Quantifying the True Cost of Transit: Case Study of Bus Routes in Boulder, Colorado

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, technology - automatic vehicle monitoring, operations - reliability, mode - bus, planning - service improvement


public transit service, cost of service reliability, automatic vehicle locator (AVL) data


Quantification of the affordability of public transit must consider factors beyond the farebox cost. Monetization of the cost of service reliability was made possible by the availability of automatic vehicle locator (AVL) data, examined in this study of the Regional Transportation District (RTD) in the Denver, Colorado, metropolitan region in 2014. When time was valued at seven-tenths of an individual’s hourly wage, AVL data for the Dash route, which served Boulder, Colorado, showed that, taken together, the hidden cost of unreliable transit service and the incremental time to take transit rather than to drive could be up to 52% higher than the farebox cost alone for those that earned Colorado’s minimum wage. Over the course of a year, this monetized opportunity cost became equivalent to 269 one-way fares on a locally priced RTD route. Reliable service is a subjective parameter, and different definitions of reliability yield different monetized costs from the data set. For riders who depend on transit to arrive at work or other destinations on time, reliability and affordability are intricately connected. The interplay of these factors, particularly the often-ignored cost of unreliable transit routes, should influence efforts to improve public transit service.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.