TriMet to study OPAL’s Campaign for a Fair Transfer

The TriMet board today, before a packed house, considered a proposal from OPAL, the “Campaign for a Fair Transfer“, which would extend the validity of single-ride tickets to address equity issues in public transit. OPAL, an advocacy group which focuses on environmental and economic justice issues, claims that the reductions in service over the past few years have made certain trips on the TriMet system impossible on a single-ride ticket under current policies–and that as these extra-long trips are generally only undertaken by the transit-dependent, this has a disparate impact on the poor. OPAL also argues that the transfer policy is unfair to bus riders. Their proposal is to make MAX tickets and bus transfers alike valid for 3 hours from the time of purchase or validation, and to make tickets purchased or validated after 7PM valid until the end of the service day.

After several hours of passionate testimony, the TriMet board voted to formally study the matter. Board president Richard Van Beveren indicated that the proposal would be likely adopted outright under better economic circumstances–“If we were in a normal environment, man, we would be all over this.” OPAL was generally satisfied with the outcome, as co-director Joseph Santos-Lyons called it “definitely a step not only in our transfer issue, but in the board opening up to public communication.”
Revenue Impact

One issue of debate would be the revenue impact of such a transition. While the financial impact of permitting long trips to be made with a single fare would probably be minimal; a three-hour transfer window would also permit many round-trips to be made with a single ticket which presently require two. There have been various estimates floated about as to how much the proposal would cost–according to Opal, a preliminary analysis of the 3 hour transfer suggests lost revenue would be between $1-$2 million dollars, offset by new revenue from additional trips projected between $500,000 to $800,000. TriMet itself claims a net cost to the agency of $1.8 million to $3.2 million (for the 3 hour transfer plus the unlimited use after 7PM fare), down from an admittedly-flawed initial estimate of over $5 million. Portland Afoot has a good summary of the various arguments concerning revenue here.

Regardless of the financial impact, the proposal has proven popular, with diverse organizations such as Kaiser Permanente and AORTA endorsing it.

Better routes to take?

Speaking personally, I think the 3-hour transfer idea is a good one, at least for an all-zone ticket. (For a 1-2 zone ticket, two hours should be sufficient, barring a few hellacious suburb-to-suburb commutes I can think of). Single journeys on the system shouldn’t require more than a single ticket to complete. The Portland metro area is small enough that any trip which requires three hours represents a failure of planning; the added time riding (and waiting at transfer points) serpentine routes confers no benefit whatsoever on the passenger.

The unlimited-use-after-seven part I have a few more issues with–mainly, this strikes me as a way to subsidize casual users of transit who ride the system to and from their evening entertainment downtown (Blazers/Timbers games, nightclubs, concert halls, etc); there is no real reason to give this demographic a break on price. (Breaks should go to frequent users and the poor; not to club-hopping yuppies). There probably are some service employees at the same venues who would benefit from this proposal, needing one ticket rather than two to get to work and back; but even there this seems overly targeted towards a specific segment of the workforce.

An alternative I would consider is a five-hour ticket; which is good for unlimited use of the system in a five hour window (or until closing if bought after seven); this should cost more than a single-ride ticket but less than two single-ride tickets (say $3.75-$4 for all-zone). It would still provide benefit to riders using transit for non-work trips (as well as some part-time employees), and have the additional advantage of reducing long queues at ticket machines after events let out, without unduly subsidizing the restaurant crowd.

One thing that strikes me about OPAL’s proposal is that many of the intended beneficiaries are commuters–people using transit to get to and from jobs. In this case, these commuters often use TriMet for journeys where transit is highly inconvenient, because they have no other choice. Most commuters who use transit regularly, rather than purchasing single-ride tickets, choose instead to buy a pass: a monthly adult all-zone pass costs $92, about the price of 38 single-ride tickets–a nearly 40% discount over single-ride tickets, assuming two trips per day. (A year pass can save you even more, but requires you spend $1k up front). 14- and 7-day passes are also available; the discount for these is slightly less. However, many people in poverty may find the cash outlay for a TriMet pass to be difficult to justify, even for a $24 7-day pass; thus may end up choosing to use single-ride tickets instead (possibly paying more in the process). It’s often been noted that it’s expensive to be poor; and one big reason is that limited cash flow limits one’s ability to buy in bulk and enjoy volume discounts on purchases.

Some transit-dependent riders also may have sufficiently irregular schedules that a buying a consecutive-days pass isn’t an economical idea. TriMet does permit ticket purchases in groups of ten, but (strangely) offers no financial discount for doing so: a book of 10 all-zone tickets costs $24, same as ten single-ride tickets. Other than the conveniences of not having to watch the MAX leave while you are waiting in line for the infernally slow ticket machines to spit out your ticket (or hoping the fare inspector buys the “sorry I forgot to validate it” line after you make journey after journey on the same unvalidated ticket), there’s presently no reason to buy MAX tickets in bulk. Given that, I think it would be a useful idea for TriMet to either a) provide discount pricing on single-ride tickets bought in bulk, such as 10 tickets for $18; or b) provided “separable” multi-day passes, good for a given number of days but not necessarily consecutive, and needing validation on the days used. Or both. A separable 5-day pass, for $18 or so, or even a 3-day pass for $12, seem like reasonable offerings.

And of course, all of this assumes the current system of paper tickets and passes is continued, along with the current zone system. Switching to a modern electronic fare-collection system would enable many other possibilities above and beyond the simplistic ideas contained herein.

But regardless of the specific mechanisms employed, it would be beneficial to all involved were the agency to find better ways to make the system accessible to and affordable by its most vulnerable and dependent customers. The poor have borne the brunt of the recent service cuts and price increases; the rest of us can more easily avoid the former and afford the latter. Demand for transit is generally highly elastic; it’s a common mistake to assume a fixed pool of trips and that lowering prices won’t produce an increase in demand. It’s easy for transit agencies to be caught up in the dreaded death spiral; but reversing such spirals and driving demand often requires investments to be made. TriMet is willing to make such investments for expansion of its rail system. It should be equally willing, and not so quick to plead poverty, to keep the core of its customer base happy–and to treat them like customers instead of like hostages.

37 Comments

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37 Responses to TriMet to study OPAL’s Campaign for a Fair Transfer

  1. Carl
    September 29, 2011 at 6:55 am Link

    Thanks for covering this and for your commentary.

    “Switching to a modern electronic fare-collection system would enable many other possibilities above and beyond the simplistic ideas contained herein.”

    I find the paper tickets and zone system arbitrary and frustrating. How much would a modern fare system cost to implement? How could we price transit (and maybe bike sharing) better with a modern system? I would love for Portland Transport to write about this.

  2. zefwagner
    September 29, 2011 at 8:24 am Link

    I’ve thought about doing an analysis of Seattle’s ORCA system to see if it would be worth implementing here. There is a high cost of implementation, but it makes the whole system run smoother by greatly speeding up fare collection. People using cash can load money on their cards, so it’s not very common to see people searching for dollars and coins on the bus in Seattle. It also allows things like distance-based fares instead of zones. For example, on MAX people could “tap on” and “tap off,” and the system would calculate the cost based on distance. It charges you the max amount when you tap on, so you have an incentive to tap off.

  3. zefwagner
    September 29, 2011 at 8:31 am Link

    Scotty, thanks for this analysis. Your point about the after-7pm idea is spot on. OPAL is a group based on equity, but this idea is highly inequitable! It doesn’t benefit anyone who works long evening shifts, or anyone who has to stay home with their family at night. It’s only good for people who are able to go to events or run errands in the evening, which is a small subset of the population and does not correlate strongly with low income.

    One caveat about the elasticity point. The demand elasticity for transit is usually about .3, so a 10% rise in fares produces a 3% loss in ridership and vice versa. So yes, lowering price would increase ridership, but often not by enough to recoup the lost revenue. A much better way to increase ridership is to increase the quality of transit: speed, reliability, frequency, better vehicles, etc.

    OPAL claims that the longer transfer would produce a large boost in ridership, but the pool of people who stand to gain suggests this would be limited. Some people might take evening trips when they didn’t before, but if more people are taking the same trips they did before but getting 2-for-1 pricing, revenue will drop and TriMet will have to cut more service.

  4. Chris I
    September 29, 2011 at 9:32 am Link

    I would assume that the electronic payments systems are better at preventing fare evasion and counterfeiting?

    I really enjoyed using the Clipper card in the bay area. I was able to transfer seamlessly between BART, MUNI, and AC Transit.

  5. Alexis
    September 29, 2011 at 9:51 am Link

    Nice analysis, Scotty. I’m a frequent purchaser of bulk ticket packages and it’s always frustrated me that there isn’t even a tiny discount on them. I do it to avoid having to make change for the bus so I still get a benefit, but a discount would be great.

    I like the idea of nonconsecutive day passes too. I’d probably use thosea as well if they were available. I often alternate between biking and transit, especially in the fall and winter, and they would be good for that.

  6. Alexis
    September 29, 2011 at 9:52 am Link

    Nice analysis, Scotty. I’m a frequent purchaser of bulk ticket packages and it’s always frustrated me that there isn’t even a tiny discount on them. I do it to avoid having to make change for the bus so I still get a benefit, but a discount would be great.

    I like the idea of nonconsecutive day passes too. I’d probably use thosea as well if they were available. I often alternate between biking and transit, especially in the fall and winter, and they would be good for that.

  7. Allan
    September 29, 2011 at 10:11 am Link

    In a few years won’t NFC devices on cell phones be able to replace these high-tech cards? Perhaps we should be looking to private sector alternatives instead of an expensive-to-implement system that will be obsolete soon

  8. Chris I
    September 29, 2011 at 10:32 am Link

    Allan,

    Are you assuming that all transit users will have these phones, or that the need for a system like this will be eliminated because most users will have these features? I suppose it would be acceptable to have a few users with paper tickets, that cannot afford cell phones, for example.

    I think we may be more than a “few years” away from this cell phone payment system, though. Many people will be hesitant or slow to adopt this system due to concerns about privacy and security.

  9. EngineerScotty
    September 29, 2011 at 10:34 am Link

    Allan,

    Rumor has it that TriMet feels the same way, which is one reason we HAVEN’T seen an ORCA/Oyster/Octopus style system rolled out.

    (Is there a law that smartcard systems for public transit have to be named after animals that start with the letter “O”? If we do one in PDX, should we call it Otter, Ocelot, or Orangutan?)

  10. EngineerScotty
    September 29, 2011 at 10:37 am Link

    Many people will be hesitant or slow to adopt this system due to concerns about privacy and security.

    One word: Facebook. :)

  11. Al M
    September 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm Link

    Given the salary structure of those of us employed at this ‘public service’ agency, I do not see this request as even remotely unreasonable.

  12. Bob
    September 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm Link

    I’ve been told that TriMet is studying changes to the fare structures and also looking into newer collection methods like smart cards, etc. Any changes are more than likely a few years off, but OPAL and others are wise to be bringing their concerns to the table now.

  13. zefwagner
    September 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm Link

    Smartcards do reduce fare evasion and other trickery because there is no way to sell your fare to someone else or hoard transfers and figure out the code. When officers do fare enforcement on Link Light Rail in Seattle, they have a reader that scans everyone’s card and says if they swiped it or not. Compare this to MAX where sometimes tickets are not validated correctly or machines are broken.

    It greatly speeds up boarding on buses, as everyone just swipes their cards and very few people pay in cash. Transfers are easy because when you swipe your card the 2-hour transfer window begins. You don’t have to worry about the driver putting the right time on the piece of paper.

    Another benefit that doesn’t get much play is that if you lose your card, you pay $5 to replace it. Compare this to the current system where if you lose your pass, you have forfeited the whole value.

    It might interest people to know that the cell phone idea is already happening in Seattle. A bunch of people figured out how to extract the microchip from the ORCA card and put it inside their phones. This is perfectly legal, and some people manage to pay their fare by simply walking past the reader with the phone in their pockets.

    I definitely think the ticketbooks should have a discount, for the simple reason that they speed up boarding compared to cash! Why doesn’t TriMet see the value in fewer people searching for those dollars and dimes, slowing down the boarding process? Bulk discounts are common all over the place, from coffee shop punch cards to Costco 100-packs of toilet paper. Why not for transit? TriMet does have rolling 30-day and 14-day passes, so that at least helps people whose paychecks don’t line up with the month exactly.

  14. Aaron G
    September 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm Link

    Hopefully any system they switch to has hardware versatile enough that even if NFC hasn’t taken off in the US when they launch it, they could implement it later.

    It sure would be nice if we could all just use something like Google Wallet and TriMet didn’t even need its own smart card or an account that needs money put into it, locked away. Would be a lot nicer just to be able to quickly tap something to pay out of your credit or checking accounts on buses and MAX.

  15. Jason McHuff
    September 29, 2011 at 10:01 pm Link

    I believe there used to be discounts for purchasing books of tickets.

    And I agree with the idea of selling fares that valid for a longer time. TriMet tried a six-hour “QuikTik”, but I think it got lost among all the other fare options. However, eliminating the zone system (and using time as a substitute) would solve that.

    Ideally take the opportunity the lower the base fare a bit (to $2 for an adult) by reducing the value (say to 1 or 1.5 hours of riding). In exchange, offer a fare that’s valid for 3-4 hours and costs less than two base fares, around $2.50 to $3.

    Just asking for 3-hour transfers is like wanting a large while still paying the price of a medium.

  16. EngineerScotty
    September 30, 2011 at 10:13 am Link

    Just asking for 3-hour transfers is like wanting a large while still paying the price of a medium.

    But people don’t want a “large”, Jason–unless I’m going to Seattle, I don’t WANT a three-hour commute, and neither does anybody else. The fact that a commute within town takes three hours is NOT to the passenger’s benefit; it’s to their DETRIMENT. This is especially true for time spent waiting to transfer–that time is spent for TriMet’s convenience, not the rider’s. To then turn around and charge the rider a double fare is a double dose of unfair.

  17. Jason Barbour
    September 30, 2011 at 10:32 am Link

    I believe there used to be discounts for purchasing books of tickets.
    They did; I want to say that ended Aug. 30, 2005.

    In my personal opinion, I’ll state that I think the transfer policy outlined by OPAL would be appropriate if all service ended at something like 10 PM, and/or all routes (including all rail routes) dropped to hourly service after 7 PM. This is NOT the direction any transit district (much less TriMet) should go.

    I will say that I would support an up to 50% rail service cut to place armed transit police patrols (with the power to enforce all federal, state and local laws, as well as TriMet Code) on all rail revenue service.

  18. Chris I
    September 30, 2011 at 10:53 am Link

    Jason,

    Are you joking? If they cut 50% of rail service, the trains would be so packed that the fare inspectors wouldn’t be able to move around and ask for proof of payment.

  19. Jason McHuff
    September 30, 2011 at 11:17 am Link

    The fact that a commute within town takes three hours is NOT to the passenger’s benefit; it’s to their DETRIMENT

    I’m not sure, and I don’t think, many people’s commutes (as in a one-way trip) are actually taking three hours. The complaint seems to be that some people are no longer able to do as much riding (and stops) in the same amount of time span.

    To then turn around and charge the rider a double fare is a double dose of unfair.

    I do think that having fares that don’t make people pay the $4.20+ they have to today is reasonable. The issue is many people don’t need 3-hour transfers to make up for the fact that trips can take longer and to restore the value they used to have.

  20. EngineerScotty
    September 30, 2011 at 11:21 am Link

    The interesting question is this one: How many people actually have one-way trips that cannot be done on a single ticket, and how much of this is about being able to do round-trips on a single ticket rather than two? Some transit agencies have a “one direction” rule–a ticket permits you to get off and on the system without an additional fare, as long as you are headed in one direction. But turn around, and that triggers an additional fare. Such rules are difficult to enforce, especially on well-gridded systems like TriMet; so TriMet doesn’t even bother–if you can do a RT on a single 2-hour ticket, it’s perfectly legal.

  21. Michael, Portland Afoot
    September 30, 2011 at 2:54 pm Link

    At September’s Streetcar CAC meeting, Rick Gustafson said TriMet may be planning to eliminate fare zones with the Orange Line’s opening in 2015. This could be either a transition point for the fare system or a move toward one.

    Thanks for the kind words & links in your analysis, Scotty.

  22. zefwagner
    September 30, 2011 at 4:16 pm Link

    It seems like the main debate at this point is whether or not the “unlimited rides after 7pm” feature would attract enough new riders to offset the lost revenue. I have a hard time believing many people will be swayed by this, since the main reason people don’t ride in the evening is not the price, but rather the lack of frequency. TriMet could drop fares in the evening by a huge amount, but does that mean someone leaving a bar or concert at midnight is going to wait an hour for the bus? Service is just too spotty.

    So the dilemma is that the only way to get this extra ridership is to spend more money on frequency and/or marketing to people going out to events. This extra cost would cancel out the savings. Now, we could decide that the social value of fewer people drunk-driving warrants an extra subsidy for cheaper and more frequent late-night service, but OPAL’s claims that this will not cost revenue are hard to swallow.

  23. AL M
    September 30, 2011 at 4:21 pm Link

    The other problem I have with this transfer system is operator error!

    This isn’t to be taken lightly, I am of the opinion that there are more than a few operators that give out the wrong amount of time on transfers.

    Trimet needs to compromise on this issue, at the very least they need to equalize the MAX transfer times with the bus transfer times.

    If it’s any consolation, some drivers (not indicting myself here btw) are implementing the OPAL concept on their own.

    As usual its a 50/50 split, half the drivers are generous enough to the riders the other half think its coming out of their pockets.

    This place has two types of operators, those that actually care about people and those that think the people are basically cattle and deserve no consideration.

    I find it hard to believe sometimes that we have all gone through the same recruitment and training structure, there is such a difference in philosophies.

    The board of directors however is comprised of “big shots” with big paying jobs and connections to the governor.

    The only director that seems to have clue “how the other half live” is Lyn Lerbach, all the other ones have the corporate mindset with limited knowledge of what transit is actually about.

    If you don’t use transit or don’t work in transit, how can you possibly understand the issues that the people that transit was supposed to be servicing face?

    You can’t, which is why this board needs to be restructured to some sort of local accountability, don’t hold your breath for that to happen.

  24. al m
    September 30, 2011 at 4:29 pm Link

    Oh I forgot, I’m supposed to say my views are my views, blah blah and on and on….

    Obviously I don’t speak for Trimet or anybody else, also, I could be completely wrong about everything.

    Some operators think I am a spy for the cascade policy group and the management, if you believe that then good luck to you.

  25. Garlynn
    September 30, 2011 at 6:02 pm Link

    In theory, electronic payment is great.

    In practice, the Bay Area has spent well north of $180 million to implement Clipper… and counting.

    Is it worth the cost of two to three new streetcar lines to implement electronic fare collection?

  26. Bob R.
    September 30, 2011 at 6:38 pm Link

    A few different people at TriMet (including Neil McFarlane if I recall correctly) have stated an interest in Salt Lake’s system, which supposedly has a far lower initial implementation cost than other systems.

    I haven’t used it personally, but from what I understand there is no need for a dedicated card. You can use just about any standard credit/debit card in your wallet to “swipe on” and then again to “swipe off”. (Because not all cards have RFID/near field devices, you can’t “tap on” / “tap off”.)

    The downside to this is that there may be some confusion as to what cards are accepted (store gift cards, obscure prepaid cards, etc.), and you have to remember which card it was you used to “swipe on” when you later get off. (Our household has multiple debit cards from a local community bank, three of which bear identical color schemes and nearly identical numbers — it’s not that difficult to confuse them.)

    I’d like to know more about this system, some comparative implementation costs, and whether there is an operation-cost downside. (Because the system uses standard cards, does the transit agency lose more money to banks in swipe/interchange fees than it would otherwise lose in a single pre-load transaction, with subsequent trip transactions being managed entirely within the agency.)

    The risk of fraud in any such system is not non-zero. Certain RFID-based transit payment cards have been cracked by researchers, and the original New York metrocards could be defeated and used for multiple free trips by strategically punching a hole in a particular spot in the magnetic strip. This isn’t a reason to not proceed, but potential losses due to fraud need to be factored in to any cost/benefit scenario.

    Getting back to OPAL’s request… Someone earlier in this thread mentioned the idea of selling fares by time rather than by zone. (So you could buy a 1hr, 2hr, 3hr fare at various price points). That might be a way to restore some balance in the price between what is now the 2-zone fare and the All-zone fare. After a number of price increases where both were incremented by a nickel, the percentage difference between the two fares has decreased. In other words, over time, All-zone fares increased at a slower rate than 2-zone fares, shifting the fare burden to those who take shorter trips. (But then again, perhaps that’s an argument that TriMet has actually been slowly shifting fares, albeit unintentionally, toward OPAL’s goal.)

  27. Erik H.
    September 30, 2011 at 10:43 pm Link

    I am of the opinion that there are more than a few operators that give out the wrong amount of time on transfers.

    Simply put, one should never, ever see an Operator adjust a transfer slip anywhere except the beginning or the ending of the route.

    Per TriMet Code 19.25(G):

    Bus transfers shall be issued to be valid for one hour past the scheduled end of the trip time for the bus on weekdays, two hours on weekends. The end of the trip is generally the Mall in Downtown Portland, a transit center, or the end of the line.

    The transfer is defined by the scheduled end of the trip time – NOT the current time, NOT the last timepoint, NOT the start of the trip, NOT anything EXCEPT the scheduled end of the trip time for the bus. If the trip starts in Gresham and ends in Sherwood, the transfer shall be determined by the time the bus is scheduled to arrive in Sherwood and add one hour to that.

    It’s not rocket science.

    The risk of fraud in any such system is not non-zero. Certain RFID-based transit payment cards have been cracked by researchers, and the original New York metrocards could be defeated and used for multiple free trips by strategically punching a hole in a particular spot in the magnetic strip.

    It’s not non-zero, but it’s a heck of a lot harder than the current system. I can defraud TriMet using my $60 color inkjet printer and some inexpensive card stock I can buy at virtually any store. There is absolutely no way to validate a current TriMet pass in the field other than extremely close examination, and certainly TriMet bus Operators don’t have time to take a magnifying glass to each person’s monthly pass (especially since many folks place their pass in a sleeve attached to a lanyard or in a windowed wallet insert).

    It’s a little harder to obtain the necessary equipment to encode a RFID chip or a magstripe.

  28. Bob R.
    September 30, 2011 at 11:29 pm Link

    It’s not non-zero, but it’s a heck of a lot harder than the current system

    Yes, which is why I said, in the very next sentence, “This isn’t a reason to not proceed, but potential losses due to fraud need to be factored in to any cost/benefit scenario.” Why take issue with that?

    I can defraud TriMet using my $60 color inkjet printer and some inexpensive card stock I can buy at virtually any store.

    An interim solution to that is to use onboard buses of the same “holographic” strips now present on fares issued from TriMet ticket machines.

    A hole punch is an order of magnitude (or two) cheaper than a computer and a color inkjet printer, FWIW.

  29. Jason McHuff
    October 1, 2011 at 11:41 am Link

    NOT the current time, NOT the last timepoint, NOT the start of the trip, NOT anything EXCEPT the scheduled end of the trip time for the bus.

    Then why does it say “The end of the trip is generally the Mall in Downtown Portland, a transit center,” and not just “the end of the line”?

  30. zefwagner
    October 1, 2011 at 11:45 am Link

    The hole punch thing was an issue for the first-generation of cards, I believe that has been fixed now. I would love to see a system that combines ORCA with Clipper, so you have the heavy-duty cards used for passes and people who live here, but also the floppy cards in dispensing machines for visitors and people who don’t use transit much.

  31. OPAL
    October 1, 2011 at 1:38 pm Link

    Thanks to the Portland Transport community for their intelligent comments and discussion. That the poor have greater difficulty being “rational consumers” is important. It’s also important to note that while we can speculate all day about ridership behavior resulting from policy X or Y, this proposal was developed by transit riders that rely entirely on the system.

    The personal stories and narratives of transit-dependent riders about the failings of the current transfer policy are about access and value. They include inability to reach a single destination – usually, but not always, for a work commute – as well as difficulty completing a reasonable round trip in the allotted time. Our system is based on a fare-for-time exchange. The “intent” may have been one-way, but that’s not the policy, and those that actually use the system for all their basic needs don’t limit their use to one-way travel. If the intent is to capture two fares from one person trying to go to the grocery store or doctor’s office and back home in two to three hours, well, we certainly aren’t leaders in transit equity.

    Many folks who use transit primarily for daytime commuting may not understand the need to open it up to evening riders, or may see a “windfall” to those choice riders that don’t need the subsidy. The need comes from transit-dependent riders who face limited opportunity at night when service drops off considerably and venturing out guarantees paying twice. Since the last bus or MAX typically leaves downtown by midnight or sooner, evening transfers would only be at most five hours, hardly a significant cost increase. It so happens that the policy proposal is likely to boost ridership during the very time TriMet performs poorest – a win-win, as they say (and a reason why this proposal will pay for itself). And yes, we are reaching out to MADD for their support.

    We know TriMet is slowly turning the wheels on a larger analysis around fare policy and zones, etc., but the Campaign for a Fair Transfer can be implemented right now, with existing technology. For those calling for a purely distance-based fare policy (such as DC) and not a time-based or the hybrid we have now, keep in mind that due to our regional demographics, this would inequitably result in greater cost to poorer families living outside the urban core who typically need transit the most. These are not voluntary housing choices (it’s where most affordable housing is built), and compounding this with increased transit costs is immoral. That the value of an all-zone ticket is decreasing at a marginally slower rate than a two-zone ticket is not lost on us, but when they say change comes at a snail’s pace… Granted, extending transfer times will give added value to a rider traveling short distances, presumably accruing to those living closer in where there are greater resources, but this windfall does not come at the expense of those living further out.

    Kudos to Al M. for pointing out the arbitrary implementation of the current transfer policy. Some drivers give out 1.5 hour transfers, others give out 4-5 hour transfers. It’s critical that the policy be not only equitable between modes but also clearly understood and implemented. The stories about disparate transfers from our membership indicates a negative trend of racial or socioeconomic profiling. As Al M. states, it is really dependent upon the operator. Neither OPAL nor TriMet have quantitative or demographic data to prove or disprove this, yet another reason to make the policy more consistent.

    And what of the current policy itself? Erik H. spells out TriMet Code 19.25(G) and declares “It’s not rocket science.” Yet it seems to be just that. For the bus, the transfer policy is “one hour past the scheduled end of the trip time”, either the downtown transit mall, an outlying transit center, or the end of the line. How does TriMet know an individual rider’s “end of trip” or “destination point”? Of course they do not, nor can they.

    The result is an inequitable and confusing policy, arbitrarily implemented, that affords some people adequate time but many others inadequate time. There’s no free lunch here – only a restoration of some value to a system that has seen service hours per capita drop to the lowest levels since 1975. We can and should do better, and whether or not you support this proposal, thank you to those willing to engage in an honest debate on the merits. All OPAL is asking for is a meaningful opportunity to bring the collective voice of transit riders to the decision-making process.

  32. Bob R.
    October 1, 2011 at 5:46 pm Link

    a system that has seen service hours per capita drop to the lowest levels since 1975

    I’m curious to know how this figure is calculated. Is it based on vehicle operator-hours? Would the gradual shift toward greater reliance on light rail since 1986 have some impact on that, where fewer operator-hours are allocated but capacity is actually increased? (And, just to be clear, I support and have always supported increases in bus service over what we’ve got. I’m just trying to assess how big a deal this “since 1975” assertion really is.)

  33. EngineerScotty
    October 1, 2011 at 8:52 pm Link

    Keep in mind, Erik is quoting service hours per capita. Service hours per area is probably a better metric of service quality, and population of the metro area has increased far greater than it’s size. Per capita hours are mainly important for a service that is over capacity, and where people are unable to board because the bus is full.

  34. EcoEconomist
    October 2, 2011 at 8:22 am Link

    It would be good to see some data regarding fares and the trips taken with those fares.

    What are the impacts of different fare structures on TriMet revenue and ridership? Are trips taken by low-income individuals longer, shorter or about the same as the transit system average.

    If a flat fare is higher than the two-zone fare so that TriMet does not lose fare revenue, will this disproportionately impact low income riders and result in ridership loss because short trips are priced off the system? If the flat fare is low, will TriMet lose revenue and/or future stream and then not be able to run as much service?

    Should a MAX rider who parks in a Westside park and ride lot and rides downtown at the peak of rush hour to work in a high rise pay the same fare as someone riding a mile to pick up a guart of milk and return home to make dinner?

    It seems that the best course is to try to find those market segments that are most willing to pay a higher fare because they get a lot of benefit from using the system (e.g., in the Westside commuter example, that rider gets a free parking space at the park and ride, rides 15+ miles each way, avoids paying for parking, avoids the hassle of driving the Sunset and parking in the congested core, and rides a high-quality service. It would seem to cost TriMet a lot to provide this trip- they have to hire a driver that is only needed to provide one MAX trip during the peak of the peak rush hour, buy a train to run that trip, build and maintain the parking space, and since it’s such a long way, only get one trip into and out of town each rush hour, rather than two or three with a shorter trip).

    To assure an overall equitable fare system, and to strike the right balance between revenue (which pays for a good proportion of TriMet’s overall service level) and ridership, we need to assess how different segments of the travel market (income, location, time, distance, trip purpose, age, etc) will react to different fare structures.

    More data on present trips using the system would be a good first step.

  35. EcoEconomist
    October 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm Link

    Interesting 1997 UCLA paper about flat fares and equity in L.A.: http://www.uctc.net/papers/703.pdf

  36. EcoEconomist
    October 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm Link

    Interesting 1997 UCLA paper about flat fares and equity in L.A.: http://www.uctc.net/papers/703.pdf

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