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The city council for the City of Berkeley recently voted in favor of providing free rides on the area's bus service, AC Transit. As the city pointed out, there have been a number of cuts to bus service due to reduced ridership during the covid pandemic. The city is hoping that by making bus rides free, they can bring low-income riders back, and also encourage more people to get out of private cars. Also, by taking payment out of the experience, buses can move more smoothly and people don't have to constantly figure out the payment before a ride.


This story, along with being a reminder about the pressure that most bus services in the United States are currently under, also brings up one point that not everyone is aware of. Virtually all bus operators in the United States are massively subsidized. When a rider pays a couple of dollars for a trip, it probably actually costs the bus operator about $10 to provide that trip, averaged across all of the trips they will provide that year. So, what the Berkeley City council vote points out, is that when you are already subsidizing something by 80%, why not add the last 20% and see if you can make that thing substantially more popular and easier.


Here at FreeBike, we think that this is a healthy mindset. We also think that if you are going to give people free trips, you should probably consider doing it with something that doesn't cost $10 per trip to start with. For example, with electric bikes and scooters, the average cost to provide a trip is far less than $1. Food for thought.

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