Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mobility pricing may replace zone-based transit fare system

With TransLink’s decision to switch from a 3-zones to 1-zone fare system on buses to accommodate the launch of the Compass Card, there has been many questions about how this will impact transit ridership and the agency's bottom line.

While there will certainly be some impact, it will only be temporary as the 1-zone fare system on buses is temporary. TransLink is actually in the process of starting a complete review of its fare system.

The current zone-based fare system was introduced back in 1984, and according to TransLink, it is no longer a fair way to collect fares due to changes in travel patterns in Metro Vancouver over the years.

The long-term goal of our region's local governments and agencies is to shift away from zone-based fares and gas tax, to mobility pricing. Mobility price results in people being charged for the distances they travel with a direct user fee.

When it comes to driving, some might consider gas tax a form of mobility pricing; the more you drive generally translates into the use of more fuel. The challenge is that different vehicles uses different amounts and types of fuel. This means that two people driving two different vehicles, would pay different amounts of gas tax. Gas tax is also hidden. For mobility pricing to work, people need to see the direct relationship between how far they travel, and how much they pay.

While the switch from gas tax to mobility pricing for our road network is likely a decade away, mobility pricing on our transit network may be coming as early as 2017.

By mid-2016, TransLink plans to have a list of possible options for an updated fare system for the transit network. Mobility pricing will be on the table.

If TransLink moves forward will mobility pricing for the entire transit network, the outstanding issues with Compass Card readers on buses will need to be resolved.

With mobility pricing and a distance-based fare structure, some people will pay more than they do today while other will pay less to use transit. Making such a large-scale change to the transit fare system will confuse and/or upset some people. TransLink’s did a poor job of managing people’s expectations during the roll out of the Compass Card. During the failed transit referendum, TransLink came into the discussion a day late, and a dollar short.

While TransLink plans to host a series of public consultations about new fare system options for the transit network, the agency will need to do a much better job of engaging with the region if it wants people to understand and support a new fare system.


Dave Hall said...

At what stage does a "user pay" system stretch the acceptability of the consumer at which point alternatives are chosen?

In the case of transit this becomes an easy choice - I'll drive my car instead. But that flies in the face of environmental advocates that suggest that fuel emissions need to decrease through the embracing of light rail or skytrain options.

One can already see the pitfalls of selective pricing on Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges as both car commuters and truckers are avoiding the user pay "convenience".

What's the solution ?? I would think that there has to be some blend between a "greater good" regional subsidy and a mobility pricing "user pay" system for sustainable operating costs.

So what is the fragile formula to achieve that blend? In other words - What's the tipping point?

Nathan Pachal said...

You're right. The key point is that taking transit has to appear to cost less than taking a car.

mt-pleasant-b said...

My family are small business owners, we enjoy the tax breaks of writing off our automobile lease payments and use of gas against our business taxes.
How do you propose making it appear more expensive to take our car than it is to using transit, when at the end of the day all we will do is write off the costs of both modes of transportation?
Their are additional benefits we enjoy from purchasing cars for our business, such as kickbacks and interpersonal relationships with the dealership, especially when the dealership is a client of ours.
How do you suppose the shift to transit over cars would benefit our specific situation?

Nathan Pachal said...

For some people, transit, cycling, or walking will never be an appealing option. If you write off all your transportation costs, you travel longer distances, and congestion is not an issue, you will likely drive. Though most people do not get to write off their transportation costs and deal with congestion.