Monday, October 30, 2017

Fairer Fares: Introducing daily and monthly caps

TransLink is in the midst of a fare review. Today when you take a bus, you pay the same fare no matter how far you travel. This was changed in the fall of 2015 to accommodate the Compass Card system. SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express are still using a zone-based fare structure which dates back to the BC Transit era. It really haven’t change that much since I first took transit as a kid.

The current zone-based system was designed for a region where the bulk of people travel into and out of downtown Vancouver, but this is not how people travel throughout our region today.

Change in Nature of Trips. There has been a shift in the traditional suburb to downtown travel pattern (A), to more complex travel patterns (B). Source: Gateway Program Definition Report.

Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy is based on building walkable town centres that are connected by high-quality transit, interspersed throughout the region. This strategy has been successful. Instead of most people travelling from “the suburbs” to Downtown Vancouver, people travel from node to node.

Because of this change in travel patterns over the last 30 years, the current three-zone system doesn’t make much sense anymore. The following examples show how outdated and unfair the current three-zone system is.

Travelling from Rupert SkyTrain Station to Burquitlam Station, eight stops away, will set you back a three-zone fare. Travel from Waterfront SkyTrain Station to Marine Drive Station, also eight stops away, will only cost you a one-zone fare.

Research that TransLink has conducted shows that people are interested in moving towards a distance-based fare structure. Travelling eight stations should be a similar fare no matter where you start your journey.

As part of this fare review, TransLink should also look at placing maximum daily and monthly caps on transit fares. Currently, people must choose between using stored value, a day pass, or a monthly pass to pay for transit use. This creates a barrier to using transit because people must think about which fare product provides the best value. The current system also results in some people overpaying for transit which may sour them from using transit services in the future.

Transport for London manages the transit network in London. They also use the same technology that TransLink uses for the Compass Card system. In London, buses are a single fare. The Underground is closer to a distance-based system. For people that use tap payment, they set daily maximum and weekly maximum fares that people pay.

TransLink is likely moving towards a distance-based fare structure for SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express. At the same time, the agency should also consider implementing caps for fares. This would lower the barrier to using transit, and improve fairness at the same time.

I should note that West Coast Express fares are much closer to being distance-based.

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