MTC committees review modest means-based fare proposal

On Wednesday, April 11, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Programming and Allocations Committee (a powerful set of commissioners), its Policy Advisory Council (an advisory body), and the Equity and Access subcommittee of the Policy Advisory Council meet at 9:40pm, 12noon, and 1:30pm respectively, and will review the modest means-based fare program that a consortium of transit agencies were able to agree upon, following the Bay Area’s decentralized tradition of transit planning.

The program is a modest step, compared to more comprehensive ideas that were discussed at the start of the study in 2015.  The Commission doesn’t – yet – consider this as part of a larger roadmap for integrated and equitable fares across the Bay Area.

Read on for more about what the MTC and agencies are proposing to do – and not do. If you’d like to see this as a first step toward a broader roadmap, send a quick note to the Programming and Allocations Committee and Policy Advisory Council, to the attention of staff via Martha Silver, and Catalina Alvarado,

Or if you can make it, come to one of the meetings tomorrow – the most powerful would be the 9:40 Programming and Allocations Committee if you can make it; or come to and comment in person to the Policy Advisory Council subcommittee at 12 or full committee at 1:30, which ever works best for you.  (For disclosure, your blogger is a member of the Policy Advisory Council.)

In the most recent proposal, the only agencies leaning toward participating are BART, Caltrain, Golden Gate, and SFMTA (Muni). AC Transit and SamTrans have opted not to participate at this time due to the risk of fare losses; VTA is exempt because of its small, 1,000 participant existing low-income fare program; and other agencies were exempted from participation earlier in the process.

The proposed program would provide a 20% transit fare discount for adults making 200% of the federal poverty line or less, as validated through a county social service or other such means-tested program. A person who qualifies would get the 20% discount on trips on any participating agency, using a “coupon” loaded onto a Clipper card.  The program doesn’t include any transfer or other fare integration; transit trip would be paid for separately.

Agency participation isn’t guaranteed yet; the program would need to be approved by each participating agency’s board.

MTC would provide up to $11 million in funding, with participating transit agencies expected to pick up the rest of the tab, costing up to $21 million in total.  Because transit agencies are expected to cover over half the cost of the program out of their regular operating budgets, it’s possible that they would need to cut service or raise fares in order to pay for the means-based fares.  The MTC funding would be derived largely from the SB1 gas tax, which is the target of a voter recall initiative – if the recall is successful, the means-based fare program would be subject to cancellation.

The proposal being advanced is much more modest than earlier discussions about streamlining fares through transfers or a coordinated regional fare policy, as is found in regions around the world with excellent, well-coordinated transit. It was considered too difficult for transit agencies to agree, and unfeasible to implement in the current version of Clipper, so these more ambitious ideas were taken off the table.

SPUR’s Seamless Transit report found that streamlining fares would likely lead to increased transit ridership with little or no fare loss, or even an increase. An integrated fare system would be a stronger base from which to discount for people who have the greatest need.

The proposal isn’t being framed as a pilot – which is reasonable, since MTC doesn’t want to communicate that it is temporary and liable to go away.  But it could be seen as the first step in a longer roadmap, instead of the best we can do.

If you’d like to see a roadmap toward more comprehensive and streamlined fares across the region, send a note to the committees (see instructions above), or come if you can.