A lot of digital ink gets spilled here and on other transit oriented sites about the “transfer penalty.” As most of you know, a transfer penalty is the time you spend waiting for your 2nd (or 3rd!) bus or train after exiting your first bus or train. So if you are going from your house in West Seattle to downtown, you hop on the 50, and then take the RapidRide C downtown. The time you spend getting off the 50, walking to the next stop (not far in this case) and waiting for the C to arrive and depart is your Transfer Penalty. According to a 2013 Metro survey, half of all riders frequently take trips that involve a transfer and the average penalty in time is 14-15 minutes.
As Metro’s Park and Ride permanent large lots are almost all at 100% utilization, the only way to aggressively grow Metro’s ridership is to encourage more trips to be 100% transit, both in Seattle and in the suburbs. How do you encourage people to do something they don’t do now? You pay them.
Enter the Transfer Bonus.
The idea is to give people who transfer a small ($0.25 or $0.50) reduction on the cost of the overall fare. It should be significant enough that people notice the difference but not enough that it encourages people to transfer for no other reason than to save some money. Metro could make it almost revenue neutral (or even revenue positive) by hiking regular fares by a similar amount. This would not apply to cash transactions, because — Metro shouldn’t still be doing paper transfers in the first place!
Charging more for direct trips may sound crazy, but in fact it happens everyday in the airline industry. In London, the Heathrow Express is faster and more direct but cost an arm and a leg more than just taking the less direct tube.
You could roll it out for a 1 year pilot, and accompany it with an ad campaign encouraging people to use transit for the whole trip (“Go All The Way with Metro!”). You could measure success based on overall ridership and by percentage of riders who use a transfer.
This would be superior to charging for parking in the Park & Ride lots in several ways. First, it has few implementation and ongoing costs. You would need to do a fare change and update a few signs, and you would need to create a procedure to stop people from using the off-board payment options in the tunnel and at RapidRapid ride stations (my guess it is a routine that runs monthly that debits peoples accounts for the $0.25 if they take more than a certain number of phantom trips that don’t involve a return trip at the same location). That compares to a lot of signs at the Park & Ride lots, and the ongoing customer service costs of answering peoples questions and dealing with problems and hiring people to patrol the lots and write tickets for violators.
Second, the “Transfer Bonus” would also be aimed to get Seattle residents who aren’t using the Park & Rides to use transit instead of driving. The accompanying ad campaign would show non-transit users that transfers aren’t so bad.
Third, a “Transfer Bonus” would be more popular than charging for parking. According to SoundTransit, last year’s pilot of charging for parking was not popular – it received hundreds of complaints about the pilot or paid parking in general. A “Bonus” is positive, where paid parking is a negative.
What about you? Would you drive less if there was a small fare decrease for transfers?