Metropolitan Transportation Commission grapples with Clipper 2.0 feedback advocating fare streamlining, equity, and flexibility

 

Comments from transit riders and technical experts have gotten the attention of decision-makers at the Clipper Executive board and Metropolitan Transportation Commission. But these bodies have not yet made decisions to take the feedback into account.

Read on for more on the decision process and what you can do to move things forward…

Numerous technical experts, transit riders, and institutional customers provided comments for the April 3 deadline to give feedback on the Clipper 2.0 draft Request for Proposals.  The comments included interest in fare streamlining, equity, and a flexible system that can handle changing payment and transportation technologies over time.

After getting many comments, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Operations Committee held a meeting on Friday (agenda here, video here) to start discussing the next steps of the project and how to take the feedback into account, including feedback about fare streamlining and equity.

clipperfeedbacksummary

The MTC Operations Committee has a powerful role to play with regard to Clipper 2.0, since they will need to approve the Request for Proposals and the budget for the Clipper 2.0 project.  The project is being supervised by the Clipper Executive Board, which is composed of the general managers of the region’s top transit agencies.

Friday’s meeting was attended by Steve Pepple of the San Francisco Transit Riders and Arielle Fleisher of SPUR.  At the meeting, several members of the MTC Operations committee showed interest in fare streamlining, customer demand for cross-regional travel, open payment technologies, and integration with FastTrack and “transit adjacent” services, such as bikeshare and rideshare.

Steve Pepple of San Francisco Transit Riders

Steve Pepple of San Francisco Transit Riders addresses MTC Operations Committee

 

The responses from staff show that the comments have been heard, but decisions haven’t yet been made to address them.

With regard to comments about fare streamlining and equity, MTC sent a letter to advocates who had provided feedback by the April 3 deadline. The letter was telling its recommendations for caution to not expect ambitious action.  

This reluctance to take action comes despite research showing that streamlined fares is likely to increase ridership; despite the region’s climate strategies to increase transit ridership with PlanBayArea, and the region’s expectations for much more robust service across agencies, at transit hubs including San Jose Diridon, which is expected to see nearly as many transfers between agencies in 2040 than transit trips today. 

For instance, streamlined transit systems have been implemented in the region – including consolidating SamTrans and Caltrain services under the management of SamTrans, as well as in Napa and Solano counties, and MTC strongly advocates for such efficiencies throughout the region.

This paragraph describes an approach to “streamline” fares through many different bi-directional agreements between adjacent transit agencies, potentially further multiplying the complexity of a regional fare system that currently has with tens of thousands of business rules.

Keep in mind, however, that transit fares are set by local transit governing boards, and not by MTC or Clipper staff.

According to this statement, the region relies on the individual actions of separate transit agencies to set fare policy. Regional bodies, including MTC and the Clipper board, do not have a role to play in creating a regional roadmap toward streamlined fares.  Without some form of central coordination, can the Bay Area ever achieve a streamlined regional fare system such as is found in other regions in the world, including regions that achieve streamlined fares across multiple agencies??

These governing boards balance many factors when deciding on fares so as to not reduce revenues or service.

Transit agencies, understandably, are concerned that fare streamlining efforts should not harm the finances of each individual transit agency. The Bay Area has previously rejected fare streamlining proposals by insisting that any such proposal must not negatively impact any transit agency.   Around the globe, by contrast, regions handle this issue with a regional insurance policy that prevents individual agencies from losing money, while requiring streamlined fares.

Regarding means-based fares, MTC staff who work in the transportation funding arena are studying the feasibility of a fare policy to discount travel for low-income riders, and hope to have recommendations later this year.

The draft proposal for Means-Based fares presented over the winter suggested that the region should refrain from any strategies that require fare integration or streamlining, because these strategies could not yet be implemented cost-effectively with Clipper 1.0, and because it would be too difficult to get our transit agencies to agree on a strategy and roadmap for action.

Also, at the MTC Operations committee meeting, staff also urged caution about whether the Clipper 2.0 system would be able to support emerging technologies in the future.

With regard to a question about open payment (for example, supporting Apple and Google payment apps and chip credit cards), staff at the MTC committee meeting expressed concern about not burdening the rollout of Clipper 2.0 with too many features, which could result in technical challenges and delays.

These are reasonable concerns that also seem like potential red flags regarding the Clipper 2.0 proposed contract structure.   As those with Silicon Valley product development experience know, it is common and expected to have a version 1.0 release that includes essential core features, and leaves additional features for future phases in a product roadmap to be rolled out incrementally over time.

The response from staff sounded as if the Clipper team may have a concern that support for open payments either needs to be available at first ship or not happen at all.  If so, this is a sign of a contract that is not being designed correctly to support continual improvements to support additional payment methods, transportation modes, and other expected types of change over the life of the system.

So while the comments have been heard, the initial response is to continue on the path of  separate fare systems, with a variety of different bi-directional transfer agreements, with equity solutions that refrain from addressing displacement and suburbanization of poverty that forces long cross-regional commutes, and with a monolithic technology that will not be able to keep up with expected changes in payment and transportation modes.

Though there is some interest among leaders at transit agencies, transit boards, and regional commissioners, there not yet a direction to seek fare streamlining across the region.  And there are good reasons for advocates to remain concerned about whether the contract structure will facilitate future streamlining and changing technologies over time.

We have their attention – now it’s time to seek forward motion.

The next milestone is a meeting of the Clipper Executive Board on Monday, April 17 at 3:30pm at BART HQ in Oakland (344 20th Street, 3rd Floor, BART Board Room, agenda here.)

It will be very helpful to have a transit advocates, in person, asking for outcomes such as:

  • A study to explore fare streamlining, including consideration of options to reduce financial risk to agencies
  • A decision about who will lead the work
  • A Clipper 2.0 contract following industry best practices to enable ongoing innovation in areas such as changing payment technologies and transportation modes
  • Incorporation of customer-centric practices around the needs and wants of transit riders and organizational customers

It’s a challenge to make 3:30pm for many people. If your schedule allows you to make this, please come. If you can make it, please let us know at – contact Steve Pepple (stephen.pepple@gmail.com) and Adina Levin (adina.levin@friendsofcaltrain.com)