April 23, 2012

METRO, where’s my pay-as-you-go already?

by: Ryan Glass


Today’s post is by contributing writer Ryan Glass:

A case for pay-as-you-go Light Rail:

If I’m honest, the idea for this post started with me having a bit of a rant a few days ago, and realizing that while my recent inconveniences were not earth-shattering by any means, they certainly highlighted one of the areas where Metro Light Rail is lacking.

The simple truth that I have to either purchase a physical pass for public transit every time I take it, or make a financial gamble and pre-pay for fixed-term passes that I’m not likely to utilize 100% seems like something we should have left behind in the last century.

My life vs My Transit
True, 8:00am on a weekday morning is not a time when I’m at my peak of cognitive ability, nor do I imagine myself to be a skilled planner of the day’s events. If I had to say so, I’d admit that I can be rather random with my agenda. It’s very likely that many other riders know precisely how many times each week they’ll be riding the train (versus walking, car-pooling, biking, etc), including the likelihood that any errands or side-trips would be needed, and can plan their purchases accordingly.

Then again, I’m sure it’s very likely there are plenty of folks like me, people whose plans can change throughout the day, people who may decide to carpool/bike/walk on their way home, who should have a transit plan that meets their needs. Should we be financially locked-in to a 30-day pass that discourages us from using other modes of sustainable transportation? Why does my work-from-home day have to mean I just waste $3.50 of that 7-day pass?

Single-Ride & Daily Pass purchases aren’t practical
The sad fact is that I’ve had an easier time taking the train on vacation and in foreign cities than I do here in my home town. I love Oyster card. I could sing songs about my Metro Card. Easy to use, easy to refill, and never makes me late for the train.

Comparatively the number of times I’ve missed a train and been late to work because I was waiting at a kiosk to purchase my all-day pass…I could probably forward every “attendance infraction” I had at my last job over to the METRO offices and let them vouch for me.

“Yes, Mr. Glass was at the train station on time, he was just stuck in line behind a bevy of convention go’ers and over-excited first-time riders. By the time they were all done buying their passes, he had just enough time to watch the train pull out of the station and see everyone on board laughing at him.”

I should be happy to see new riders approaching the kiosk in all their bright-eyed wonderment, not tapping my foot and hoping they can figure out the choices and buttons with enough time for me to buy my pass before I miss the train.

If the Light Rail ever sees the type of success that we’d hope for, if it really is meant to be the main artery for moving people to and through our urban core, something will have to be done to let more people transact faster and not have to choose between missing the train or skipping their fare.

Why have a barrier to entry
Any e-commerce business will tell you, once you stop getting in their way, your customers are happy to give you their money. Example: on my iPhone, I’ll download apps and make in-app purchases far, far more often than I ever would if I had to enter my credit card info every time I wanted to make an impulse purchase. By letting me just enter my iTunes password, Apple and the app publishers have made hundreds off me that I never would have spent following the traditional model.

The same would apply to a refillable rail pass, and then some. Unlike a car, a refillable pass could be “topped off” on payday and last me quite a while, ensuring that I had a ride to/from work no matter how I chose to spend the rest of my check (probably blew it all on candy & comic books). Let me stop having to think about the purchase, and I’m more likely to use your product/service.

Print more passes, the planet thanks you
Many times I’ve joked about using the paper passes and receipts that I collect every day and turning them into a massive art project.  In fact, right now I’ve got a stack of them in my desk, another stack near my valet and I’m sure there are plenty more scattered wherever I empty my pockets on a given day.

I should probably stitch them all together and make a mile-long banner that says something clever about paper passes polluting the planet.

…or just print this whole post out in reeeeeally small font on the back of each pass, then air-drop them over the Metro offices.  I’ll make it rain knowledge!

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of the author.

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8 Responses

  1. In the same breath, let’s ask for EXPRESS TRAINS. Now that light rail is maturing and there are plenty of serious commuters, let’s amp it up by providing faster service during peak hours. How many people realistically get off at every stop? I can think of at least five stops that we could skip during peak hours. And I’d be happy to travel out a stop or two to get an express train into town. Express trains reward commuters and entice new joiners to the system. Shaving fifteen–twenty minutes off a trip is a game-changer.

  2. i’m 100% on board with this *train* of thought.

  3. Bill Mc says:

    I couldn’t agree more, and have made this suggestion to Valley Metro myself. Their reply was something like ‘keeping it simpler for now’, I’ll have to see if I can find the email.

    Seems to me it would be simple enough. Some programming of the terminals and a little advertising. When I travel to Chicago a couple times a year that system works great. Load a card with what I think I’ll need when I’m there and only have to use the terminal for one purchase.

    I’m fortunate enough to have an employer provided Platinum Pass, but we have a similar issue. With the PP, you have to tap the orange pad before every boarding, something you don’t have to do if you purchase a multi-day pass. And often you can’t make that five second tap because of the line to purchase tickets.

    Some, but not enough stations have stand-alone terminals with just the orange pad. But more need it, like the busy Camelback Station, my usual stop. If it has the volume of a park and ride, it should have the extra terminals.

    If we all keep after Valley Metro, hopefully we can see some results.

  4. Will Novak says:

    Agree 100% with this post and with the comment about Express trains, both are no brainers.

    I cant count the number of times I just filled my “Charlie Card” in Boston with $20 and used it occasionally until it was empty. I was much more likely to ride transit because I knew there was money on my card and I didn’t have to keep adding to it each day, week or month since I was only an occasional rider.

  5. Bill McComas says:

    I’m not as sure about the express trains. I ride from Camelback to downtown, and people pretty much board/deboard at every stop, especially the major streets.

    I think getting the frequency back down to 10 minutes (or less) as well as getting all of the major bus routes to 15 (or even 20) minute intervals would be a bigger priority.

    A number of express bus routes over lapped on Central ave. and most have been eliminated or reouted due to low ridership, and I believe the remaining route 512 is being moved to replace the 510.

  6. Kerry says:

    I’m sorry that you can’t be arsed to figure out your daily transportation, but paying by ride would be horrible for a majority of Phoenix transit users. Unless your trip only has 1 leg with no connections, you’d pay extra when you transferred from bus to bus. Suddenly, a trip to see my sister will cost $5.25 EACH WAY? Or a night out downtown is $7 instead of $3.50? That really straps working people. Plus, I’m more likely to go downtown for fun if I’ve already used a fare card to commute or get groceries or something earlier in the day. Phoenix just doesn’t have the density to draw people to neighborhoods where they would do a majority of their errands on foot and return via 1 bus. A lot of people are taking multiple forms of public transit to get to work. If they want to stop off on the way home, they’re now paying an extra fare? Can’t afford that.

    Then, on a practical note: where is everyone going to load up their cards? I’m not keen on using retail establishments to serve transit users–my Fry’s has often run out of fare cards, and I don’t think they’d be A+ at keeping a card machine running, or letting the transit authority know when it breaks.

    As for express trains, METRO sold out daily commuters and the working class when they increased the time between trains in order to pay for continuing late night weekend service. I’d rather see a decrease in waits across the board before express trains. Like Bill McComas above, I see people constantly getting on and off the train no matter when I ride.

  7. Lisa says:

    I really loved it when the MTA came out with the MetroCard when I lived in NYC. It was so convenient. And, Kerry, if our system here in Phoenix worked the same way, you would automatically get a free transfer so using the bus and light rail together would not be a problem. Also, you would load up your card at the light rail station or online (like the Oyster Card), but since you would be buying a pay-per-ride you wouldn’t need to fill it up so often. There could also be several card readers at each station to quickly validate your card.

  8. […] it did, you’ll know by how much flannel I’m wearing. Or all my chatter about my oyster card. […]

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