The Equity Implications of the TriMet Fare App

The beta test for the TriMet fare app is winding down, and Joe Rose at the Oregonian has published a review of it.

I think the review is fair and pretty much reflects my experience as a beta tester as well.

It’s the headline that scares me: “GlobeSherpa’s TriMet Tickets app rescues riders from the machines”.

Now I make my living as a technologist, and process innovation is a big part of what I do, so I’m delighted that the fare app technology is becoming available.

But it does not excuse TriMet from making their ticket vending machines (TVMs) reliable!

I don’t personally use the TVMs much, I usually buy books of tickets over the counter at retailers. But clearly TVMs have been a huge headache for riders.

So if we “rescue” a subset of users from that problem based on their ability to afford an expensive smart phone, that’s a big equity problem. If a lower transaction volume on the TVMs due to smart phone use lowers maintenance cost, that’s great. But TriMet cannot be allowed to leave one class of users stuck with sub-par service.

49 Comments

49 Responses to The Equity Implications of the TriMet Fare App

  1. Garlynn
    June 17, 2013 at 10:46 am Link

    Agreed. Looking forward to the app nonetheless. ;-)

  2. Dan G
    June 17, 2013 at 11:06 am Link

    I have the same reservations about it. Part of me wants to suggest wifi at stops and stations so that less expensive devices like an iPod touch could be used without need for a data plan, but that doesn’t entirely solve the equity concern.

  3. Bob R.
    June 17, 2013 at 11:10 am Link

    That does beg a question… What is the cheapest (presumably Android) smart phone that can run this app that you can buy without a contract (no credit check), and get a pay-as-you-go data plan?

    That would effectively represent the barrier to entry, plus the fact that you’ve got to be able to find the deal, go get the phone where it is purchasable, etc.

    There’s another equity issue regarding fare machines and smart phones: I’ve done this myself, and I’ve seen numerous other riders do it: When all fare machines at a station are down (it still happens), people take phone video or photos to retain as proof in case they run into a fare inspector. I also take the extra step of reporting the machine to TriMet’s customer service line.

    TriMet’s official policy is that you’re supposed to get off at the next stop and purchase a fare there, then board another vehicle, but this can add much time to a person’s trip, not to mention the hassle. My personal opinion is that if a rider shows up at a station with the valid means to buy a fare (cash or credit/debit), and there is no way to complete that transaction at the station, the ride ought to be free.

    I’ll note once again that the streetcar helps get around this problem by having both fare machines at stops (recent addition) and an on-board machine. A single on-board payment system of last resort could ease the frustrations of many riders.

    I know that TriMet intends to move to a new electronic system in a few years, and therefore they want to avoid spending money now on equipment they’re going to replace “soon”. That’s fine, but if you’re going to operate that way, then you can’t have “zero tolerance” for people without fares.

  4. Bob R.
    June 17, 2013 at 11:12 am Link

    FYI, the Portland Streetcar organization will soon be having a beta of the GlobeSherpa app. If you are a regular streetcar rider, you can request to be a part of the beta (there are a limited number of users that will get the chance), you can send your contact info to: mobiletickets@portlandstreetcar.org

  5. Bob R.
    June 17, 2013 at 11:15 am Link

    Regarding my Android Phone comment, a further thought: Would it be to people’s benefit if a local retailer were to figure out the lowest-possible-cost option for a device that can run the GlobeSherpa app, and then contract with TriMet to widely advertise it to riders as the go-to solution? And would some kind of subsidy from TriMet help? Any time TriMet can move cash users into the electronic system, their maintenance load on fare machines decreases.

  6. al m
    June 17, 2013 at 11:26 am Link

    Chris Smith has been batting 1000 lately!

  7. EngineerScotty
    June 17, 2013 at 11:35 am Link

    One thinks (hopes) that moving as many customers from TVMs to GlobeSherpa will reduce downtimes of the machines–many of the sources of downtime (banking issues, lack of supplies) are directly correlated with use.

    As far as the equity issue goes, there may be other barriers beyond lack of smartphones. Many poor people have limited access to credit, or even to banking–assuming they had a capable device, how would someone who has no bank account or credit card buy tickets with the GlobeSherpa application?

  8. al m
    June 17, 2013 at 12:03 pm Link

    Many poor people have limited access to credit, or even to banking–assuming they had a capable device, how would someone who has no bank account or credit card buy tickets with the GlobeSherpa application?

    ~~~>The impoverished are always forgotten, as if they don’t exist. Just look at any homeless man/woman wandering around downtown. They are like ghosts, wandering around without connection to any thing or anybody. Everybody walks by the man passed out on the street like he is not there.
    It’s a truly morally bankrupt society we live in.

    One of my biggest problems with the fare enforcement is that it is basically a war on the poor. I hate to tell you this but in 15 years as a bus driver at Trimet I met an awful lot of people for which $2.50 was an entire days work collecting cans or a big hunk out of a minimum wage part time job.

    This globalsherpa thing is another example of Trimet catering to its ‘choice’ riders and why Chris has hit the nail squarely on the head with this post.

  9. Erik H.
    June 17, 2013 at 12:42 pm Link

    This whole “pay by smartphone” debacle is just another in a long and tiring example of TriMet’s ignorance towards a vast majority of its ridership.

    Why is TriMet not following the lead of nearly every other major transit agency, and using stored value cards?

    These cards do not discriminate against low income people, nor children/students. They are easy to acquire and use by visitors and infrequent riders. They replace transfers and passes – including monthly and annual passes. It’s a proven technology – heck, New York and London both use it. Maybe you’ve heard of Metrocard and Oyster Card.

    And, they do not discriminate against bus riders – the stored value cards would actually provide fare equity between the various transit modes, whereas today TriMet has different payment methods (i.e. don’t pay cash on WES, don’t use a debit card on bus) by method, and your fare is valid for a different period of time depending on where you buy your transfer.

    Instead, TriMet claims this technology will be available to them in five years. What is TriMet waiting for? The smartphone app will benefit a small number of riders, but will likely not result in any ridership growth or new acceptance of TriMet – how many bus drivers are going to know how to tell a rider how to buy a fare? Are they going to sit and wait for a rider to download the app, and provide tech support from the driver’s seat? Will visitors from out of town know how to download the app? But stored value cards are easy to purchase and use.

    Imagine – if Portland went in with the Puget Sound region and extended Orca south…imagine the possibilities…

  10. Ken
    June 17, 2013 at 12:48 pm Link

    With regards to Trimet targeting ‘choice’ riders and raising fares, I think a lot of the blame for that is more appropriately placed on the politicians and the segment of society they represent who insist that public transportation should pay its own way and be in the black to be considered a success or worthy of continued investment. The climate in which Trimet exists puts pressure on the organization to target its most profitable ridership and maximize fare income for continued survival.

  11. EngineerScotty
    June 17, 2013 at 12:58 pm Link

    A major reason for GlobeSherpa is it’s relatively cheap to set up. Stored value cards are a good idea–and the technology is sufficiently mature that there’s little risk–but implementing it costs a lot of money.

    (And yes, I know TriMet has spent quite a bit of money on things that various readers here consider unwise).

    Given that MLR is mostly paid for out of grants, and there aren’t any other rail projects in the pipe for quite a while–how would you prioritize stored value cards vs things like bus replacement, MAX maintenance, stop improvements, or Powell/Division BRT–these are the other capital projects TriMet has planned in the next few years?

  12. Chris I
    June 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm Link

    Unless we receive word that Trimet is removing or cutting back maintenance on their TVM’s, I think the equity discussion is pointless. We can have the equity discussion in 20 years if/when Trimet looks at taking away paper tickets. For now, this is a just a great option that saves Trimet money and provides convenience for the riders. Comparing this program to stored value cards is asinine, because those programs all cost the transit agencies money.

  13. EngineerScotty
    June 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm Link

    The best way to provide transit equity to poor riders isn’t by reconfiguring the payment scheme (though that can certainly help!)

    The best way would be to provide discounted fares to the poor. Some of that does go on, but it is very limited. Of course, as Ken notes, such things can quickly get denounced as “welfare”; and who should pay for it?

  14. Chris Smith
    June 17, 2013 at 1:09 pm Link

    It’s important to note that the smartphone program is NOT costing TriMet money. The private sector is investing capital to create this option and TriMet is only paying a commission comparable to its cost of sales in other channels.

    Personally I’d rather keep my tickets in my phone and have one less thing in my pocket or wallet. But ultimately TriMet will need something like a stored value card, and is planning on it.

  15. Ron Swaren
    June 17, 2013 at 1:09 pm Link

    Ken Says:
    “With regards to Trimet targeting ‘choice’ riders and raising fares, I think a lot of the blame for that is more appropriately placed on the politicians and the segment of society they represent who insist that public transportation should pay its own way and be in the black to be considered a success or worthy of continued investment. The climate in which Trimet exists puts pressure on the organization to target its most profitable ridership and maximize fare income for continued survival.”

    Why not run it more like a profitable business? The days when a transit ride was only just a blank space of time is gone. Let it be up to people to use their time wisely, so we don’t end up with a lot of people whining that the system is unfair, while the finances of Tri Met go further into the red.

  16. EngineerScotty
    June 17, 2013 at 1:39 pm Link

    Why not run it more like a profitable business?

    What, specifically, do you suggest? Further raising fares? Finding ways to price-discriminate against the poor, for whom transit is a far more inelastic purchase?

  17. Bob R.
    June 17, 2013 at 1:47 pm Link

    This whole “pay by smartphone” debacle

    Debacle? Really?

    Regarding your comments about a card-based fare system, in case you missed it, TriMet has indeed been giving presentations at various public meetings about longer-term plans to implement an electronic fare system, and has specifically brought up the topic of equity concerns with some interesting suggestions. Please see my previous comments in the Open Thread from June 7th about this. (Although there are those who oppose “equity” as a guiding concept, as you’ll see in the subsequent comments.)

  18. Bob R.
    June 17, 2013 at 2:08 pm Link

    The cheapest no-contract, pay-as-you-go (prepaid cards) Android phone I could find at Best Buy is advertised at $59.99:

    http://www.bestbuy.com/site/Virgin+Mobile+-+Kyocera+Event+No-Contract+Mobile+Phone+-+Black/7209064.p?id=1218835972325&skuId=7209064

    I selected Best Buy because they are a well-recognized brand and have a number of transit-accessible locations in the region. I also took a look at Cricket Wireless’s web site (they primarily market lower-cost no-contract phones), and found this one for $69.99:

    http://www.mycricket.com/cell-phones/details/zte-groove-x501

    However, it runs an older version of Android and I don’t know if GlobeSherpa will run on it.

    It would be interesting to know as well just how much data is transferred in a typical GlobeSherpa transaction, because the cost of that data transfer on a prepaid phone may be non-trivial to the customer.

    Nevertheless, with Moore’s Law working on phones and all, I think we’ll see functional Android phones off-contract for well under $50 within a year, and used phones on Craig’s List for $10-$20.

    But a big missing link is the ability to fill up your GlobeSherpa account using cash, for people who don’t have access to credit or bank accounts. Prepaid VISA/MC gift cards might be an approach, but those have their own costs. So even with very cheap phones, there is an accessibility/equity barrier.

  19. Max
    June 17, 2013 at 2:56 pm Link

    Why are we limiting ourselves to low-cost phones?

    The GlobeSherpa app allows you to pre-purchase tickets and then “validate” them at the moment they were needed.

    Seems like an iPod touch (no contract; no cellular access; wifi only) would work just fine, right?

  20. Bob R.
    June 17, 2013 at 3:05 pm Link

    Seems like an iPod touch (no contract; no cellular access; wifi only) would work just fine, right?

    Yes, as long as you remember to pre-purchase your fares while at a location with available WiFi. But that does add a barrier (admittedly small) to convenience as well as understandability.

  21. Max
    June 17, 2013 at 3:06 pm Link

    …or better yet; get a stupidly cheap Android tablet.

  22. Douglas K.
    June 17, 2013 at 5:26 pm Link

    Imagine – if Portland went in with the Puget Sound region and extended Orca south…imagine the possibilities…

    I’m completely in favor of this. It would be great if ORCA was used throughout the Pacific Northwest, with Tri-Met and C-Tran and Cherriots and LTD eventually installing it. You’d be able to smoothly transfer between systems, or to get on Greyhound or Amtrak or Bolt Bus and use your ORCA electronic wallet at the other end.

    And it would (I hope) cut costs for Tri-Met and the other agencies, because the Puget Sound area implemented the technology already and got the bugs out.

    As far as Global Sherpa goes, it’s an interesting idea but I’ll stick with my paper pass. I’m a bit worried about what happens if my battery runs out while I’m on MAX. The last thing I want to deal with is the hassle of my ticket being on a dead phone.

  23. billb
    June 18, 2013 at 11:43 am Link

    I ride the trains at random times, somewhat infrequently. I do not own a phone, I ask my clients, friends and family to call me at work. I do not carry around ticket books. I rely entirely on the fare machines working, and I only pay in cash. I do not think it is too much to ask for trimet to keep the machines working if they want me to pay. I ride short distances, and am NOT going to get off at the next stop to buy a ticket if the machine is broken where I start. That ride should be free. I do not need more options, I need the ones we have to work.

  24. Allan
    June 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm Link

    I think we can all agree that TriMet’s policy of making you get off a moving train that you want to be on, buy a ticket and get back on the next train is silly and punishes their customers for TriMet’s own failings. On-board ticket vending machines could mitigate part of this problem, but whatever they do, this policy should be changed.

    It would financially incent TriMet to fix their machines

  25. al m
    June 18, 2013 at 12:15 pm Link

    Hong Kong, which has maybe the most advanced transit system in the world has a very successful fare collection method.

    It’s called the OCTOPUS CARD and 95% of the residents use them. It’s been around for more than a decade.

    They can be used all over Hong Kong at stores, restaurants, parking meters, etc.

    Now that’s innovation. And you don’t need a ‘smart phone’ to use it.

    Fares need to be easy to purchase for EVERYBODY without the need for special equipment.

    (BTW when the fare box doesn’t work on a bus everyone rides free. It’s curious that when the TVM’s don’t work riders are expected to delay their trips by getting off at the next station. If they had ‘live’ people at the major transit centers like world class transit districts do then this whole TVM scandal would have never been an issue. They do everything backwards here)

  26. Mary Fetsch
    June 18, 2013 at 12:24 pm Link

    Chris:

    The mobile ticket app is one more option for riders to buy tickets, giving riders another tool to purchase their tickets. Recently, Neil McFarlane added additional focus on TVM reliability. We’re investing more to improve their performance. We’ve replaced 117 machines this year and are focused on improving TVM performance system wide. Our internal reports indicate the TVMs are now consistently at 96 percent or better performance. You’re right that as people use the mobile ticket app or other future electronic fares, it will also reduce use and maintenance costs for our TVMs. We will continue to improve the rider experience with the TVMs, as well as continue to look to provide riders with additional options for buying fares.

  27. Chris Smith
    June 18, 2013 at 12:26 pm Link

    Thanks, Mary.

    What does TriMet think about the idea suggested by commenters here that when the TVM is broken, the trip should be free? That would address the equity issue and give you guys strong incentives to make the machines work!

  28. al m
    June 18, 2013 at 12:52 pm Link

    Our internal reports indicate the TVMs are now consistently at 96 percent or better performance

    Hmmmm…….I do hear less about that on the Scanner lately and the twitter feed has less tweets than usual.

    Let’s see if it lasts.

    And they did have a fare tech running around on the west side the other day fixing machines that were reported out.

    Who knows, maybe they are actually doing the job.

  29. Bob R.
    June 18, 2013 at 12:53 pm Link

    Hello, Mary … thanks for commenting. I hope it becomes a regular thing where there can be a bit more interaction between our commenters and TriMet.

    I’d like to follow up on something way back from 2009, when we did our Fare is Fair? documentary video on the fare machine issues.

    One of the topics in the video was that at split platform, island-style stations (such as most of those on Interstate Ave.), there were two machines at each station but configured as just one per platform. Crossing the street legally to utilize a 2nd machine, and then returning to the correct platform, could take 12 minutes, long enough to miss a train. (Or worse, get injured darting through traffic – unlawful but incentivised by frustration – to catch an arriving train.)

    At the time, your detailed response to us included this item:

    The previous goal of one fully functioning ticket vending machine per station is inadequate. We are now focusing on making at least one fully functioning machine available at each platform. Work will be prioritized at stations where platforms are separated by street crossings.

    Can you tell us how the situation at those platforms compares now to back in 2009?

  30. al m
    June 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm Link

    Let’s see, about an hour and a half since Mary posted.

    She’s not gonna answer, ‘they’ (trimet) refuse to engage in any dialog that they cannot control, that much is obvious to me.

    Where does Trimet engage in ongoing dialog with the community or its riders?

    The answer is nowhere.

    When two pro Trimet/light rail advocates attempt to pose a question where is Mary now?
    She is Gone With the Wind

  31. Ron Swaren
    June 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm Link

    ” Finding ways to price-discriminate against the poor, for whom transit is a far more inelastic purchase?”

    Wait….I thought in the new urbanism not having a car was the less expensive way to go. And that a car could be a phenomenal drain on the wallet. So wouldn’t the “poor” be those who own cars? By contrast, those who can make use of transit are are advantaged. And just a basic bicycle as supplement couldn’t cost so much. You can get one at Target or Goodwill for under $100.

    You just can’t have it both ways, ES.

  32. Jason McHuff
    June 18, 2013 at 2:16 pm Link

    (such as most of those on Interstate Ave.)

    And don’t forget East Burnside

  33. EngineerScotty
    June 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm Link

    Ron,

    Not owning cars is less expensive than owning one–that’s true regardless of what urbanism you endorse. If there’s good transit and good density (and many amenities are reachable on foot), then not having a car is also practical. Many poor folks live in transit poor neighborhoods and STILL don’t have cars–needless to say, they spend a lot of time waiting for the bus, or riding thereon.

    (And yes, a bike is an excellent solution!)

    You suggested, though, that “transit ought to be run like a business”; one thing that businesses do is try to maximize profit and/or revenue. (TriMet, for all its faults, does not try to do this). And a great way to maximize profits/revenue is to find the customers who can’t live without your product or service, and soak them.

    Of course, given that transit in Portland will likely always have a farebox recovery ratio of less than 100%, the BEST way for TriMet to “maximize profits” would be to cease operations. I think we’re all agreed that that would be a BAD idea; that the social utility of transit is well worth the taxes we pay for it.

    But my point was that a pricing strategy to maximize revenue would likely fall on the poor most of all; they’re the customers who are less likely to switch to driving if service gets too expensive or inconvenient.

  34. Ron SWaren
    June 18, 2013 at 3:14 pm Link

    Again, I would say consider Community Transit as an example. I doubt that they are “profitable” either. But they don’t take a whole lot of tax money. After they started the double tall express service, they cut out some unproductive lines, leaving the few riders on them to figure out another way. That does not necessarily mean that said jilted riders were poor; The agency just took a hard look at what was paying and what was not.

    Now…..they are looking for more grant money to buy 17 more double talls. But do anticipate increasing ridership by 25 percent in the next six years.

    http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20130309/NEWS01/703099961

  35. Bob R.
    June 18, 2013 at 3:51 pm Link

    Would this be the same Community Transit which has seen the elimination of weekend service, cuts to mid-day and off-peak service, declining ridership, deferred bus purchases, proposed fare increases, and at least one union which did not agree to proposed wage freezes?

    They’ve been successful in a number of areas and are looking to expand, which is terrific, but the recession has hit them hard just like TriMet and numerous other transit agencies.

    From their 2012 budget (PDF):

    Cost increases for medical premiums, pensions, fuel and petroleum products, labor contracts, and inflation represent a significant threat to maintaining an affordable cost structure within available revenues. With slow and sporadic revenue growth resulting from modest economic recovery, the overall cost structure must be managed to a level that is less than forecasted revenue growth.

    To set the stage to achieve this, we have implemented an employee cost share for employerpaid medical (administrative employees only), asked our unions to agree to join this costsharing approach, asked the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)1 to forego their general wage
    increase of 2 percent effective January 1, 2012, prepared to award fuel hedging contract(s), and
    are preparing to negotiate for affordable contracts in the upcoming round of labor negotiations.

    Wherever you may stand on those issues, it sure sounds like TriMet boilerplate. Community Transit can’t really be held up as an example of a vastly superior way of doing things than TriMet.

    They’re an agency with a greater than $100 million operating budget, and a cost per revenue hour (system-wide) of $166. If I’m reading their charts correctly (they don’t provide as much detail as TriMet when it comes to performance), they provide about 9 million passenger trips annually, so the cost per passenger trip is more than $10. How much of that is LIFT-style service, which also costs TriMet a lot, I’m not certain. But TriMet does well by comparison on a system-wide basis.

  36. Bob R.
    June 18, 2013 at 3:56 pm Link

    This TriMet January 2013 Performance Report (PDF) shows a system-wide cost per boarding ride of $3.01. I do not know if “Boarding Ride” is synonymous with Community Transit’s “Passenger Trip”, but even if you assume it means TriMet’s “Originating Ride”, TriMet’s system-wide cost per ride is roughly half that of Community Transit.

    I bet TriMet could do some really amazing things if it got to spend twice as much operating money on each rider.

  37. EngineerScotty
    June 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm Link

    FWIW, Community Transit has had its own budget troubles in the past several years: http://seattletransitblog.com/2011/04/08/community-transit-announces-more-cuts-for-2012/

    Personally, I’d rather give TriMet more money (and have them provide better service in return!) than impose additional austerity on them. We saw what happened last year, and it wasn’t pretty. Perhaps there is more discretionary fat that can be cut–it is a popular opinion that TriMet management is cutting meat and bone in order to protect fat from the knife–but much of what is objected to is either non-discretionary, or considered essential and useful by significant portions of the ridership.

  38. EngineerScotty
    June 18, 2013 at 4:28 pm Link

    In fairness to CT (since Bob has dug up numbers)–this is typical of smaller transit agencies in less dense areas. The difference between CT and TriMet is that TriMet has vastly greater ridership than CT does (over 10x), but an operating budget that’s only 4x. CT does fine given its territory. But like many transit agencies that serve mainly suburban areas (excluding commuter runs to nearby cities), most of its ridership are either commuters avoiding rush-hour traffic, and the transit-dependent. Snohomish County is mostly sprawl as opposed to walkable urbanism; the only big city in the county (Everett) has a rather small urban core.

  39. Bob R.
    June 18, 2013 at 4:54 pm Link

    But like many transit agencies that serve mainly suburban areas (excluding commuter runs to nearby cities), most of its ridership are either commuters avoiding rush-hour traffic, and the transit-dependent.

    Yep, that’s true. And that’s a large part of why a service like WES, being suburb-to-suburb (and rail, and with federal staffing requirements), has costs in Community Transit’s ballpark.

    To clarify, the point I’m making is not to be construed as Community Transit-bashing, but rather to show that some oft-proposed solutions for TriMet either are apples-to-oranges comparisons not appropriate for our reason, or aren’t really cost-saving as they are touted to be.

  40. R A Fontes
    June 18, 2013 at 5:27 pm Link

    A reasonably apples-to-apples comparison of transit agencies is available at FTA’s National Transit Database “Transit Profile” for ‘full reporter agencies’ for 2011. The 2012 report is due this summer.

  41. Ron Swaren
    June 18, 2013 at 8:04 pm Link

    ” If I’m reading their charts correctly (they don’t provide as much detail as TriMet when it comes to performance), they provide about 9 million passenger trips annually, so the cost per passenger trip is more than $10. How much of that is LIFT-style service, which also costs TriMet a lot, I’m not certain. But TriMet does well by comparison on a system-wide basis.”

    I’m not trying to make an agenct to agency comparison. I was citing CT in refrence to the issue of reining in costs. Probably because they have been serving a large area county—as opposed to a metropolitan area, their costs per ride might be a lot higher. OTOH when you look at the Double Tall service, each passenger is in for about a fifteen mile ride—-so costs per passenger mile–ON THAT SERVICE—are probably pretty good. I was intending to show the CT double tall service as an example of connecting suburban towns to an urban core—–not as a model of a metropolitan agency.

    With the addition of 17 more vehicles apparently they feel good about this model. It doesn’t connect downtown Everett to Seattle yet(Lynnwood and Edmonds instead), but Everett is 100,000 pop. and is 30 miles to Seattle downtown so probably is a candidate.

    The 8.5 mile Lynnwood link extension (light rail) is still 10 years away from completion. Anyone know what the projected cost is? With the double tall buses, they are operating right now and can be adapted to future demand.

  42. Jason McHuff
    June 18, 2013 at 8:05 pm Link

    the only big city in the county (Everett) has a rather small urban core.

    And that city has it’s own transit agency

  43. Bob R.
    June 18, 2013 at 8:16 pm Link

    “not appropriate for our reason”, while having a nice ring to it, is not the same as “not appropriate for our region”. Apologies and credit-claiming for the typo.

  44. Erik H.
    June 19, 2013 at 7:58 pm Link

    how would you prioritize stored value cards vs things like bus replacement, MAX maintenance, stop improvements, or Powell/Division BRT

    Considering that Seattle has been able to implement ORCA card – AND replace its buses, including a top-to-bottom replacement of its entire ETB fleet, PLUS implement multiple BRT lines, a complete rebuild of its DSTT…

    The cost of the fare system was easily absorbable within its other obligations.

    Spokane also implemented the system, while improving its bus fleet. Cherriots, once the laughingstock of bus fleets with an ancient fleet of early 1980s GMC RTSes, now has one of the youngest fleets anywhere – AND a new fare card system.

    I suggest TriMet fire its Capital Projects (a.k.a. “Let’s dream of all the places we can build MAX to”) department, its I.T. (“can we surf the Internet anymore?”) department, its Marketing (“just how much more can we make MAX look wonderful?” department), and right there you’ve freed up $50 million in savings – enough to cover the new electronic fare system, in just one year.

  45. Erik H.
    June 19, 2013 at 8:02 pm Link

    The cheapest no-contract, pay-as-you-go (prepaid cards) Android phone I could find at Best Buy is advertised at $59.99:

    For many people, and a not insignificant population of TriMet riders, $60 is absolutely a financial hardship.

    May I suggest you use Portland Transport’s non-profit status to stop bus bashing (as evidenced by the off-topic discussion of Community Transit), and start making sure that every transit rider – or want-to-be transit rider, has one of these $60 phones, PLUS cover the cost of service (at $40/month).

    The stored value card system works for EVERYONE, including the “poor”, at comparatively minor cost per person.

  46. maccoinnich
    June 19, 2013 at 8:31 pm Link

    Unless TriMet is secretly planning on getting rid of cash fares, I really don’t see the equity issue. While the poor are less likely to own smartphones than the rich are, the largest divide in smartphone ownership isn’t between incomes, it’s by age. This data is a little old in tech terms, but I suspect it remains broadly true: someone 18-25 making 100k. (http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/newswire/2012/survey-new-u-s-smartphone-growth-by-age-and-income.html.) Do I think we should throw people over 65 under the proverbial bus? No, but I don’t see TriMet doing that. And not doing mobile ticketing because people born during the Truman administration dont’t have smartphones would be a really bad policy decision.

    This new app comes to TriMet at no cost, and is going to make riding transit far more convenient for a huge section of the population. Never mind the TVMs: I loathe having to find exactly $2.50 in cash every time I board a bus, and I suspect many people feel the same way. In this day and age, it’s a real inconvenience. I can’t wait to use this app myself.

  47. EngineerScotty
    June 19, 2013 at 8:59 pm Link

    May I suggest you use Portland Transport’s non-profit status to stop bus bashing (as evidenced by the off-topic discussion of Community Transit), and start making sure that every transit rider – or want-to-be transit rider, has one of these $60 phones, PLUS cover the cost of service (at $40/month).

    A few things:

    1) First off, nobody is “bashing” CT. It’s a well-run transit agency, with several good services. I like the Swift BRT, and the Double-Talls seem to be a good express service. But CT differs from TriMet in many ways.

    2) Second off, other transit agencies aren’t necessarily off-topic; particularly ones in the Pacific Northwest. Not to be rude, Erik; but you’re not the moderator here.

    3) Third, PT has a budget of a few thousand bucks. We get money from donations, sales of transit appliances, and display ads. Were we to spend it all on low-cost phones and data plans, we wouldn’t get very far. The main advantage being a non-profit gives us is that if you donate money to PT, you can deduct it from your own taxes; but there are plenty of other charities focused on service to the poor that would be better recipients of a gift if you think this is a worthy cause.

    I think stored-value cards are a good idea. Given that the technology for this is now mature, if I were Neil McFarlane, I would prioritize this over other future projects (such as Powell/Division BRT). I’m not Neil, however.

    At rate, implementation of a stored-value card system would be a significant capital project (thus requiring the expertise one finds in in the Capital Projects Division), and also have a significant impact on TriMet’s computer systems–thus requiring the expertise one finds in the IT department. Cap projects is about more than building choo-choo-trains (and funding for that mostly comes from grants anyway), and TriMet’s IT department is occupied with more than sitting around surfing the net. (Many public agencies have very strict personal-use policies around government computer systems, far more strict than any private company I’ve seen). Likewise, you frequently complain on Twitter that TriMet’s presence on Twitter (and other social media) is lousy; getting rid of IT won’t make it any better.

    At any rate, if I could reduce TriMet’s operating budget by $50M/year, I would spend that on new service (or on funding retirement debt), not on projects; a smartcard system (being a Capital expenditure) is something that can be funded from grants.

  48. Bob R.
    June 20, 2013 at 12:07 am Link

    May I suggest you use Portland Transport’s non-profit status to stop bus bashing (as evidenced by the off-topic discussion of Community Transit), and start making sure that every transit rider – or want-to-be transit rider, has one of these $60 phones, PLUS cover the cost of service (at $40/month).

    So bringing up the equity topic in the first place, and clearly stating the plight of those in poverty and how price discrimination affects them, is apparently insufficient?

    And back to the previous question: Debacle, Really?

    I encourage you to read all the topics and comments for context before drawing conclusions about the motivations behind the contributors to this blog.

  49. Jason McHuff
    June 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm Link

    Considering that Seattle has been able to implement…

    King County Metro is also facing the possibility of a 17% cut in service, and the transit sales tax has been increased there, which has paid for some of those things.

    Also, besides Twitter, without either IT or Marketing there would be no one to update the Web site, no Customer Service and no one to maintain the many vital computer systems that TriMet has. Bus dispatching could not function.

    Bottom line, equity does not mean that everything must benefit everyone, and TriMet isn’t even creating or funding the fare app. Plus, as has been noted, it may be possible for people to use it without a cellular radio or service, just occasional access to one of the many, many WiFi access points around the region.

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