Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fare changes at TransLink: Employer Pass Program to be killed

If you haven’t heard already, yesterday TransLink announced that it was changing some of its fare products. As TransLink is shifting to the Compass Card system, it makes sense that starting in 2014 FareSaver tickets will be discontinued in favour of providing purchase discounts for fares put on the Compass Card. This is similar to other transit agencies. For example in San Francisco on the BART network, when you buy $45 dollars in fare, you receive $48 on your card.

Another thing that makes sense is bringing the West Coast Express fare options in-line with the rest of the system. That means the 7 day pass for West Coast Express will be gone as will the $1 fee for bring a bike on the WCE. Also in January, the 28 day pass will be replaced with a monthly pass.

Another thing that is disappearing next year is the perk that allowed free travel for family members of monthly pass holders on Sundays and holidays. I can imagine that this was a promotion from back in the day when people didn’t do much but attend church on Sunday.

I know that TransLink says that these changes are about making fares fairer, but I think that one of the main reasons is to simplify the roll-out of the Compass Card system. It would be pretty hard for a faregate to tell when a family was going through it on Sunday for example.

The biggest shocker for me was that TransLink decided to get rid of the Employer Pass Program. The program gave a 15% discount on monthly passes for companies that could sign up 25 employees and have them commit to purchasing at least a years’ worth of transit.

I actually fought hard to get the Employer Pass Program in my workplace. When the program finally came in, it actually helped people make the choice to use transit. A co-worker of mine who loves his big truck actually switched to taking the West Coast Express from Maple Ridge to work.

In Donald Shoup's book “The High Cost of Free Parking”, he makes the case for programs like the Employer Pass Program. Since parking is a major expense and is bundled in with most employment in the region, it becomes “free”. The Employer Pass Program is similar. When you have transit as part of your paycheque deductions, it becomes bundled like parking; transit becomes “free”. Given the choice between free parking and free transit, many people will choose “free” transit especially when factoring in the cost of gas and now tolls in some areas.

I was going to actually write a post about how I didn’t think TransLink’s TravelSmart program was terribly effective. TravelSmart is basically a marketing program to get people to take transit. While marketing transit is a good idea, I don’t think that TransLink has the resources needed to promote the TravelSmart program at a scale that would really impact travel mode choice. One of the suggestions that I was going to make was for the TravelSmart program to push the Employer Pass Program more.

When people make a decision to walk, cycle, take transit, or drive, they are balancing two things: cost and convenience. Research has shown that people are actually pretty bad a making cost comparisons, only seeing upfront costs. This is why I liked the Employer Pass Program; it actually helped put transit and driving on an equal footing by embedded the cost of taking transit into your employment package. With new road infrastructure in our region making driving faster than taking transit, many people will only compare the cost of a toll to a transit ticket. They will wrongfully determine that driving is “cheaper” and decide to drive.

Sadly, the pending execution of the Employer Pass Program is just the latest victim of “service efficiencies” brought about by a Provincial government that doesn’t seem to want to give our region the ability to use new revenue sources needed to expand transit service. Let's hope the U-Pass program isn't the next program to get cut.

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