Just in from the Aspen Ideas Festival, via Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic. Stanford Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor Balaji Prabhakar thinks he has the solution to peak overcrowding.
The frequent commuter program has two goals. One is to increase people's loyalty to the public transport system. We want people to be disloyal to their cars, to cheat on their cars. And the second major goal is to decongest the peak time trains and buses. The problem is that it is unpleasant to take a trip during the peak time. If we could achieve both goals with the frequent commuter project, it would be great.
The nice thing about this project is that it is going to do exactly what the airline miles do. You take a 10 kilometer trip, you get 10 credits. And Singapore can measure the kilometers. But if you make that same trip in the off-peak time, you'll get 30 credits. This creates new bonding between you and the system. People don't think of the indignity of taking a three-stop trip on their preferred airline versus a direct cheaper flight sometimes. In fact, they see the angle as, "I'm earning more miles."
Does anyone with regular experience in transit think this is a good idea? If so, I'd like to hear. My first reaction:
This sounds like a very very complicated way to do discounts for off-peak riders, and to reward very regular riders. The fact is, the transit industry already has a system for rewarding frequent riders; it's called a monthly or annual pass.
A simpler solution to the peak overcrowding problem is to provide discounts for off-peak trips, as Seattle, for example, has done for decades. This costs very little to administer and has the desired effect much more directly.
When the need for sheer service is so urgent, why would a transit agency take on the massive administrative cost of a frequent-rider program, when the same money could go into driving buses and trains instead?
I'm sure transit professionals will appreciate the interest from the "big ideas" people. But from Madrigal's summary, this idea sounds like a fun metaphor inappropriately applied, suggesting the lack of any technical understanding of the transit capacity problem.
But I'm curious what others think …