After years of analysis, advocacy and lobbying, Congress has restored the transit commuter benefit to match the parking benefit, helping Metro, the region and the nation.
The employer transportation benefit for transit and vanpools has fluctuated a lot in recent years. In February of 2009, it was increased from $120 to $230, matching the parking benefit. Almost three years later, in January of 2012 it was slashed to $125 only to be raised to $245 the following year. After only a year, it was slashed again, this time to $130 where it stayed for two full years. In January of this year, it was raised to $255 to permanently match the parking benefit. Metro Board of Directors member Tom Bulger — an outspoken advocate for the transit benefit — played a vital role in ensuring its restoration to match the parking benefit. Thanks, Tom!
History of Employer Transportation Benefits, Monthly Limits. Data from Wikipedia.
The benefit amount wasn’t the only thing that has been changing. In 2010, the Metro implemented a series of new IRS rules for how the transit benefit could be used. For example, on smart media the transit benefit dollars had to be stored in a separate “purse” that could only be use for transit fares and not for parking costs at park-and-ride facilities. Employers also began asking employees to specify exactly how much transit fare was needed each month, instead of setting one amount and accruing benefits for trips untaken. Perhaps most importantly, a new rule stated that those unused dollars in this transit-only purse were to be “clawed back” at the end of each month. Read more…
Metro is exploring opportunities to partner with a private company or investor to pilot off-board SmarTrip® loading to help improve customer travel times and lower our operating costs.
Metrobus speeds have steadily decreased over time as the region grew and traffic worsened. This not only negatively impacts Metro customers, but also increases our operating costs. As traffic congestion erodes bus speeds, we need to deploy more vehicles and operators on the busiest routes in order to maintain service frequencies. We know that behind the statistics stand legions of bus riders who want faster service, as well as counties and cities that want lower bills for that service.
Crowded boarding and long dwell times
Off-Board Fare Payment and Transit Prioritization
There is no silver bullet to speed up transit. Instead, agencies can use a combination of technology and on-street treatments to increase bus speeds and move more passengers. One of the few prioritization strategies Metro can undertake on its own is allowing off-board fare loading, moving all SmarTrip® value loading from the farebox to kiosks near bus stops. This would reduce the amount of time it takes for passengers to board buses and pay fares, in turn speeding up bus trips. We have looked into this in the past and have recently revisited this important concept. Read more…
MBTA’s Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is impressive and efficient, but could be easier to use for visitors.
Boston’s Silver Line BRT at one of its Logan Airport stops. Photo by the author.
I recently flew to Boston for the first time in years and had the opportunity to ride their Silver Line BRT that provides service between Boston Logan Airport and south Boston. The service features some dedicated right-of-way, real-time arrival signage and a few actual stations.
The Silver Line has real-time arrival screens at Boston Logan, easing the wait time for customers excited to explore a city or return home. The buses used are dual-power, meaning they run on electricity via overhead wires at some times and on diesel when there are no wires. The switching between the two takes a few minutes but it really wasn’t very noticeable.
I was very impressed with the stations. For example, the World Trade Center station is a significant and impressive structure, and felt more like a traditional rail station that a bus stop by far. It features a multi-story tower topped with the “T” logo. The station interior features side platforms, escalators and stairs, real-time arrival screens and public art. A station like this makes a statement that high quality transit service will be operating here for a long time, despite not having rails in the ground. Read more…
We want to hear from you! Interested in the FY2015 budget? Answer our survey or participate in an upcoming public meeting. Want to talk more long-term strategy? Connect on MindMixer.
We are seeking feedback from riders and offering multiple ways to comment on the proposed FY2015 budget and fare changes, as well as Metro’s Capital Improvement Program. You can participate in any or all of the following:
- Survey: The survey includes questions about the fare changes, costs, and the benefits you will see going forward. The survey is open until 5 p.m. on February 11, 2014.
- Public Hearings: The six public hearings will provide an opportunity for riders to give formal testimony on the docket of proposed budget actions.
Looking to get into the weeds and talk about some long(er)-term opportunities? We have started a new discussion on MindMixer to gather your ideas and thoughts about priorities and potential future changes to the balance of funding between riders and local government, continuing to allow fares to be paid in cash on Metrobus, parking, new fare options, and priorities for a down payment on Metro2025 initiatives.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) highlights that, even with a proposed fare increase, Metro is still a cheaper than driving for many trips in the region.
AAA’s analysis compares the costs of driving and parking between Maryland and Virginia to Metro-accessible locations in and near downtown Washington. Below is a selection of these trips:
Comparing The Commuting Costs – Driving vs. Riding Metro (Source: AAA Mid-Atlantic)
Obviously, these are just examples and there are other trips where transit isn’t an option or driving may be more cost effective than Metro. Parking costs, levels of congestion, transit accessibility, travel times and other variables are quite different depending on where a trip begins and ends. Still, taking the train or bus is often much cheaper than driving, especially utilizing SmartBenefits or transit passes, which further reduce the cost of choosing Metro
Metrorail’s distance-based fare structure is the most equitable.
Excerpt of Metrorail distance-based fare table.
Metrorail is one of only three heavy rail systems in the United States with distance-based fares. (BART and PATCO are the other two.) And to the best of my knowledge, it’s the only one with peak and off-peak fares. With 86 stations (soon to be 91) and two fare time-periods (it used to be three), the average rider has a large number of possible fare combinations.
The benefits of Metrorail’s existing fare structure are many-fold, but chief among them are equity, efficiency, and economics.
The fare structure is fair. Distance-based and time-of-day fares allow transit riders to pay fares in proportion to the level of service they’re using. Peak period riders pay more and have more frequent service. Short distance travel is less expensive than long-distance. With flat fares, those who take short trips subsidize those who take longer trips, and people who ride during times of reduced service subsidize those who ride during the peaks when trains are most frequent. With zone-based fares, customers taking short trips that cross a zone boundary pay a larger fare than other customers taking longer trips entirely within a zone boundary.
The fare structure is equitable. A switch from distance-based to flat-fare that was revenue neutral (not losing money) would raise a Title VI equity concern. Planning staff have done a preliminary analysis, and such a switch would have a disproportionate burden on low-income riders. A switch to flat fares that was not revenue neutral would result in higher subsidies from Metro’s funding partners
The fare structure promotes economic efficiency. People use resources more efficiently if they’re priced to reflect the value of the resource. Economists love variably priced roads like the Intercounty Connector (MD-200) and the I-495 Express Lanes, as the per-mile prices are set to keep traffic flowing. The same concept applies to Metrorail’s distance-based and peak/off-peak fares. Read more…
Metro seeks to reduce delays to Metrobus caused by on-board SmarTrip card loading by installing off-board SmarTrip® Recharge Stations at key locations across the region.
Metro has been quite successful at increasing the use of SmarTrip® card usage on both bus and rail. As noted in a previous post, many initiatives — including surcharges for paying cash — have been successful at raising the the SmarTrip® use rate to about 90% on both Metrorail and Metrobus. As many readers have noted, many Metrobus customers load small amounts of cash — enough for one or two trips — onto their SmarTrip card in order to avoid the surcharge. This on-board load transaction can take between five and 30 seconds and, on average, one out of every 14 trips on Metrobus involves a small value load. On some routes it’s as frequent as one out of every seven. This behavior results in longer dwell times, slower rides, and less efficient operations of Metrobus.
One possible solution is to increase the opportunities for loading value onto SmarTrip cards before the customer boards. While SmarTrip cards can be reloaded online, at Metrorail stations and at a variety of retail outlets around the region, the frequency of on-board loading indicates the need for additional, convenient opportunities to add value to SmarTrip cards.
Example of potential SmarTrip Reload Station size and location. Image updates every 5 seconds. Click image for larger version.
Metro is seeking to meet this need by developing and deploying SmarTrip Recharge Stations (SRS) at selected bus stops around the region. In addition to facilitating the loading of fares and passes to SmarTrip cards and working with Metro’s current back-end systems, the requirements for these recharging stations include: Read more…
Metrorail charges you the lowest possible fare, even if other trips that seem longer are less expensive.
Recently a Twitter user asked a simple question: when traveling from King St-Old Town why does it cost more to travel to McPherson Sq than to Metro Center? As a straight shot on the Blue Line, McPherson Sq is closer than Metro Center, so why is the trip to Metro Center cheaper?
We recently described how Metrorail fares are calculated. However, the previous post failed to mention is that when there are two or more routes to travel between any pair of stations Metro uses the least expensive one.
For the example above, there are a few routes to travel between King St-Old Town and McPherson Sq. The shortest trip when considering the miles on the railway is to take Yellow to L’Enfant Plaza and then transfer to Blue or Orange, which results in 8.12 miles and a peak fare of $3.65. The fare to Metro Center is only $3.55, because it is only 7.82 miles from King St-Old Town via L’Enfant Plaza. For a rider taking the Blue Line to McPherson Sq, it might seem unfair that customers traveling one additional stop pay $0.10 less. Read more…
Metro first rolled out SmarTrip® on rail in 1999, breaking new ground as the first contact-less smart card used for transit in the United States. Metro began rolling out SmarTrip® on bus in 2002 and then to Metrorail parking facilities in 2004. While the utility of SmarTrip® was immediately obvious to many customers, others required a bit of encouragement to switch to the fare media that is most cost-effective for Metro and customers alike.
Usage of SmarTrip® on rail has been growing steadily since its launch, but use on bus seemed to plateau around 20% on bus starting in about July 2006 until about January 2008. That was the date when Metro began its first major initiative to encourage people to move to SmarTrip by implementing a $0.10 surcharge for using cash on bus.
Since then, Metro has rolled out new SmarTrip features and additional incentives to continue the increase in SmarTrip use rate.
The chart below illustrates the changes in SmarTrip use rate on both bus and rail, overlaid with the dates of the initiatives and feature releases that helped motivate customers to switch to SmarTrip. The usage rate now is nearly 90% on both bus and rail! Read more…
Fare table showing peak-of-the-peak pricing, in effect from August 2010 to June 2012
In a recent post we described how Metrorail fares are calculated. The previous post noted that Metro’s Fare Policy Principles have established guidelines for how fares are structured. When it is time to evaluate changes to Metrorail, Metrobus, and MetroAccess fares, Metro staff revisit the fare policy principles to look for guidance.
Metro Fare Policy Principles, adopted November 18, 2010:
- Ensure and enhance customer satisfaction;
- Establish a mechanism to allow customers to determine their fares easily;
- Optimize the use of existing capacity;
- Establish equitable fares and ensure compliance with federal regulations;
- Facilitate movement between modes and operators throughout the region;
- Encourage the use of cost-effective media;
- Generate adequate revenue while maximizing ridership;
The challenge for Metro staff is to explore fare concepts that strike balance between the different principles. For example, Metro uses surcharges to encourage use of SmarTrip™ which is our most cost-effective fare media (principle #6), but the surcharges provide challenges to easily determined fares (principle #2).
Note that Metro’s distance-based fares are considered more equitable than flat fares. Average income increases with distance from the core in the Washington region, so a flat fare would result in the highest per-mile fares for those groups who are the least able to pay them. Metro’s Board of Directors understands this and has emphasized fare equity (principle #4) as one of its top priorities.
Many other aspects of the current bus, rail and paratransit fares reflect these principles:
- Surcharges for not using SmarTrip™: Metro charges $1 per trip for using paper farecards on rail and $0.25 per trip for using cash on the bus. These surcharges have helped push usage of SmarTrip™ up to about 90%, resulting in the reduction of fare collection costs.
- Different fares on different levels of service: Metro charges $1.60 base fare for local and MetroExtra services. Buses that travel long distances on freeway lanes cost users a higher fare ($3.65) to correspond with the greater travel speeds. Metro’s longest distance bus routes, which travel to Dulles and BWI airports, charge a $6 fare per trip.
- MetroAccess fares are priced at twice the fixed route fare with a cap at $7. This fare structure is intended to encourage use of the existing fixed route capacity Metro offers, which are available to MetroAccess-eligible customers free of charge.
- The peak-of-the-peak (POP) rail fare surcharge, enacted in August of 2010, charged customers an extra $0.20 to enter the system during the peak 90-minute periods during the AM and PM peak. This surcharge was another example of using fares to “optimize the use of existing capacity.” However, riders informed Metro this fare concept impacted fare policy principles #1 and #2, customer satisfaction and allowing customers to easily determine fares. In the end, these two policy principles won out and the POP surcharge was eliminated starting July 1, 2012.
What fare concepts might help better align Metro’s fares with the fare policy principles? What ideas have other agencies implemented that you’d like to be considered for Metro?