In Milwaukee, frugal transit riders would ask the motorman to "punch my transfer a little long as I have to go to Eleventh and Schuster's" and local lore has passengers handing unexpired transfers out the window to passengers waiting to board.  With more sophisticated ticketing machinery and gated stations, contemporary transit systems can vary the price by time of day and by distance travelled.  It's a lot more complicated than the Single Fare Area (adult fare, 25 cents) and outlying Suburban Zones 1 (one more nickel to get off) and 2 (two more nickels to get off).  Inbound passengers would pay the extra zone fares on boarding, and there was provision on the transfer for a change of routes outside the Single Fare Area.

Relatively simple, but relatively difficult to beat.  Today's more complicated ticketing systems offer arbitrage opportunities.  But the bull session suggests that the transaction costs of setting up a ride-sharing cooperative exceed the relatively small benefits to engaging in fare arbitrage.
Armed with an up-to-date fare guide, it’s simple to find out whether a particular pair of trips allows for arbitrage.

[Twitter data analyst Asif] Haque gives the example of a commuter travelling from Millbrae Station to the south of San Francisco to the downtown station, Embarcadero, a journey that costs $4.50. Another commuter travelling from Glen Park in San Francisco to Berkeley on the other side of the Bay pays $4.20. So together they have to fork out $8.70.

But if these commuters meet and swap tickets, it’s possible for them to pay $5.10 (Millbrae to Berkeley) and $1.85 (Glen Park to Embarcadero) or a total of $6.95. That’s a saving of $1.70 or 20 per cent.
A map is useful.  The day service Red Line runs Millbrae - Glen Park - Embarcadero - Berkeley enroute Richmond.  In principle, a pair of regular riders could discover this pattern and work out this trade although the lost time from their electronic shackles is probably worth more than $1.70.

And transit authorities can tweak their prices to counter such anomalies.  It does pay to be alert to them, though.  Years ago, a college friend discovered that a Paisan's mushroom pizza with sausage was cheaper than a sausage pizza with mushrooms.  They eventually figured it out.

No comments: