Free Pre-Peak Commutes Decrease Rush Hour Crowds
Singapore’s transport authority offers riders free rides if they use the system before 7:45 AM on weekdays
In a bid to ease the commutes of thousands bustling to use Singapore’s public transit during rush hour, the Ministry of Transport Singapore (MRT) has been offering riders free admission to the transit system early in the morning.
The program has been active for over a year, and has been proven as a success. Now, a Toronto mayoral candidate has considered a similar idea, based on Singapore’s model where riders paid no fare if they exited at one of 16 heavily-used central MRT stations by 7:45 a.m. on weekdays. Riders who exited at one of these stations between 7:45 and 8 a.m. got a discount.
According to the local government, the plan worked and 7% of riders began taking the subway earlier in the day to take advantage of the free rides. Many of those who didn’t shift earlier said they wanted to, but couldn’t due to inflexible working hours.
Flattening the curve of ridership over time not only creates a more pleasant experience for commuters, it also makes the system generally less expensive to run (off-peak trains are cheaper to operate in many cases) and incentivizes drivers to try the less-crowded public transit options, potentially taking cars off the road.
This idea seems to have worked well for Singapore, but it is unclear whether the success can be replicated elsewhere. For transit systems that already operate at or near a deficit, providing free rides in exchange for rider comfort doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s hard to imagine New York’s MTA doing such a thing, for example. But perhaps in better-run and more responsibly regulated countries this kind of optimized “free-riding” wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.