The city should expand the Go! Pass program to include everyone, instead of just downtown employees. All residents should be allowed to purchase annual bus passes, and people with low incomes should be able to buy them at a discount.
Bus passes and subsidies
The Ann Arbor Transit Authority sells 30 day bus passes for $58. People with low enough incomes to qualify for medicaid can buy monthly passes for $29.
Annual passes are only available as part of the Downtown Development Authority’s Go! Pass program. This program lets business owners purchase $15 year-long passes for their employees who work downtown.
Employees with Go! Passes ride for free, and the AATA keeps track of how many times the passes are used. The DDA then reimburses the transit authority. The program cost $0.5 million in 2014.
The purpose of the program is to decrease the number of people who drive alone to downtown, and to increase the number of people who commute by bus.
Since traffic is not limited to downtown, the city should expand the Go! Pass program to make annual passes available for everyone. Since money for subsidies is limited, priority should be given to people with low incomes. For example, it may be necessary to raise the price of Go! Passes to $20 a year, and use the extra revenue to make passes cheaper for people who qualify for medicaid.
Some will argue that targeting downtown employees discourages driving more than targeting low income people who are less likely to own cars. This may be true, but regardless, public transportation’s has a small effect on traffic in small and medium sized cities. The Texas A&M Urban Mobility Report estimates that in 2009, public transportation reduced delays due to congestion in small metropolitan areas by 3-4%. Better transit service might increase this percentage, but it is unreasonable to think that subsidizing bus passes for one group of workers will have a large effect on traffic.
There are more reliable ways to reduce congestion. One way is to end parking subsidies, which cause traffic and many other problems. The city can do this by removing off-street parking requirements and ending its public parking monopoly.
Bus service probably has a small effect on traffic, but it gives mobility to people who are not able to drive, or cannot afford to. Offering subsidized annual passes would intensify this benefit.