Do your riders link up to your system via another system in the area? If so, a regional farecard system might make sense for you and the other agencies in your region. However, it’s not something you can just jump right into. Careful planning and coordinating are a must.
Neil Poling, a senior project manager with CH2M Hill, advises that the first thing transit agencies need to do is decide on what technology they want to use.
The other important decision that should be made early in the process is what sort of payment structure and fare policy will be used. “They have to decide what sort of payment structure, fare policy they want, whether they want to be a proof-of-payment system or if they want to be a gated system, if they want distance-based fares. They need to decide their fare policy up front because much of the design is based on fare policy,” Poling says.
San Francisco Bay Area Clipper Card
The Clipper Card has been in use in the San Francisco Bay Area for about 18 months and serves seven agencies: San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), AC Transit, Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), CalTrain, Golden Gate Transit and Ferry and SamTrans, which just became available in January 2012. There are a total of 28 transit agencies serving the nine-county region. However, the seven agencies on the Clipper system serve 95 percent of the transit riders in the region, according to John Goodwin, public information officer for the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC).
Prior to Clipper there was Translink, which started off as a six-month pilot serving six agencies. “In the pilot phase in the early 2000s, it was available for about 3,500 to 4,000 customers, select routes, select stations, six of the biggest operators in the bay area,” Goodwin says.
Following the great success of the pilot, Goodwin says there was a great deal of enthusiasm among all the operators to roll out the regional fare program across their entire fleets and eventually expanding to the smaller suburban operators. That decision was made in 2002, but then full roll out for the first two operators — Golden Gate Transit and AC Transit —didn’t happen until November 2006.
A big challenge for the Clipper Card was that the decision was made to incorporate all existing fare structures across all the systems.
He says there are a seemingly limitless number of fare combinations a rider could have as he moves from one system to another. A business rule had to be written into the software to accommodate all these different possible combinations.
Informing the Public
MTC along with the various agencies and the Clipper contractor, Cubic Transportation Systems Ltd., put together outreach teams that went out to different stations and stops to help educate their passengers about the new system.
Goodwin says it was particularly important to include outreach in Chinese, Spanish and Vietnamese. “I think the importance of outreach to all members of the community not just the commuters, the regular Monday-through-Friday go to one destination and then go back home in the evening. Outreach to all members of the community, making sure you have resources where the riders are. We worked really hard to cover the youth base, senior citizen base, non-English speaking base and I think that those efforts have been born out in the tremendous acceptance that Clipper has had.”
Poling says that outreach is one area that many agencies underestimate. “You should probably begin at least a year ahead that something is coming. You’re going to be tearing up — in the case of a rail installation — you’re going to be tearing up those stations,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be an expensive marketing campaign, but if you start at least a year in advance that something is coming or maybe even use that to their advantage or spin it positively because you can tell folks things are getting better.”