Designing the SelectPass Test Phase

May 4th, 2016

The new Metro SelectPass is structured to to maximize pilot participation while minimizing the risks.  Making that happen involves overcommitting to truth in advertising – and we’re fine with that!

The two most likely fare levels for the SelectPass are $2.25 and $3.75.

The two fare levels most likely to be popular for the SelectPass are $2.25 and $3.75.

We are excited about the launch of the new SelectPass pilot.  As we have begun to roll out this new pass product, we are listening to your questions (via twitter, comments posted to articles, etc.) and we hope to address as many of them through the proper venues.  PlanItMetro seems to be the best forum to answer the persistent question, “Is this really only for two fare levels, and why don’t you tell everyone that they can probably save money?”

Testing the capacity of the Fare System

When we roll out new features, we want to eliminate as many risks as possible before committing to them.  In this case, the primary risk Metro faces is that our aging fare technology might not be able to accommodate a very different fare product such as SelectPass.  So we developed a program to test the pass at two individual “levels” as a proof of concept and not push any limits of our fare collection technology.

In fact, the new product has already had two rounds of testing!

  • The first round occurred in the Automatic Fare Collection (AFC) lab, where the new pass was loaded onto a set of test faregates and the performance was evaluated.
  • The second round occurred in January, when the fare tables for the passes were pushed out to the entire rail system.  Then, in early February a few dozen Metro employees were given SmarTrip® cards pre-loaded with one of the four different flavors of the new pass and were asked to use them for their daily commutes and other travel.

At this point we are confident that rolling out the pass will not negatively impact our fare collection technology, but it is still good to not take any chances.

The chosen levels target deep levels of demand

As you can imagine, we had to do a lot of analysis on this new pass concept to get it to the beta test phase.  As noted in a previous post, that included a customer interest survey asking about unlimited monthly custom-value passes.  We took the customer’s self-reported purchase likelihood dataset and matched it to actual customer behavior, including both both peak and off-peak travel frequencies.  This analysis resulted in estimates of pass sales by fare levels, pictured in the graph above.  We were surprised to see that the $3.75 fare level beat out our maximum fare, but then reasoned that customers who park and ride at our furthest flung stations are less likely to choose Metro for “nights and weekends” travel.  For the pilot, we wanted the maximize the pool of participants, so we chose the fare levels that were the best fit for the greatest number of potential customers.

We tell the truth

Some have asked why we have used language that might be seen as muting the success of the test phase.  That’s because for a lot of people, even the two levels that are offered today will likely be appealing even if their normal trips are a different “flavor” than the $2.25 and $3.75 varieties being tested.  We wrestled a lot with how to communicate this and ultimately decided that the truthful thing to do – and the right thing to do – was make it crystal clear to the customer that this test phase is designed at two levels, but we hope to have all levels rolled out soon.  Sure, that makes some grumble when they realize that it might undersell the potential value of the test product to the broader customer base.  But we’d rather be completely honest and truthful with our customers rather than communicate obliquely, even if it means muted sales in the test phase.

How do you think we’re doing so far with rolling out the pilot?  Will you participate even though your usual trip isn’t one of our fare levels?  Do you think we picked the right ones?

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  1. Stephen Miller
    May 5th, 2016 at 09:38 | #1

    I have been using SelectPass since the beginning of the month and love it so far. The long story short – it saves me money for transportation over the course of the month and gives me much more transportation freedom.

    The long story is that I live near Union Station and work in Greenbelt, MD. When starting this job, it did not make financial (or time) sense to ride Metro – the monthly unlimited pass for MARC came to $135, so the Metro would have both cost more and taken longer to get to Greenbelt. Even though Union to Greenbelt is $4.45, I was still very excited to hear that SelectPass was rolling out the $3.75 pilot (costing $135) because the “unlimited” nature allows me to save money on my non-commute trips. Before the SelectPass, I was spending ~$40 a month for non-commute trips: these are now covered and will definitely offset the extra $1.40 I pay daily. This doesn’t even take into consideration the convenience of catching a train at any time versus once every 90 minutes on the MARC.

    As a 0 car household, this gives me much more freedom to travel not only as a commuting option, but also around DC during non-peak travel. Yes, saving money is great too, but it has enticed me to integrate Metro much more into my life. I now don’t have to make the difficult choice of convenience or money.

    My only question is about bus transfers – I occasionally take the bus and was hoping this would provide the $0.50 transfer discount. Yet the last time I used it I paid in full. Is that supposed to happen? Or in not offering the transfer, are you pushing me to buy the $45 option to have unlimited bus passes as well?

    Again, love it regardless, just curious about the bus transferring.

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  2. May 5th, 2016 at 09:40 | #2

    Great information Michael. For those of us who commute just a few miles, the $2.25 Select Pass offers a value that’s never been available on a Metro pass. I used Metro rail 69 times in April, with plenty of off-peak travel, and I saved 43%.

    However… My real savings are closer to 10% because I couldn’t buy my pass with SmartBenefits. I work for a large, national employer that needs to automate its commuter benefits program. They use Aetna’s PayFlex which fufills commuter benefit orders via Edenred’s WiredCommute. When Select Pass rolled out, WiredCommute was woefully out of date. The only way to get a pass was to have it mailed on a SmarTrip card, and Select Pass wasn’t available. I have spent the last 7 weeks attempting to contact these companies by any means possible. Eventually, I got through, and they have stated that Select Pass will be available in their system next week.

    That’s a win for tens of thousands of employees in the region, but I don’t think it’s good enough. Metro needs to seriously consider simplifying the SmartBenefits program and make ordering passes as easy as ordering SmarTrip value. SmartBenefits support is ESSENTIAL. Lack of SmartBenefits integration was cited as a key reason that pilot participants did not use their NEPP cards. I don’t want to see this program fail due to poor SmartBenefits access.

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  3. Kirby Knight
    May 5th, 2016 at 11:17 | #3

    I haven’t yet used the SelectPass, because it does not yet make sense for me. I do a combination of Bus and Rail every commute, and the lack of the $.50 discount tipped the scales in favor of continuing without the SelectPass. I was so excited for the pass, then crestfallen when I couldn’t use it.

    Additionally, sometimes paying the entire month up front, as opposed to auto-loading $20 at a time, can be difficult at times, even if it would save money overall (which as I stated above, it doesn’t at this time).

    Ideally, I’d like to see a combined Bus/Rail pass that takes into account the actual fares I currently pay, including the transfer discount; have that serve as the baseline rather than the current method. I know you’re taking baby steps right now, and I’m hopeful you’ll be able to make this work for more of us.

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  4. Michael
    May 9th, 2016 at 08:58 | #4

    @Kirby Knight Could you give me more details about your usual commute? If you use bus and rail with each trip, you would see savings. The bus add-on is priced at 36-times the transfer-discounted bus fare of $1.25. It’s only when you transfer from the rail-only pass to a regular bus fare that you don’t see the discount.

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  5. HR
    May 17th, 2016 at 11:01 | #5

    SelectPass would be a much more appealing to employers if the SmartBenefits delivery system didn’t require employers to issue a new and restricted type of “pass” money to employees that wish to use it.
    The default “transit” money works as payment on every system Metro has, as well as 3rd party providers, vanpools and pass sellers. An employee can choose to purchase any ride in the city with default “Transit” funds…except SelectPass.
    Select Pass is restricted to certain modes of travel, so an employer with employees that rides multiple transit authorities, which isn’t uncommon with county buses, will need to issues two types of money to one employee.

    Keep it simple and this program will be popular. One type of money. Month to month purchasing decisions should be made by the card owner as needed, not their HR.

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  6. Justin…..
    May 17th, 2016 at 22:23 | #6

    My commute is from Silver Spring to Glenmont, then a Ride-On bus from there. Since I usually bought the Regional Weekly Pass (which is good on all buses), and I just assumed that the bus portion of SelectPass would match, I bought and used SelectPass + Bus for April. Of course, since SelectPass + Bus was good for Metrobus only, I pretty much didn’t end up getting the full value out of the pass. I did still save based on the rail part (only paying $0.55 vs the normal $2.80 for work commutes, plus I did get some good use off peak and weekends. However, until all the regional buses are usable with the SelectPass + Bus, I’m probably going to hold off on buying it again.

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  7. Michael
    May 18th, 2016 at 11:14 | #7

    @Justin…..
    Thanks for the feedback. We are currently testing SelectPass and we had to make some compromises in order to get the test to market sooner than later. One of those compromises was to have the bus portion only work on Metrobus. We are currently reaching out to our regional transit partners to evaluate the extension of SelectPass to apply to their services.

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  8. Craig
    May 31st, 2016 at 08:32 | #8

    @Kevin M Combes
    I am in the same boat. The commuter benefits administrator for my company doesn’t have an option for “Transit Pass Benefits.”
    Who should I ask (complain?) to add this option? Is it my company’s HR Department, the commuter benefits administrator? Who do I point them to at WMATA to enable this option?

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  9. Kevin M Combes
    May 31st, 2016 at 09:48 | #9

    @Craig
    It depends on how your company does it. Most smaller companies with local HR departments log directly into SmartBenefits, so you just have to find the person who does that and have her choose the Transit Pass Benefit product for you. If they go through a third-party (WiredCommute, PayFlex, WageWorks, etc.) you may have to fight with them. I badgered WiredCommute about this and as of this month they now support the Transit Pass product.

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