On Monday, the Clipper Executive board, execs of the region’s top transit agencies, decided to explore “mobility as a service”, a trend to facilitate trips – and service packages – including different transportation modes from public and private providers, such as transit, transportation networks (Lyft/Uber), bike and scooter share, and more.
The trend is further along in Europe, where, for example, Birmingham residents can subscribe to a package of services, including unlimited public transport, taxis, car rental, and bike share, for £99/month (~$133), using the local Swift SmartCard.
Clipper 2.0, the Bay Area’s next generation card-based transit payment service, is planned to launch including car parking, bikeshare, and paratransit, with the ability to add more services using APIs (application programming interfaces), but creating offerings with more services would require more work & business agreement among more parties.
In order to provide an offering like Birmingham’s $130 monthly pass, the Bay Area’s transit agencies would need to agree on a universal pass fare structure, which the MTC board directed staff to start exploring as a potential next step building on the region’s means-based fare pilot.
Clipper executive board members, including SFMTA head Ed Reiskin, strongly encouraged the Clipper team to pursue this direction. Currently, private sector players are taking the lead in creating combination services, raising the risk that public transit will be left behind as people look for easy-to-use transportation options beyond privately owned cars.
This opinion echoed regional think tank SPUR, which strongly advocates the public sector to play an important role in Mobility as a Service, to foster policy goals such as congestion reduction, social equity, and data privacy.
But the challenges in getting the region’s transit agencies to work together pose obstacles. At the meeting, the head of Clipper staff, Carol Kuester, was skeptical that this trend would take off in the US and in the Bay Area in particular, because of the plethora of transportation agencies (although, given Clipper’s role at the center of integrated public transit services, this skepticism has the risk of creating a self-fulfilling prophesy).
At the same meeting, the Clipper Executive board directed staff to explore options to integrate the Clipper system to pay for public transit with the FasTrak system to pay for roadway tolls. Coordinated by MTC, the Bay Area is building a network of toll lanes.
In addition to facilitating customer service, combining transit and road toll systems creates interesting opportunities to provide means-based discounts on road tolls, addressing concerns about the equity of roadway tolling for low-income commuters, and to create combo packages with corridor transit and toll payment, encouraging commuters whose schedules require some driving to take transit when they can.
It will take more effort to encourage our region’s fragmented transit providers to work together to offer coordinated, easy-to-use transportation services. Last month’s direction to explore integrated fares, and this month’s direction to explore MaaS and FasTrak integration, were baby steps in the right direction. Stay tuned for more ways you can help.