Day #087: Suspend bus fares on Election Day

Boosting voter turnout by reasonably lowering the costs of voting is a worthwhile pursuit.

Inspired by Michael Bierut’s 100 Day Project, 100 Days to a Better RVA strives to introduce and investigate unique ideas to improving the city of Richmond. View the entire project here and the intro here.

  • Idea: Suspend bus fares on election day.
  • Difficulty: 3 — It would require City Council to change Article III Sec. 110-136 in the Code of Ordinances.

High participation in elections is a public good. It establishes the legitimacy of the winners, it limits the ability of extremist groups to sneak victories, and it fills out the middle between the partisan extremes. In order to lower barriers to voting and promote high voter turnout, GRTC should suspend bus fares on election days.

Poll taxes were banned in 1964 by the 24th Amendment, but there are plenty of other costs to voting. Some costs like Voter ID laws (addressed in Day #086) have questionable legality. Others are unavoidable costs to life like finding time while working on a Tuesday or the assumed knowledge it takes to vote.1

Lowering the cost of any good increases its demand. The government can’t eliminate every cost, but it should make a reasonable and conscious effort to limit some costs, and it regularly does. Long lines on presidential election years pop up and are remedied in a whack-a-mole fashion to promote turnout. The government also promotes “turnout” through absentee ballots.

Suspending bus fares is another cost the government could reasonably limit. Free bus service would help those who need help with transportation the most, it would encourage choice riders to hop on the bus, and it would send a powerful message about the importance of Election Day. If properly executed, it could create a shared experience worthy of a great city on one of the most important days of the year.

Some cities like Fort Wayne, Indiana and St. Cloud, Minnesota suspend fares for all users on election days. GRTC makes roughly $10 million per year in user fees. Somewhere between $30,000 to $45,000 would be lost in a day. This money would have to come from somewhere else.2

Other cities like Tampa, Florida offer free bus service with a valid voter registration card on election days. This seems more practical. It would guarantee many of the benefits while limiting the cost to taxpayers.

High voter turnout is unquestionably good for society. Voting isn’t free, and there are some costs that are unavoidable, but the government should make a reasonable effort to lower costs. Suspended bus fares on Election Day would be a valuable way to increase voter turnout while sending a serious message about its importance.

Love this idea? Think it’s terrible? Have one that’s ten times better? Head over to the 100 Days to a Better RVA Facebook page and join in the conversation.

Photo by: Cle0patra

  1. Voting is like going to an airport. If you’ve never done it, there is a lot of assumed user knowledge. After the first time, it’s easy. 
  2. I’d gladly donate two-way bus fare so someone else could get to a polling location. 
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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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