Of the six RapidRide routes Metro has rolled out, or soon will roll out, only one will have more than one adult fare: RapidRide E, an improved version of today’s Route 358, which connects downtown Seattle and Shoreline via Aurora Avenue. Metro’s fare system has two zones, with Zone 1 the city of Seattle, and Zone 2 the rest of the county; adult riders pay a 50c surcharge on rush-hour trips that cross a fare boundary, while off-peak riders, seniors and youth each pay a flat rate. All E Line trips will cross the boundary at 145th St. I don’t know exactly how long the zone system has been around, but it’s at least 30 years, and like so many things of that era at Metro, seems to have been designed with a focus on the downtown Seattle 9-5 commute trip.
One of the few rapid transit-like features all RapidRide lines will ultimately have is partial off-board payment at the busiest stops: riders with ORCA will be able to tap on at the platform, while cash payers delay the bus, fumbling with change and dollar bills at the farebox just like they’ve always done. Zone fares present a problem in this system, as riders have no way* to declare to the ORCA platform reader how many zones they wish to pay for; of necessity, platform ORCA payers risk under- or over-payment. We at STB, along with many of our readers, have wondered how Metro is going to deal with this, and after more than two months of pleading and nagging, we finally have an official answer:
The E Line will have the same 1 and 2 zone boundaries as the 358. The off-board readers can only handle one fare set so we are setting them to the number of zones that the majority of the riders pay (which is also consistent to the default settings for the farebox and ORCA reader on the bus).
This means in the inbound/southbound direction, the off-board readers from Aurora Village Transit Center to North 160th Street (the last station before the zone boundary) will be set to two zones.
Riders who are only going one zone will have to pay on the bus and ask the driver to override the two-zone setting on the bus. All other off-board readers, inbound and outbound, will be set to one zone. Again, if the rider is going two zones from those locations, they will have to ask the driver to override the default setting.
More after the jump.
This approach is expected to best serve the most customers and allows the operator to focus mostly on safe driving and customer service. We rely on customers to cooperate and pay the appropriate fare and keep the service moving. Riders on the 358 help do this every day […] and we look forward to serving them with RapidRide in the future. Like with all RapidRide launches, there will be a period of transition and education as we shift to a new system of fare enforcement and proof of payment.
Additionally, Metro’s Strategic Plan, adopted in summer 2011 includes strategies for achieving long range goals and objectives for the transit system including;
Strategy 6.3.2: Establish fare structures and fare levels that are simple to understand, aligned with other service providers, and meet revenue targets established by Metro’s fund management policies. Metro’s fare structure and fare levels should enable Metro to meet cost recovery targets that are established by fund management policies adopted by the King County Council. Fares should be set to reflect the cost of service, promote operational efficiency, ensure regional coordination, minimize impacts of fares on those least able to pay, and reduce the cost of fare collection … Simple and consistent fares are important to make transit easy to use for both new and existing transit riders.
As Metro moves towards goals of financial sustainability, more customer friendly fare structures will be discussed, analyzed and pursued. There will always be some tension or tradeoffs between achieving fare revenue targets, relating the fare level to the length or cost of the trip and the ability of the rider to pay, and simplifying fare structures to make service accessible and understandable to our customers.
This approach seems pretty kludgey, but I admit I can’t think of a much better one within the context of the current zone system. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this response is the hope of possible future fare simplification: along with many people in the transit world, I regard fare collection as the agency’s primary system-wide operational challenge, and fixing Metro’s fare structure is a precondition for moving towards a system where payments are always fast, simple, efficient, and mostly cashless on core frequent-service routes. It’s good to hear official statements of concurrence from on high.
Coming up, we’re going to have several posts discussing blue-sky ideas for rethinking Metro fares, and there will be plenty of opportunities to discuss such ideas in the comments of those posts. Let’s keep the discussion here on how best to make the current fare structure work with the current technology in time for the E Line launch.
* That’s not completely true. Users with registered cards can use ORCA’s zone-preset feature, which allows them to override the fare reader’s two-zone default and pay only a one-zone fare on two-zone trip, for all trips on all their cards. If you live in Seattle and rarely travel outside in the peak period, this will work very well for you, but still doesn’t solve the general problem.