« March musts and April apertifs | Main | Best of 2007: May's marvels; June jewels »

Here's the scoop on "penny" New Year's Eve rides

For many years (I'm not sure exactly how many), the CTA has offered bus and train rides for just a penny on New Year's Eve. And they'll do it again starting at 8 pm tonight.

But the truth is the rides are free. Bus drivers just wave riders past fare boxes covered with "Happy New Year!" stickers. And turnstiles at train stations are open, and festooned with similar stickers. You see, the CTA can't legally advertise free rides, and it also doesn't actually accept penny fares any longer. Also, it would be cost prohibitive to reprogram fare boxes for just 10 hours anyway. Thus, tonight's a freebie.

And it's a good thing, so I really don't want to hear from any of you about how the CTA can't afford it, etc. blah blah, etc. In 2004, the Sun-Times reported it cost the CTA about $150,000. It's probably not a whole lot more than that this year, certainly less than $200K. Seems reasonable to me, especially if it keeps drunk drivers off the road and potentially saves even one life.

The CTA has had minimal sponsorship interest in the penny fare program since they no longer allow alcoholic advertising -- which are a natural tie-in for this.

All train lines are running longer than usual tonight. Take advantage of this great program and keep the roads -- and yourself -- safer.


The real reason cta as well as other transit properties accross the country does not charge fares on New Years Eve in part getting drunks off the street, New Years Eve always had the most fare evasion. Because of lack of police manpower, it's propably not worth it to hold up service while waiting for police who might nrver show up.

What's with the lecture? Either leave comments open or not, but don't tell us what to say or how to like or dislike something about the CTA.

I am not knocking the program. I am just giving you my own perspective of it. Happy New Year and be careful.

umm, Anna, it's his site - he can do as he pleases.

Also, it's all about the words we use to communicate and you might try understanding that.

He didn't say you couldn't write any complaints/rebuttal/diatribes; he said he didn't want to hear it. He didn't tell you what to do; he laid out what he wanted to do/hear.

lol... I always love the "it's his site, he can do what he wants!" replies.

i still think the penny rides are silly. oh well. here, lets start a big internet fight!!!


People are complaining about the CTA doing something for their benefit.

It's true, the whining will never stop..

Doesn't 200K seem awfully high? The cost of the stickers (and applying them) can't be that much, I imagine they just hand them out to all the drivers and station attendants. Some advertising? The CTA already does some advertising, and while this is advertising for an event it is as good as any other advertising for encouraging people to ride. How many riders would they have tonight if fares weren't free? Certainly not 100,000 riders.

I can't imagine this costs much at all. It makes me think -- what if they just made Sundays free? It would bring in more riders, especially families, get people comfortable with the service, get kids comfortable with it for when they are old enough to ride on their own, and I can't imagine there's much income generated from Sundays anyway (though there'd also be a cost to keep up with the likely increased demand).

Capital One pitched in some money so Toronto could offer free fares:


I think the $150K-200K that was mentioned refers to the lost fares - not the cost of advertising the free fares (they don't advertise -they rely on press accounts). The cost of the stickers and signs is negligible. (The manpower to post those can't be that high.) The cost was probably computed using the number of free rides that are taken during this time period - announced in a recent years at about 150,000 rides. Of course, a lot of those riders are already unlimited pass users, so there is no lost fare at all for them.

Ian's Sunday idea sounds interesting - free rides all day on Sundays - but given the high ridership on Sundays, that would cause a great loss in revenue. The CTA's recent ridership reports show that about 650,000 rides are provided on an average Sunday. It's not nearly as high as the average daily ridership (1.6 million) but it still brings in a lot of money.

There are many small systems across the country that are free every day. Mostly we're talking about systems with only one to a dozen buses, but they're free because the cost of counting, and accounting for all those tiny cash fares is just too high.

The problem with free rides in a big city is they attract too much trouble, and it's harder to disallow someone from a public place when there's no fare, and thus no contract.

And as we've discussed here before, depending on farebox revenue is not the most viable way to run a transit system.

What I'd like to see is $1 fares. It creates enough revenue to pay for it's collection, and a little extra. The additional public subsidy needed would pay-off better than many transportation projects that are currently funded pay-off. Ridership would go up. People would move around the city far more efficiently.

But considering the difficulty getting bare-bones funding, this is just a huge pipe dream that politicians will never have the insight to understand, let alone fund.

For now, we'll have to just enjoy our New Years Eve rides as best we can.

Oh... And since I don't pay the bills around here, and Kevin does, Kevin gets to do whatever he wants. He's actually pretty fare, and has allowed some exchanges here that aren't very comfortable. But if he ever decides he's sick of reading my comments, it's his absolute right to ban me anytime he wants. And if I don't like it, I'm welcome to start my own site.

The Internet is not some big, open public forum. It's a whole lot of privately owned resources that their owner have opened up for use by others. They still own the resources. They still get to call the shots. If you want to call the shots, you're more than welcome to start your own sites, and pay the web hosting fees, or find revenue streams to pay for them.

Perhaps this should have been part of some Thanksgiving post, but instead of scolding Kevin, we should be thanking him. It really is his forum, and he's been a very, very gracious host in allowing some of us to be such snots on his forum.

If, for argument's sake, one wants CTA to make up the $150,000 or so cost of the New Year freebie rides (I still think this is one of the smartest and best moves CTA's ever come up with, in terms of both public safety and PR), Huberman has only to fire two or three more space-waster administrators. He's done a good deal of that already, to his credit -- but I'd bet there's more he could do yet.

Re: laststop's comment:

I wonder how many of those 650,000 rides on Sundays are actually fare-paying rides, though, as opposed to people with unlimited passes. Making Sundays free isn't going to put much of a dent in pass sales (except perhaps one-day passes), so it's only really the pay-per-ride fares that would be lost.

To reduce the cost of such an idea further, the program could be for "Summer Sundays" or something. It would have all the salutary effects described by earlier posts, but only 1/4 of the cost.

How about Allstate as a sponser? Seems like it would work with the whole safe driving campaign...

FYI, at least on the #80 I rode on NYE, you did actually have to pay the penny fare.

Perhaps this should have been part of some Thanksgiving post, but instead of scolding Kevin, we should be thanking him.

Pfft. Kevin needs to learn some manners towards the people who read this blog - I don't like being preemptively scolded for something that probably no one would do anyway - who the hell is slamming penny rides? It's disrespectful to his readership, and I have a right to express that opinion.

Anna, there were at least a few vocal folks slamming penny rides in a post last week.


Actually, you have no constitutional right to freedom of speech on someone's blog. It's like being in someone's house. You might have an opinion but he doesn't have to listen to it. Don't delude yourself into thinking freedom of speech is guaranteed in this day and age. Your constitution rights have been suspended until further notice via "The Patriot Act".

I ride the CTA every Sunday...to work. I don't really consider any ride I take to be 'free' because I have a monthly pass. I had to pay for that.

Josh: My saying that the penny rides program was "Funding Crisis ... Penny rides ... hmmm. Just doesn't fit for me." is not 'slamming' it. It's the drama-queens on here who take things too far and it's always about defending or opposing something and doing it to the Nth degree.

Painhertz: I'm not exactly a fan of the Patriot Act, however, it does not suspend all constitution rights. I assume you were being sarcastic, but that was stupid.

Rusty/anyone else thinking we shouldn't say what we feel on here: This is a blog. The point of them in the first place was someone to shoot out their opinions and generally, for other people to comment back on it.

Lastly, I don't think Kevin was really that rude or "scolding" in his comment about me/others bitching about the penny program, so I don't see why people think he's like not letting us say what we think.

The posters don't mean that your ride is free to you, rather, to the CTA it is no loss to give you a sunday ride free. Either way, you have paid your monthly fee and so you are entitled to unlimited rides anyhow, therefore, it is not a lost fare in the eyes of the CTA.


The purpose of a "free fare" day, as articulated by another poster, would be to try to draw new people to the CTA by getting them to try it out for a (most likely casual) trip on a weekend day.

The point of such a program wouldn't be to provide free rides to people who already use the CTA regularly, although that would no doubt be a by-product. If the purpose was to simply save regular users money, that would be more straightforwardly be accomplished through smaller fare increases or larger discounts, etc.

God, the free Sunday brings back memories of the bad old days of Supertransfers and the Culture Bus (for those of you still in the 'burbs in the 80s, this was a hare-brained scheme by Mayor Byrne to hype the first articulated bus purchases).

"bad old days" ?????

I LOVED the Culture Bus. What was bad with it?

and the supertransfer was just that era's version of a one day pass

Anna, you're entitled to your opinion. But no one is required to pay for you to express it.

This isn't a public forum. It's a private blog. Kevin pays for it. Kevin gets to decide what it is, and who can participate. He can be as fair or as random as he chooses, and is under no obligation to answer to anyone about it.

A "blog" litterally means web log. Kevin's posts are the essential part of this forum. A blogger doesn't have to allow comments at all, and it would still be a blog. There is nothing that entitles us access to Kevin's blog. We are here only because he allows us here. And it's still a blog -- his blog -- whatever he decides.

And this, by the way, demonstrates an important right we all have: The right to personal property. As humans, we have rights to our opinions. But our right to express those opinions do not trump the property rights of someone else.

Kevin's right to express himself on his property also allows him to control any expression of opinion on his own property. His freedom of expression allows him to control what's expressed here. He has no obligation, legal, moral or ethical, to allow anyone to trump his rights. And no one has the right to expect otherwise.

Just because Kevin invites comments, and just because he's allowed certain kinds of comments in the past does not negate his right to expression, and to control the expressions of opinions here, in this private forum.

If you think that's wrong, and your right to say what you want to say trumps Kevin's property rights, then you're more suited to be a dictator of a small country than you are to be a member of a free society. The key to a free society isn't absolute freedom. It's the society part. And social structure falls apart, and ceases to exist without property rights like the property rights that allow Kevin to moderate and/or edit his forum -- the one he graciously has invited us into.

Rusty, I haven't seen Kevin delete any of these comments, so... clearly he is allowing these comments. Until he says "quit commenting on..." then you can jump back on your high horse and write your super-long comments. Until then, why waste your time?

Look, he's been running this blog long enough to know what kind of comments are likely to be made, & considering that I have seen negative commentary on the penny rides (a worthwhile endeavor, IMO, tho I've never taken one--keep the drunks off the road & the rest of the drivers safe), I understood what he was saying. Others say that sort of thing all the time--"Don't say anything about that," tho usually qualified with a "yet" for a new idea. Or when you know someone's going to think your opinion or plan is a bad idea. He was just trying to save himself a little aggravation.
Besides, the penny rides are good publicity for the CTA, which is usually being shot at for poor service & customer indifference.

The comments to this entry are closed.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Here's the scoop on "penny" New Year's Eve rides:

Share news tips