Innumeracy at Santa Rosa City Bus

Almost every day—often many times per day—I ride the Santa Rosa City Bus. Inside each bus are signs that explain (1) the cash fare price for riding for a two-hour period, (2) the City Pass price for riding for a whole month, and (3) the Ticketbook price—ticketbooks being a collection of tickets that are equivalent to a single cash fare. This is what it looks like for the cash fare:

Fare Type       Price
Adult           $1.25
Youth           $1.00
Half            $0.60

The “half” price is for senior citizens and the disabled. I’m sure you can see the obvious problem right away. Sixty cents is most definitely not half the adult fare. But okay, I’ll go with it. After all, there is no longer a half-cent piece, so they couldn’t charge our older riders 62.5 cents. But make no mistake, while youths are getting a 20% discount for being (what?) youthful, oldsters are not just getting a 50% discount for being old; they are getting an extra 2% discount for accounting ease. Thus, they get a 52% discount.

Things get even worse when it comes to the ticket books. Here are the prices:

Fare Type       Ticket Number   Book Price      Ticket Price
Adult           50              $60             $1.20
Youth           40              $38             $0.95
Half            40              $22             $0.55

First note that adults must buy more tickets: 50 instead of just 40 for the youths and oldsters. This seems wrong. Adults are already paying more than the others. Why should they have to buy more tickets at once? But this is a minor, if annoying issue. The more important issue is the per ticket cost.

The per ticket price for adults and youths is reduced by five cents per ride—hardly a great incentive to buy a ticket book. And note that the youth ticket price is a greater percent discount than the adult ticket price (5% compared to the adult 4% discount), even though adults are forced to buy 25% more tickets at once. The bigger annoyance here is the half ticket price. Santa Rosa City Bus, in its infinite wisdom has chosen to give these riders a five cent discount too, even though they already have a 52% discount. What’s more, they skipped the opportunity to reverse the cash fare inequity by making ticketbooks $25 for 40, and increased it by giving half fares an even larger discount (an 8.3% discount compared to the adult 4% discount). An adult ticket is $1.20, but a half ticket is not $0.60 as logic would dictate—it is $0.55!

It is only when we get to the monthly passes that the full extent of Santa Rosa City Bus’ innumeracy is seen. Here are the prices:

Fare Type       Price
Adult           $40
Youth           $30
Half            $20

At long last! For monthly passes, the half fare really does cost half of what the adult fare costs. Of course, this fact only proves that the errors on the daily fare and ticketbook prices are no fluke, and rather the result of ignorance or laziness. But the monthly pass prices are not without problem—this time with the youth prices. When paying daily, youths get a 20% discount compared to adult riders; when paying monthly, they get a 25% discount.

The reason for all of this is to make all of the numbers even and easily remembered. One can tell this by just perusing the numbers. Of course, it would be much more memorable if a 40 pack “half” ticketbook cost $25 rather than $22. So in the end, one is left with the conclusion that whoever set these prices did it cavalierly, without regard to logic or aesthetics.

It is worth noting that Sonoma County Transit—which is not nearly as good a transit company—does not suffer from these problems. Whoever set their prices, did it correctly. As a result, I am not mentally assaulted every time I board a county bus the way I am every time I board a city bus.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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