Coming Together: Regional Fare Update

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.”

Southern Florida

In Florida, the Easy Card is helping transit riders transfer between Miami-Dade Transit’s Metrorail and Metrobus and South Florida RTA’s Tri-Rail. MDT introduced the Easy Card in October 2009, and in January 2011 SFRTA introduced it into its system. A regional monthly pass allows travelers to seamlessly travel between the two systems.

In Miami, the Easy Card was introduced in phases to help passengers with transition. “The Easy Card was implemented in phases to minimize disruption to passengers during the transition. The phased-in implementation allowed for system testing addressing any potential glitches,” says Karla Damian, information officer, Miami-Dade Transit.

The Easy Card system consists of the Easy Card and the Easy Ticket. “The EasyCard is a durable, reloadable plastic card, which can be used for up to three years and has an initial cost of $2. Riders can also opt to us e a paper-based Easy Ticket (no initial charge for the ticket), which can be used up to 60 days but has less flexibility (fare-paying options) than the Easy Card. To ride on MDT buses and trains, passengers simply tap their loaded card or ticket on a bus farebox or Metrorail fare gate,” Damian says.

It was SFRTA that reached out to MDT about creating a regional system, says Renee Matthews, director of special projects for SFRTA. “We reached out to Miami-Dade following our research and procurement process to determine whether or not they’d be willing to cooperate in developing this regional system. They were and then we held a series of meetings and came to an agreement. ”

The back office system is administered by Miami-Dade and the two agencies have a shared customer service center, Matthews says.

Informing the Public

MDT launched an extensive marketing campaign to inform riders of how the new fare collection system worked. The campaign included radio and television promotion, a comprehensive print media campaign in three languages (English, Spanish and Creole), community outreach meetings and interior and exterior bus and rail advertising, explains Damian.

Matthews says community outreach turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the whole project

“The first thing we did on the very first day of the full system launch is we had a customer education campaign put together out on the station platforms,” Matthews says.

The system does not work with Broward County Transit and Palm Trans Buses. However, Matthews says there is a project underway headed by the Florida Department of Transportation to study what resources and technology would be needed to equip their buses to accept the Easy Card.

Agency Advice

Damian offers this bit of advice for other agencies exploring regional farecards: “Miami-Dade Transit attributes much the success of its Easy Card system implementation to the fact that MDT had full control of the project, as well as direct contact with the contractor. Miami-Dade Transit’s recommendation to other agencies trying to implement their own automated fare collection system is to form strong a partnership with their contractor, so that the agency and contractor can both work toward the common goal of achieving a fast and successful implementation.”

Goodwin advises regions with multiple transit operators to establish a streamlined regional fare policy that will limit the number of possible fare combinations. “That is the No. 1 lesson that we’ve learned.”

His other piece of advice is to make sure you reach out to all members of the community, not just your regular weekday commuters.

“It’s important to remember that this is not a project that is going to come together over night. A great deal of planning and coordination is necessary. Just how long it will take really depends on the size of the system,” Poling says. However, “The very best an agency can plan for if they’re going to a smart card system or one of the new technologies, is two years at the very best.”