On November 15th the MTC Fare Integration Task Force (Task Force) adopted a fare integration statement to help Bay Area transit agencies deliver a fairer and better-coordinated fare collection system for the Bay Area.
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The statement is the culmination of work started by the Bay Area Blue Ribbon Transit Recovery Task Force (BRTRTF), originally convened by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in May 2020 to devise a fair distribution of federal relief funds in response to the COVID pandemic. Subsequently the BRTRTF led a collaboration of the region’s two dozen transit agencies in addressing safety COVID protocols and framing longer-term strategies to recover from the drastic loss of transit ridership caused by the pandemic.
The Task Force endorsement initiates two near-term actions:
- Deployment of a regional demonstration pilot project in 2022, with a focus on enlisting the participation of educational institutions, affordable housing properties, and employers generally to provide incentives to use the improved region-wide system.
- Implementation of no-cost and reduced cost transfers for transit riders transferring between transit agencies beginning in 2023.
These two initiatives, estimated to cost a total of $28 million, are precursors for a larger and more intensive regional fare integration program which has not as yet been defined.
Another regional program already in place is the “Clipper START” pilot project which completed its first operating year in July of 2021. Clipper START seeks to make transit more affordable to low-income individuals by implementing fare discount options that are financially viable and administratively feasible while moving towards a more consistent regional standard for fare discounts. The Clipper START program average fare discount for the first year was $1.20 per trip, costing transit agencies an estimated $180,000. (It is noteworthy that MTC’s administrative cost of the program was $1.1 Million.) About 250,000 trips were taken by Clipper START participants, notably including 58,000 transfers.
The Fare Integration and Coordination program is appropriately premised on better customer experience and induced ridership growth. Yet there is no mention of how the proposed changes will be evaluated. How will the program affect ridership? At what cost? These are questions that must be answered before the capital money starts flowing. To measure the true value and cost-effectiveness of the proposed changes will require sorting out multiple external effects, such as post pandemic employment growth, workforce travel changes, overall transit ridership changes, the Clipper START program and other exogenous factors. The work to date has been innovative and forward-looking; however the challenge ahead is to verify the validity of the proposed changes before implementing them.