In addition to setting fare policy goals around affordability, agencies should strive to make fares simple and convenient for riders.
Easy to Understand
Complicated fare structures make transit confusing, and when transit is confusing fewer people ride.
In Austin, Texas, Capital Metro launched its Metro Rapid limited-stop service with a fare of $1.75 – a $0.50 premium above a regular bus trip. The fare differential added complexity in more ways than one. Monthly transit passes, for instance, didn’t give riders access to the Rapid services.
Advocates took issue with the two-tiered system, and Capital Metro realized that Metro Rapid’s ridership was far below projections, so the agency decided to equalize fares. The simpler, more intuitive fare structure paid off. After the change was implemented, weekday ridership on Metro Rapid routes increased 37 percent year-over-year.
Many American transit agencies are now working to reduce fare structure complexity and to communicate pricing to riders with greater clarity. Strategies to simplify fares include: eliminating price differentials between services on the same network; integrating fare payment across different agencies; and switching from distance- or zone-based fares to a single price point.
Easy to pay
Fare payment methods at American transit agencies haven’t kept up with the times. Until recently, most agencies relied on two methods: paper tickets purchased from a vending machine or teller at stations, or cash paid on-board transit vehicles.
Paper tickets and cash fares are inflexible for riders and incompatible with economically progressive policies like fare capping. Someone rushing to catch a train or lacking exact change for a bus may opt not to pay the fare or to forgo the trip entirely. Upgrading to new fare payment methods can entice more riders while reducing fare evasion.
By adopting more modern technology, agencies can make it easier to pay for transit. Account-based fare media allow riders to add value without physically being at a station.
Some transit agencies are adopting mobile and credit card payment options. This reduces the need for separate transit fare media, increasing convenience for riders and reducing costs for agencies.
Many agencies are exploring eliminating accepting cash on-board for fares. While there are travel time benefits to adopting such a policy (cash payments can take between 5 – 9 seconds per passenger), agencies must do it in an inclusive way. Riders who do not have, or prefer not to use, traditional banking structures (and their contactless bank cards) or smartphones must be able to buy and reload transit cards from vending machines or through an out-of-system retail network. This network must be convenient for riders and offer the best customer service possible.
Transport for London is a model for out-of-network fare card sales. TfL Oyster cards can be purchased or value can be added at thousands of Oyster Ticket Stops located in newsstands, convenience stores, and supermarkets across London as well as at all Tube, London Overground, and TfL Rail stations. Additionally, passengers are also protected by a “One More Journey” policy which allows Oyster e-purse values to fall negative for one bus trip. TfL has also instituted fare capping, which gives riders the benefits of the daily or weekly pass even if they are paying per ride.