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Should Public Transit Be Free? It Depends.

In an updated episode of the Freakonomics Radio podcast, Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, weighed in on a question being taken up in cities across the country: If public transit is good for the environment, for social mobility and for economic opportunity, should it be free for all riders? “Public transit is very context-specific,” stressed Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin. Eliminating transit fares might make more sense in a place like Lubbock, Texas, where most riders are low-income, than in San Francisco, where many peak-hour BART riders have higher incomes than the average driver, he said. “Just saying generally, ‘Make it fare-free for everything, for all types of trips,’ I would not agree with that,” Taylor said. “The question is, do we need to give something valuable away to rich people for free on the argument that we want to help low-income people?”


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