This Saturday is International Free Transit Day – though you might know it better by its traditional name: New Year’s Eve.
In a trend spreading to cities all over the world, public transit agencies are turning off their fare boxes and opening their turnstiles for free on New Year’s Eve. A notorious night for alcohol consumption and late-night revelry, New Year’s Eve typically puts police departments on high alert for drunk driving. One study suggests that people are more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol on New Year’s Eve than any other holiday, at least among teens.
Free transit rides are part of an effort to reduce accidents and deaths.
From Las Vegas to Austin to London to Vancouver, transit agencies are hoping to redirect drunk people from their driver’s seats into bus seats. It’s a public safety push, but also – and potentially significantly – a way to get people to use public transit for what may be the first time. The costs, or rather lost revenues, of offering free rides are probably relatively big, but with few if any public transit agencies in the world operating at a profit or without subsidies, opening the gates for one night’s worth of riders isn’t likely to dig a major hole. New York City’s MTA, notably, is not offering free rides.
Some agencies are partnering with sponsors to offset the costs. Free rides are being offered on transit systems in Madison, Milwaukee, Waukesha and the Twin Cities by Miller Lite beer. MillerCoors is also partnering with Denver’s RTD to offer free bus rides and $10 vouchers for cab fares in bars and restaurants in neighboring cities. [Brian Steele at the Chicago Transit Authority writes in to note that Miller's free rides in Chicago are actually on a shuttle service, not through CTA service as previously mentioned. The CTA, for its part, slashes fares to a penny on New Year's Eve. Not quite free, but pretty close...]
To accommodate increased demand, some systems – like the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) – extend their late night service beyond normal operating hours. (It should also be noted, however, that BART will still be charging riders regular fares on New Year’s Eve.)
And while offering free bus trips and subway rides certainly won’t mean an end to drunk driving on New Year’s Eve, it’ll at least take a few would-be deadly drivers off the roads. Maybe next year’s International Free Transit Day will spread even farther.
Photo credit: Lucas Jackson/Reuters