If nothing else, the London Cable Car raises an interesting question:
When should a transit line be fully fare-integrated into a transit network and when should it not. For those unfamiliar, an additional fare is required for people to ride the London Cable Car despite it, ostensibly, being a part of the overall Transport for London network.
But should that be the case?
We have no shortage of examples of transit systems who operate on a similar model:
In Toronto, to access the islands, a ride on the ferries cost an additional fee above and beyond a standard transit ticket.
In Portland, a ride on the Aerial Tram costs an additional fare – with the exception of students and staff of OHSU. OHSU is the primary beneficiary of the Aerial Tram and riders affiliated with the operation ride for free.
In Medellin, Linea L services a nature preserve and requires an additional fee beyond a standard transit ticket.
Users of Vancouver’s Skytrain must pay an additional fare if they wish to use it to travel into the city from Vancouver International Airport.
Seattle’s extensive network of ferries all require separate fees despite being an integral component of transport in the region.
So what’s the difference? Why do people not have issues with the examples above but do with the London Cable Car?
The difference, I suspect, is mostly about the target market. The above examples largely service: a) a small subsection of a local population or b) a large local population who is likely to use the service very irregularly.
The system the London Cable Car represents most closely, coincidentally enough, is the San Francisco Cable Car. Both systems operate in central, rather than peripheral areas. They both feel as though they should be intertwined into their respective networks. Furthermore, the San Francisco Cable Cars are priced outside the normal San Francisco transit fare. Prices are five bucks for a one-way trip or thirteen bucks for a day pass.
Like the London Cable Car, those prices are well outside the budget of any standard commuter.
Interestingly though, the San Francisco Cable Car is used by regular commuters – they just don’t pay for it.
In 2007 auditors found that 40% of riders on the system were not paying fares. Now there’s no way to confirm whether it’s locals or tourists who are breaking the law, but assuming it’s locals is not an unreasonable assumption as those are the people who are most likely to understand how to catch free ride successfully.
People such as Jarrett Walker have argued in the past that the San Francisco Cable Cars add little to no value to San Francisco’s transit network, but stats like this suggest otherwise. From my understanding, it’s very common practice for locals to hop-on and hop-off the cars for quick trips around town without paying fares – and for the fare collectors to turn a blind eye to it.
Which in turn implies that the high fares paid by tourists help to subsidize the system for local commuters. It may be illegal, but it’s an interesting reality.
Now in no way, shape, form or description am I suggesting that fare evasion is right and justified. But I don’t think you’re going to find many San Franciscans who have a problem with it. In reality, it’s little different than the Swiss practice of selling ID cards to locals that grant them 50% off all transit in the country. The only difference is the degree of formality.
Londoners won’t be hopping on and off the Thames Cable Car any time soon, but San Francisco does provide an interesting lesson. If Londoners were allowed “free ride” on the backs of tourist fares, I suspect few people – if anyone – would’ve objected to the system.
In fact, were that the case, locals might even come to love it.