local bus services were altered assuming that bus riders could use the new rail line instead of the bus.  This had the effect of actually increasing (sometimes significantly) the total out of pocket cost for many riders in a rather regressive way. Stuart Whitaker wrote a good post in the Washington Post about this very issue, noting how his $1.75 bus ride became a $6.20 multimodal transit ride.

So how does WMATA’s transfer policy compare against the Top 10 rail systems (by ridership) in the US? I researched what the cost of the bus portion of a rail-to-bus transfer would be in the various systems. Overall, the cost is the same in the other direction, and here’s your answer:

Rail-Bus Transfer Costs - Top 10 Rail Systems
no Metro Area System Transfer Type Net Bus Cost*
1 NYC NYC MTA Subway-to-MTA Bus  FREE
2a Washington WMATA Metro Rail-to-Metro Bus $1.25
2b Washington WMATA Metro Rail-to-Fairfax Connector Bus** $1.25
3 Chicago CTA El-to-CTA Bus $0.25
4 Boston MBTA T-to-MBTA Bus FREE
5a San Francisco BART BART-to-Muni Bus $1.75
5b San Francisco Muni Muni Light Rail-to-Muni Bus FREE
6 Philadelphia SEPTA SEPTA Rail-to-SEPTA Bus $1.00
7a NYC/NJ PATH PATH-to-MTA Bus $2.50
7b NYC/NJ PATH PATH-to-NJT bus Varies
8 Atlanta MARTA MARTA Rail-to-MARTA Bus FREE
9a Los Angeles LA Metro Metro Rail-to-Metro Bus FREE
9b Los Angeles LA Metro Metro Rail-to-other municipal bus $0.50
10 Miami MDT MetroRail-to-MetroBus $0.60
Source – TranspoPlanner.com, as of September 5, 2014
* Net Bus Costs indicates the price of the bus fare after applicable discounts or consideration of transfer fee. Systems vary in whether its a “transfer fee” or “reduced fare.”
** Transfers to Fairfax Connector buses vary. Some routes are free, others more expensive. 
 

Based on this, WMATA has the least generous rail-to-bus transfer policy for any of the Top 10 rail systems for transfers within the same system.

Four of the Top 10 rail systems offer free transfers. This includes major systems like NYC MTA Subway, Boston T, Atlanta MARTA, and LA Metro. Other systems had very cheap fares for the transfer: Chicago was only 25-cents to transfer, LA was 50-cents, and Miami was 60-cents.

There were some standouts that are expensive, especially when transferring among systems. San Francisco area’s BART-to-Muni bus is a net $1.75 after a 50-cent discount, but Muni light-rail to Muni bus is free. In New Jersey, PATH basically gives you no transfer discount to either the NCY MTA buses or to connecting NJT buses. Finally, while LA Metro gives free transfers to LA Metro buses, when transferring to other municipal systems, the net fare is 50-cents (still cheap).

WMATA might be wise to consider its transfer policies and fares, especially as multimodal transfers become an increasingly important way that people get around the region.

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