MTC at a turning point with means-based fares, fare streamlining future

On May 9 the Programming and Allocations Committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission faces a pivotal vote about the fate of a proposal to start a regional means-based fare program – and maybe to take a step on a path toward streamlining regional fares.

Read on for more details about how this could be a step for a more equitable system for low-income riders, and more streamlined system for all – and how you can help now.

A first step toward an a more equitable and seamless system…

The good news is that thanks to MTC Commissioner leadership the program is being proposed as a pilot- a first step toward a more equitable and seamless system.

At its last meeting in April, Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)  Commissioners demanded changes to the limited proposal for a Regional Means- Based Transit Fare Program (“Means-Based” for short) presented by staff.

Commissioners wanted to get the program off the ground, after more than three years of planning. But they also wanted more ambitious goals than the limited, watered-down, non-integrated, partially-funded program that made its way out of the transit agency committee consensus process.

Start smaller, go further

The limited Means-Based proposal presented in April called for four agencies (Golden Gate, Muni, BART, Caltrain) to provide at least a 20% discount on single trip fares to adults whose households earn up to 200% of the Federal Poverty Line. To pay for the costs of the program, MTC would cover the administrative costs, estimated at $3 million annually, and then disburse $8 million of SB1 gas tax funds to the four operators to cover approximately half of the operators anticipated fare losses arising from the program.

The MTC Commissioners wanted to see a deeper discount than the 20% proposed. To get the program off the ground and help the limited initial funding provide a deeper discount, some commissioners, including Scott Haggerty (Alameda County) and Jane Kim (San Francisco), proposed a limited pilot with just BART, or BART and Muni.

At the same time, several Commissioners, including Kim and Josefowitz, were especially concerned about helping to support low-income individuals who take longer, more costly regional trips. Similarly, at the April MTC Policy Advisory Council meeting, advisors from counties with long commutes and growing pockets of poverty (as lower-income residents are displaced due to housing costs) expressed dismay that the Means-Based program would provide little assistance to low-income residents facing long commutes.

Keep the vision of a streamlined fares alive….

The initial research for the means-based fare program showed that highest priority expressed by low-income residents was for a regional pass that addresses the high cost of multi-fare trips.

With this rider feedback in mind, the Policy Advisory Council strongly supported keeping alive the vision of regional fare streamlining because multi-agency trips pose a particular burden for low-income commuters who face long trips.

Commissioners Jane Kim and Nick Josefowitz (San Francisco) supported a regional pay-as-you-go pass, which would help budget-constrained households by providing a predictable transit bill, and avoiding up-front costs.

At a recent SPUR event, transit agency experts from London, Zurich, and Toronto all shared data showing that coordinating fares is likely to increase transit ridership overall, providing an essential foundation for growth in dense and densifying metropolitan areas.

A regional multi-agency “pay-as-you-go” pass could help increase transit ridership around the region for people of all income levels, while enabling a discount for lower-income people who take long, multi-agency regional trips.

The “Launch and Grow Proposal”

Friends of Caltrain, San Francisco Transit Riders, TransForm, Seamless Bay Area, and other advocates for better regional transit are proposing a “Launch and Grow” proposal to get the program started, and make progress toward a more equitable, streamlined, high-ridership system:

  1. Start with a pilot discount program on only BART and Muni. These agencies are the most enthusiastic, have many low-income residents in their service areas, and have capacity to manage the program and analyze the data. Limiting the initial rollout will help the available program funding go further, potentially with a deeper discount.
  2. Carefully evaluate the program to plan next steps: who uses the discount program, for what kinds of trips? Will this be used mostly by extremely low-income people for short local trips? By low-income commuters for longer regional trips? Do participants use multiple agencies? How deep a discount is needed to increase transit use?  How easy is the program to use, especially for hard-to-reach communities and how to improve ease of use?
  3. Plan for a broader rollout with more agencies and streamlined fares, to achieve the needs of low-income users and the goals of a better system for all. Study regional fare integration with a timeline to roll out using Clipper 2.0.
  4. Seek funding for a broader rollout. Transit agencies have been reluctant to participate in the program because the subsidy amount offered by MTC is quite low. Create a funding plan to scale the program.

How you can help

The MTC Programming and Allocations Committee meets on the morning of May 9.

Before May 9, send a letter to the members of the committee (listed below). Urge them to adopt the “Launch and Grow” proposal: move the program forward now, start focused, evaluate, keep planning for the goal of regional streamlined fares, and find funding to expand the program.

If it fits with your schedule, come to the meeting which is at 9:30 am at the Bay Area Metro Center  in San Francisco. If you can come, send a quick email to to coordinate.

This is a turning point, so now is an important time to act.

MTC’s Programming and Allocations Committee

  • Nick Josefowitz (San Francisco), Chair –
  • Carol Dutra-Vernaci (Alameda County), Vice Chair –
  • Jeannie Bruins (Santa Clara County) –
  • Federal D. Glover (Contra Costa County) –
  • Jane Kim (San Francisco) –
  • Alfredo Pedroza (Napa County) –
  • Libby Schaaf (Alameda County) –
  • Warren Slocum (San Mateo County) –
  • Amy R. Worth (Contra Costa County) –
  • Non-voting member: Bijan Sartipi (Caltrans)