Maryland has long had a state law requiring transit systems to collect enough fares to cover at least 35 percent of their operating costs. While it is admirable to set a target, this particular target is disheartening for two reasons.
First, 35 percent is a pretty low goal. The 2015 National Transit Database lists 48 transit operations that cover between 100 and 200 percent of their costs, including New York ferries, the Hampton Jitney, several other bus lines, and a bunch of van pooling systems. No rail lines cover 100 percent of their operating costs, but BART covers 80 percent, Caltrains covers 72 percent, New York and DC subways cover 64 percent, and New York commuter trains cover 60 percent. On average, commuter bus and commuter rail systems earn half their operating costs. So 35 percent lacks ambition.
Even worse, most Maryland transit operations don’t come close to meeting the target. Maryland commuter trains cover 45 percent of their costs. But Baltimore’s light rail only covers 17 percent, and its heavy rail covers a pathetic 13 percent. Standard bus service also covers just 13 percent of its costs, though commuter buses come closer to the target, reaching 28 percent.