When it provides free connections, as a Los Angeles Metro report is finally proposing to do. The Bus Riders Union is screaming about a fare hike, but for many riders -- those whose trips require a connection -- the proposal is a fare reduction, because the transfer penalty to be eliminated ($1.50) is far bigger than the hike in the base fare ($0.25)
The vast dense core of Los Angeles is one of North America's great grid systems, designed to allow easy travel between any point A and any point B via a single connection. Unfortunately, their current fare structure charges for a connection. This makes as much sense as a road tolling system that charges only for turns.
It's nonsense. Connections are an inconvenience to passengers that is required by the structure of an efficient network. Charging for connections encourages riders to demand wildly inefficient services like the late and famous 305, which zigzag diagonally across the grid, increasing complexity without adding much useful service. It amounts to punishing customers for helping Metro run an efficient and attractive service pattern.
Like other fees, fare penalties for connections arise in part because journalists and activists over-react to the base fare figure, creating more political heat for raising that number. So like money-losing airlines, the agencies have to look for other things to charge for to hit their fare recovery targets. But charging for connections is counterproductive, because connections are the foundation of the network. Airlines don't do it. In fact, airfares via a connection are often cheaper than the nonstop. That's because the connecting itinerary lets the airline run a more efficient service pattern.
So don't believe the news about a proposed fare hike in LA. Some people will experience one, but many cash paying passengers, who are often among the lower-income riders, will save.
And one thing's even more important than that: The pricing scheme won't be crazy anymore.