dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

Sustainability Shortcut: Zero Fare Transit

January 10th, 2020 by dk

The city of Eugene has been updating its Climate Action Plan, but meeting its aggressive targets looks increasingly unlikely. The city aims to reduce fossil fuel use to 50 percent below 2010 levels in the next ten years, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7.6% annually.

The time has come to show that the plans and commitments made are more than aspirational. Incremental improvements won’t get us where we hope to be by 2030. 

Other cities have made it a priority to “break the car culture.” No other behavioral change is likely to push the needle toward sustainability further and faster. Eugene is improving its infrastructure for bicycles, but it rains here. Many of the people who don’t fear the weather have already changed their habits.

If the Eugene City Council is looking for bold footsteps to follow, look at Kansas City, Missouri. The third leg of their bus rapid transit system just opened, so their transit system is analogous to ours. Or it was, until last month, when their city council voted unanimously to eliminate all transit fares in 2020.

Kansas City is now poised to become the largest city in the United States to institute Zero Fare Transit. Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Denver have been talking about it, but no city larger than Corvallis has actually done it.

Will it boost ridership and reduce emissions? Almost certainly. Will the city be able to recoup the $8 million they are transferring from their general fund to the transit agency? In the long run, it will decrease road maintenance and increase economic opportunities, but how long will that take?

Lane Transit District budgets $4 million from fares and passes. It would be a heavy lift for Eugene to replace those funds alone. Neighboring cities and Lane County might be inspired to contribute. Eugene is the region’s economic engine, and social equity is a large concern across the county. 

If Eugene’s Climate Action Plan is going to match words with actions, something on this scale will be necessary. What other move could Eugene City Council make that would reduce the city’s emissions more dramatically?

Large systems don’t welcome large changes. Smaller steps can be measured and system responses refined. Fair enough. Eugene and LTD can take small steps toward Zero Fare Transit.

  • LTD offers senior citizens free fares as “Honored Riders.” Try dropping the qualifying age from 65 to 60 or 55.
  • Students (kindergarten – 12th grade) receive free fares, thanks to a grant from Oregon’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund. Enrolled college students get bus passes with their tuition fees. Extend this benefit to all riders under 25.
  • LTD offers deeply discounted group passes to large employers. Widen the program to local non-profit agencies to be given (or sold) to their members and supporters.
  • Eugene’s largest parking garages are free on weekends to lure shoppers and diners downtown. LTD could experiment with fare-free weekends.

If the goal for Eugene is to reduce emissions and “break the car culture,” nothing would make a bigger difference than giving residents an alternative to automatically driving their cars.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Tags: No Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.