Millions of US subway and bus riders are being jolted by new, and in some cases, unprecedented fare increases this year. A recent US Conference of Mayors survey of 100 major-city mass-transit authorities showed that two-thirds are planning increases.
Last year, the average basic transit fare rose 19 percent. Michael A. Kemp, senior researcher for the nonprofit Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., forecasts that the average increase nationwide could be "significantly higher" in 1981.
As unwelcome as higher fares are to many people, studies by the Urban Institute, the American Public Transit Association (APTA), and others reveal that most riders are more concerned with improving the quality of service rather than clamping a lid on the amount they drop into the fare box.
But faced with the prospect of sizable cuts in federal and state transit subsidies, many communities are going to have trouble maintaining their current level of service, let alone improve it significantly. An APTA study indicates that from 1972 to 1978, the average opeating deficit of the nation's public transit systems increased by 19.5 percent per year. At the same time, the study shows passenger revenues dropping by 2.1 percent a year in real terms. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that faced with such deficits, almost half of the 100 major cities questioned in the US Conference of Mayors survey planned to reduce service.
Nevertheless, many analysts remain optimistic about the viability of public transportation. Some stress that these circumstances may force transit operations to become more innovative, productive, and cost-effective. For example: