Monday, June 10, 2013

Regional Fare Systems

One issue facing regions is the lack of interoperability between public transit systems. Between a city and its suburbs, a single region could have a dozen different transit agencies with a dozen different fare systems. Although one regional transit agency that meets the transit needs of everyone in the region might be ideal, this is often difficult to implement because of the diverse needs of people within a region, as well as the number of municipalities in a region. One stepping stone to getting to regional transit--or at the very least, one way to make traveling around a region easier--is for regions to adopt regional fare systems.

Regional fare systems allow transit users in a region to move around regions using transit from multiple transit agencies without having to have a pocketful of transit cards (Harnack 2010). Christopher Gallop explains it perfectly. According to Gallop, “Carrying numerous payment cards, pay stubs and tickets is cumbersome and the technology exists to improve upon the current system. From a customer-centric point of view, an integrated payment system for transportation makes sense because it is only necessary to obtain a single card, thus making traveling more convenient for both residents and visitors to the city.”

There are many successful examples of regions that have implemented regional fare systems. The first regional fare system was introduced in Hong Kong in 1996. Five transit operators (the MTR, KCRC, KMB, Citybus and the Hong Kong and Yaumatei Ferry) joined together to implement a regional smart card (Gallop 2010). Since then, a number of regions have implemented similar systems.

A good model for a regional payment card is the ORCA card in the Seattle region. ORCA stands for One Regional Card for All. As the name suggests, an ORCA card can be used for almost every public transit agency in the Seattle region. This includes King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit, Pierce Transit, Everett Transit, Community Transit, Kitsap Transit, and Washington State Ferries (Cohen 2009). Types of transit that can be accessed with the ORCA card include light rail, streetcars, buses, and ferries. Seattleites no longer have to deal with switching between different transit cards as they move between the city and the suburbs. Instead, they can just use the ORCA card for every transit trip.

Regional fare systems do not have to be limited to traditional forms of transit. Some cities, including Hong Kong, allow their regional transit card to be used to pay for on- and off-street parking as well (Gallop 2010). As cities and regions introduce bike sharing systems, these too could use the regional transit card.

Chicago is in the process of introducing a regional transit card. Known as Ventra, the new card will be rolling out this summer. It is poised to replace Chicago’s one-use plastic cards and the Chicago Card, Chicago Transit Authority’s reusable transit card. In addition to being able to be used on CTA trains and buses, Ventra will be able to be used for PACE, Chicago’s suburban bus agency (Chicago Transit Authority). Ventra is clearly a step forward in regional interoperability. However, in many ways it is a step back. First off, today there is a special Chicago Card that can be used with I-GO, a non-profit car sharing service in Chicago (I-GO). It is unclear if Ventra cards will be able to be used with these new Ventra cards. In addition, the Ventra card cannot be used on Metra, Chicago’s suburban rail system. Also, ironically, this month Chicago launched a new citywide bike sharing service, but failed to integrate Ventra cards into the system. I believe this speaks to the difficulty of implementing an expansive regional fare system, both for established system and pilot projects.

There are a number of roadblocks that prevent regions from implementing regional fare systems. The most obvious reason is that coordination between transit agencies is difficult. Gallop believes that transit agencies will only move to regional fare systems if they believe it is in their best interest. They must believe that the regional fare system will lead to increased revenue, enhancement of their brand, or decreased costs. However, according to Gallop, there is no universal system for assessing the costs and benefits of regional fare systems. Also, the cost of implementing a regional fare system could be cost-prohibitive.

One way to circumvent requiring transit agencies within a region to work together is by each of them individually allowing credit or debit cards to be used as transit cards. When credit or debit cards can be used to pay for transit, in a way the fare systems become international, or at least national. However, this leads to a host of other issues for people in the region who do not have debit and credit cards.

Whether it is through transit agencies within a region working together or transit agencies within a region all accepting credit and debit cards to access transit, I believe it is important for those agencies to facilitate the interoperability of their transit systems. As new kinds of transit like bike share are introduced to cities, it will become increasingly difficult for citizens to access transit without a regional fare system. Regional fare systems can make regional mobility easier by decreasing barriers to accessing transit.

Works Cited:

Chicago Transit Authority. “Ventra: A new way to pay on the CTA.”

Cohen, Aubrey. “Transit agencies unveil all-purpose pass.” Seattle PI. April 17, 2009.

Gallop, Christopher. “Electronic Payment and Access Systems: Ensuring Interoperability in Vancouver Transportation.” November 2010.

Harnack, Leah. “Implementing Regional Fare Systems.” Transit Research Board. March 2010.

I-GO. “CTA and IGO Smart Card: I-GO Car Sharing Chicago.”

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