After two and a half years, Corvallis’ decision to provide free bus service to all riders has proved a winner.
“The overall reaction has been very positive,” says Tim Bates, Transit Coordinator for the City of Corvallis.
There are more riders than ever – ridership has climbed steadily – and, because of this, bus service was expanded in September, 2012.
It began in February 2011 when the City of Corvallis began to add a small amount to water bills (initially $2.75/month for a single-family home, now $3.80/month for the same,) in exchange for making all bus rides in the district free.
The amount added to the bill was called the Transit Operations Fee, or “TOF,” and was formerly collected in property taxes.
Initially, some complained about the raise in their utility bill. Predictably, many of them were people who did not use the bus. “They complained that they were subsidizing others’ free rides on buses,” Bates says.
But he adds that this no longer happens. “I believe that, eventually, even the detractors realized they were realizing benefits of the TOF (namely, fewer cars on the streets which leads to less traffic congestion and less fighting for parking spaces).”
The TOF pays about 41% of Corvallis Transit System expenses. It is assisted by a number of sources, including State and Federal grants, Oregon State University (which contributes $130,000 each year,) bus advertising and so on.
When the plan first went into effect, many in Corvallis, including some City staff, feared that the buses would become “rolling homeless shelters,” Bates says, “This did not happen.” And, although there has been a slight uptick in incidents onboard buses and at the transit center, these incidents have been “in proportion with the ridership increases, and not exponential.”
Bates believes that one of the greatest benefits of establishing the TOF is that the Transit Fund no longer competes with other City funds (Police, Fire, Library and Parks and Recreation) for dollars from Corvallis’ General Fund.
Because the TOF monies collected from Corvallis water bills are solely dedicated to the Transit Fund, transit in Corvallis now has stable funding.
“Fareless rides became the “sexy” issue regarding the TOF,” he says. “But… a dedicated funding source is just as, or more, important to the overall health of transit service.”