Thursday, September 15, 2005

Public Transportation in Budapest

Public transportation in Budapest operates in the following manner. One obtains a ticket for the form of transportation one plans to use (tram, trolley, bus or metro) and one has the ticket stamped (by machine) upon boarding said form of transportation. Sometimes, a conductor will come through the passenger area and ask to see one's ticket. If one does not have a ticket then one is fined 2000ft ($10). But one's ticket is not checked on every ride: I have only been checked once in one week's fairly heavy use (I did not have a ticket.) One can also purchase a multipass for 6250ft (~$30) which allows one month's unlimited use of all public transportation (which I did soon after getting fined.)

This system is in contrast with, say, Boston, where if one does not purchase a pass (passes are not available for all forms of transportation and are fairly expensive) one must purchase a ticket for each ride when boarding. That is, if one does not have a ticket one cannot ride public transportation. In Budapest the choice to purchase a ticket or not must be made under the uncertain prospect of getting checked or not. Which system is better? In order to get people to purchase tickets, they must make it such that conductors check tickets enough so the cost of purchasing tickets is less than the expected cost of riding without. Assuming the choice between the two systems is profit-neutral, which is better?

I'll say Boston because it prevents risk-lovers from free-riding.


Blogger Isaac said...

In Montpellier the system is similar.

The bigger issue is that there are major positive externalities to public transport, so even if people don't pay you can still make an argument for it. And it is much more expensive to build a public transport system where you have to have a ticket than one where you can go without. Think about what you would have to do in Budapest to seal off around each tram such that you had to have a ticket (or, rather, compare to SEPTA and the expense of having all those conductors...).

So while from a revenue collection standpoint Boston is clearly better, I'm not sure if from an over-all standpoint it is better given the higher expense to such a system and the fact that it is a social good for people to use public transportation.

4:06 PM  
Blogger henry said...

Yes I suppose, it is far easier to use without turnstiles everywhere. Though you wouldn't have to cordon off the trams, just put a money-taking machine at the entrance on the tram itself.

I think what's really at work is that nearly everyone purchases a multipass. If you get caught four times in a month it would have been better to buy a pass. I've been checked once in the week I've been do the math.

4:18 PM  

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