Between October 1989 and December 1990, the transit riders of Austin, Texas saw the elimination of fares for all forms of public transit: buses, van pools, and Special Transit Services (STS).
The move was taken on early in the new transit authority's history: the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority had been approved on January 19, 1985, and the contract to service the University of Texas (later dubbed the "UT Shuttle" system) was signed the following year. Service for the UT Shuttle started in 1989 as well.
The move was also controversial from the start. Mayor Lee Cooke and Capital Metro Chairman Stephen Bayer pushed the issue, but there was certainly dissent on the board when the free fare period began. In the 1988 budget, the board told the staff to budget fare collection for the first 3 quarters (9 months, or January-September), saving only the last quarter (October-December) for free fares. That original vote was 4-3.
The program's success was immediate. Ridership for bus service outside of UT Shuttle and STS soared by 80 percent. More Austinites were riding the bus, but there was no proportionate increase in crime outside of drunk passengers, who, if not bothering anyone, is hardly a burden on the system. The Cost per Passenger plummeted, indicating much greater system efficiency, and costs only increased in line with other years when fares were collected. It was so successful that the entire following year, 1990, was scheduled for free fares. more...