A proposed 9% fare increase on NJ Transit has provoked popular consternation among commuters. Local bus fares are receiving a slightly lower increase of about 6%. The base fare will rise from $1.50 to $1.60. Fares on the Newark Light Rail and River Line would be subject to the same increases. The River Line sees about 9,000 passengers on an average weekday.
You can get from Trenton to Camden for $1.50. A parallel trip on SEPTA’s Trenton Line to Philadelphia would cost $9,
While the River Line charges a flat fare, local NJ Transit buses along the same route charge a zone fare. The route is divided into zones, and passengers who wish to cross a zone boundary pay a higher fare. The 409, which runs between Philadelphia, Camden, and Trenton along a parallel route, would cost $4.40 for a trip between Camden and Trenton. This is a seven zone ride.
Why are fares so low compared to alternative routes? It might be to encourage ridership. But this “promotional rate” has been in effect since 2004, when the line opened.
The River Line also receives disproportionate subsidies. As a whole, NJ Transit’s system operates at a a farebox recovery rate of about 43%, meaning that for every dollar spent on transit service, the agency receives ¢43 cents in fares.
As of 2013, the River line cost $33,542,255 to operate, but only took in $2,399,152 in fare revenue. This works out to a farebox recovery rate of just 7% .
Adopting a zone-based fare system on the River Line could bring up the farebox recovery rate, and still be fare to short-distance riders. Zone fares are already in use on the NJ Transit commuter rail and bus systems. River Line stations sell tickets with Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) on the platform, like the commuter rail system. Passengers could buy tickets from these machines, but pay with a zone system similar to bus fares.
The River Line could be divided into four zones, or more, as needed. Under the proposed increased fares:
- 1 zone ride = $1.60
- 2 zone ride = $2.25
- 3 zone ride = 2.75
- 4 zone ride = $3.35
These fares would still be reasonable, far below the cost of any competing service, and would help close the budget gap at NJ Transit. It’s worth a shot.