Across the country, gas prices are rising. One thing that isn’t is Phoenix public transportation fares.
Valley Metro currently operates nearly 100 bus routes across the Phoenix area. Fare prices have not risen since 2013 and it currently costs $4 to get a day pass, allowing the rider to go anywhere on the bus or light rail that day.
Susan Tierney, communications manager at Valley Metro says, “We want to make it affordable for people because we know that there are people that rely on the bus and the train to get to work, school and medical appointments.”
Currently, the Valley Metro is focusing on modernizing its fare purchasing system before it even thinks about raising prices.
“First of all, we need to modernize our fare payment. And that’s something we’d want to implement before we go any direction or consider increasing fares of any type,” Tierney says.
While Valley Metro currently has an app that tracks bus and light rails in real time, they don’t have a digital payment system in place. While they do plan to implement a mobile payment system in the future, for now riders have to have the exact change when purchasing tickets because the bus does not offer change.
Although fare prices aren’t changing, that doesn’t mean that inflation, a shortage of workers and rising gas prices aren’t impacting public transportation. According to Tierney, Valley Metro is currently understaffed and cannot drive all of the required routes. In order to keep and retain workers, she says they may have to raise wages.
The cost of light rail operations has been impacted the least, Tierney says, because it operates on electricity. “We operate a lot of fleet on compressed, natural gas — bus and diesel — which have been impacted by higher fuel prices,” she says. “When there is inflation it does translate to higher operating costs.”
Fare prices do not cover the cost of public transportation operations. The biggest source of funding, Tierney says, is Proposition 400 which was passed by Maricopa County voters in 2004.
“Fares support a small portion of our service. Right now, and because of the pandemic, it’s really declined quite a bit; it’s between 10% and 15%,” Tierney says. “Typically, what we want to see is 25% of our operating costs coming from fares. That is kind of an industry-wide goal.”
During the beginning of the pandemic, Valley Metro encouraged ridership limited to essential workers and medical health professionals. As a result, perhaps unsurprisingly, Valley Metro’s Annual Comprehensive Financial Report reflected a 47.4% decrease in ridership from the fiscal year 2020-21.
Tierney says that the drop in fare revenue from ridership during the pandemic was substituted by federal funds to public transportation agencies because of the pandemic.
The biggest source of funding, Proposition 400, will be up for renewal by voters once it passes the Arizona legislature, according to Tierney. “We’re one of only four to five states in the nation where we do not receive any state funding for public transportation. So these county sales tax dollars that we receive are critical to keeping our public transportation system moving,” she says.