Fares are unknowns in RTA's transit plan

Don't expect hard numbers on costs to ride proposed transit before November


DETROIT – Fares are an unknown in the Regional Transit Authority's ambitious new plan to connect metro Detroit with buses, shuttles and rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Setting rider fares is an "exacting process" that needs to run through the Federal Transit Authority, said Benjamin Stupka, planning and financial analysis manager for RTA. Civil rights and environmental justice considerations shape how much the RTA can charge per ride, he said. 

"It's a fairly exacting process with environmental justice, civil rights to ensure fares are just," Stupka said. 

That process won't be completed before voters head to the polls in November to consider paying for the RTA's plan, so it will remain unclear how much it will cost to ride the new Airport Express shuttle, Bus Rapid Transit lines or Cross-County Connectors. 

RTA transit plan: How much will it cost you?

There are broad guidelines that hint at future fares. Federal guidelines require the fares are "commiserate" with fares that exist today, Stupka said. For example, a $2 bus route now couldn't jump to $4. It could, however, increase to $2.50. 

Fares cover part of total cost

Underlying the question of fares is how much ridership itself pays for a transit system. It's a given that fares alone won't pay for the entire system, said Stupka, adding no public transit system in the world pays for itself in that way. 

RTA's plan calls for fares to cover 20 percent of the total cost to run the new Bus Rapid Transit lines, which form an important piece of the regional plan. Fares would cover 15 percent of total cost of other bus lines, while fares would cover 20 percent of the cost of the new train between Detroit and Ann Arbor. 

Airport shuttle

The Airport Express shuttle would charge a higher fare to cover a higher percentage of total cost, Stupka said. He estimated 60 percent of the airport bus would be paid for by fares, a number comparable with the existing Michigan Flyer line connecting Ann Arbor and East Lansing to Detroit Metro Airport.

Details: Getting to Detroit Metro Airport under RTA transit plan

We can get a rough estimate of RTA's proposed airport shuttle costs by looking at the Michigan Flyer lines. Standard fares on the Michigan Flyer from Ann Arbor to Detroit Metro are $22 round trip with discounted rates for seniors and children. Fares cover about 70 percent of Michigan Flyer's costs, Stupka said. 

RTA's proposed regional transit system heads to voters in Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw counties in November for approval. Organizers are seeking a 1.2-mill property tax increase -- that's $1.20 per $100,000 of assessed property value -- across all four counties to pay for the system. A home valued at $200,000 would pay an extra $240 in taxes per year.