Aug 17, 2018

Fare Capping: A Formula For Fairer Fares

This weekend, Dallas Area Rapid Transit will raise bus and rail fares, making a ride on DART one of the most expensive in the country. To soften the blow for riders, the agency will also be introducing a fare capping policy alongside its new GoPass Tap contactless fare card.

Where fare capping is done—for example in Dublin, London and Portland, Ore.—single fares paid by riders are “capped” when they reach the cost of an unlimited-ride pass. Advanced fare-payment technology, like that found in GoPass, can count how many times a rider uses the system within specific time spans and stop charging after she hits the cost-equivalent of a daily, weekly or monthly pass. With fare capping, riders who can’t afford the hefty upfront cost of a pass no longer end up paying more overall.

Fare capping represents a growing trend in transit because it offers a win to both agencies and riders. Capping incentivizes riders to switch to mobile or card payment options, reducing agency overhead associated with cash handling. Meanwhile, riders appreciate the convenience and assurance of knowing they aren’t paying more for fares than necessary.

New York, however, is late to the party. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority hasn’t committed to including fare capping policy when it rolls out its new fare payment technology next year. It should. Fare capping can be a salve for straphangers who are frustrated at the prospect of scheduled fare increases in 2019 with no discernible improvement in service. At a time when many are turning their backs on subways and buses altogether, it could bring riders back to the system.

Fare capping would be a powerful policy complement to Fair Fares, the New York City Council’s half-priced fare subsidy for low-income New Yorkers. Together they would increase transit equity and offer convenience for riders of all incomes. Now is the perfect time for New York to follow Dallas’ lead and ensure the MTA provides the best value for everyone, and it’s up to advocates to continue making the case.

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