At last month’s Caltrain Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting, Caltrain marketing and operations staff explained that fare and transfer integration would play a minimal part in the Clipper 2.o upgrade of the Bay Area’s regional transit payment card system. Rita Haskin, who heads marketing for Caltrain and Samtrans, explained that transit agencies were working on harmonizing the ages of youth fares across transit services, but not looking at larger questions about disparate fares and transfers.
Update: the presentation covered opportunities to make changes to fare media (for example the ability to pay with a credit card or mobile app) and the ability for Clipper to be used for other transportation modes (such as car parking and bikes lockers). Some fare coordination is being considered, such as youth age coordination.”
As an explanation for why integration is low priority, Haskin explained that there is currently very little overlap in the customer base for SamTrans (lower-income, youth, and elderly), and the customer base for Caltrain (higher-income employees.) Update: Caltrain monthly pass holders receive local ride credit on SamTrans or VTA, but the inverse is not the case; SamTrans and VTA pass holders do not get ride credit on Caltrain.
This economic separation by transit mode is very different from the high-ridership, well-coordinated transit system described at a recent SPUR forum by Andy Nash, formerly of the Bay Area and now a transportation planner in Zurich, Switzerland. In Zurich, Nash explained, there are higher-speed backbone services, provided by rail and buses with dedicated right of way; and a network of “feeder” bus services that take people to and from their destination. There is a single zone-based fare system; a rider pays a single fare depending on the number of zones she travels through, even if the trip includes a bus and a train. The Zurich system is tightly integrated despite the fact there are 42 transit agencies in the metropolitan area, more than the infamously fragmented Bay Area.
The MTC is not considering comprehensive fare integration (such as an integrated day or month pass), because Bay Area transit agencies have concerns that such fare integration might cause transit agencies to lose revenue. This is evidence that increased integration has the potential to increase ridership. For example, in the 1990s, New York City introduced a universal fare card technology along with free subway/bus transfers, triggering a ~20% increase in ridership, with a minimal decrease in revenues.
In Zurich and other European regions, there is a “transport alliance”, that distributes funding and provides financial support for integration. Here in the Bay Area, BART and AC Transit are conducting pilot programs testing a hypothesis that better integration of fares and schedules between rail and bus in the East Bay can improve transit ridership as well as equitable access to the system. The pilot will also analyze the revenue implications of the integrated transfers.
Not only is the Clipper 2.0 project not contemplating more robust fare integration, staff explained that it was inappropriate under the state’s Brown Act law to consider the topic of fare integration, when discussing opportunities for Clipper 2.0. The Brown Act says that members of an advisory body like the CAC, or a decision-making body like a transit board or city council, can discuss only items that have been publicly disclosed in the agenda of a public meeting. But the topic of fare integration is sufficiently off-topic that it cannot be mentioned in a conversation about the next generation of Clipper. Disclosure – this blogger asked the question, as a member of the CAC.
Update: In a written comment in response to this blog post, Haskin explained that robust fare integration was not being considered because that was considered to be in the domain of fare policies set by each agency, rather than payment technology coordination being organized by MTC working with transit agencies as part of the Clipper upgrade. The goal of Clipper is to support current and future fare policies.
While we hear that transit agencies understand substantial fare coordination to be not germane to the Clipper upgrade project, numerous riders who need to make multiple payments to multiple agencies to travel across the region have a different perspective. The Around the Bay Coalition, a set of transit and active transportation advocacy groups, including Friends of Caltrain, had earlier presented MTC with a petition from community members asking for the next generation upgrade of Clipper to make progress on regional fare integration.
If the current Clipper project is not working on regional fare integration, the coalition would like to see a fare integration task force that is able to commission studies of costs/benefits. The scope of the task force would include opportunities to increase transit ridership through fare integration (as with the AC Transit/BART project), and funding opportunities to address any financial needs created by integration.
Do you agree that it should be possible to use Clipper on a trip that crosses multiple systems, and pay a single fare? Do you think that the MTC should re-engage an initiative to explore fare integration, including ways to address funding needs or funding shifts? If so, sign this petition (if you haven’t already) so we can continue to encourage an integrated transit system in the Bay Area.