new york ferries: the first smartphone payment system for transit?

Ny waterway

That's what I'm being told about the new fare system at the Hudson River ferry operator New York Waterway.  You can now buy a ticket using your smartphone and then use the phone itself to present the ticket to the fare reader, similar to the "digital boarding passes" already used by airlines.  No paper required.  Expect this to spread in high-end commuter markets.

It would be great to see this spread in urban bus transit, where boarding times are still a dominant problem, but that will rely a very easy-to-use app and compatibility with smartcard media now under development.  My guess is that we'll get a ubiquitous commercial smartcard-creditcard first, which will do the same job.

Photo: Hoboken Condos

information request: fare revenue impact of free transfers

We're looking for case studies in which:

  • A transit agency that had been charging for transfers (changing from one transit vehicle to another) eliminated that charge.
  • No other major changes happened at the same time.
  • A result could be measured in fare revenue, and also ridership.

If anyone's familiar with cases, or with studies of this issue, please let me know.  Thanks!

frequent-rider discounts to decongest the peak?

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 …

Connection Fare Penalties: Why They Happen

Is it fair to have to pay more if your trip requires a transfer or connection?  I’ve argued that it isn’t, but I also have an appreciation of the difficulty of eliminating these penalties.  So when complaining about a fare penalty, try to understand the situation from the transit agency’s point of view.  Not because they’re right and you’re wrong, but because you many need to help them solve the problem that it presents for themContinue Reading →

The Peril of Low Base Fares

Are transit fares in Los Angeles cheaper than in San Francisco?  That’s the impression you’ll get from a direct comparison of the base adult cash fare.  The travel blog Price of Travel just compared the base fares of 80 major tourist cities around the world and noted that, while San Francisco Muni’s base fare is $2.00, that of the Los Angeles County MTA is $1.50. Continue Reading →

The Horrors of “Transferring” in 1974, and a Happier Future

Connections, or transfers as North Americans depressingly call them, are the foundation of a simple, frequent transit network that’s there whenever you need it.  I laid out the basic argument here, but in brief, a transit system that tries to run direct service from everywhere else (so that nobody has to make a connection) ends up as a confusing tangle of hundreds of overlapping lines, few of which are frequent enough to rely on or simple enough to remember.  Continue Reading →

Guangzhou Abandons Free-Fare Experiment

Guangzhou, the southern Chinese megacity that is to host the 2010 Asian Games this month, has abandoned a plan to offer free public transit while the Games are on.

The plan was to ban half of all of the city’s private cars from the road each day (using an “even-odd rule,” a scheme by which certain license plates can be used only on certain days), and also to ban traffic unrelated to the Games from certain roads.  In return, public transit would be free during the Games.  Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Aaron Renn on Universal Fare Media

(Aaron Renn, who writes The Urbanophile, is an opinion-leading urban affairs analyst, consultant, and speaker, based in the US Midwest.)

When I’m at home, I ride bus and rail transit about equally.  But when I travel to a new city, I travel on rail systems frequently, but almost never use the bus.  Why?

For me, while I know how transit systems generally work, the specifics of fares and fare media are different from place to place. I know that if I show up at a rail station there is likely to be a station house where I can look at maps, read about fares and rules, and use nice machines with step by step instructions for purchasing tickets or other fare media.  Continue Reading →

Good Question of the Week: Transfer Penalties

A frequent commenter on HT asks this in an email (the links are mine, not his):

On Second Avenue Sagas, one of the discussions went on a tangent that left me wondering about transfer penalties. If you need to walk from one station to another on the street to transfer, do the ridership models assign a higher penalty than if there’s an enclosed corridor between the stations? In addition, for systems that have faregates, is there an extra penalty for transfers that require exiting and

Continue Reading →