Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Down with 8 ride tickets!

Now that I think about this...

Caltrain is ending paper 8 ride tickets. They should just end *all* 8 ride tickets.

An 8 ride ticket gets the rider a 15% discount on their rides, when purchased in bulk. The simplest answer for Caltrain would be to just sell "Caltrain Cash" at a 15% discount. So for $17, you can get $20 in Caltrain value. Done. Tag on, tag off, pay the cash fare, same as anyone - but with discounted dollars.

With that, the Caltrain clipper system is greatly simplified. Buy a pass, or buy "Caltrain Cash". As it stands, I currently have 3 different 8 rides loaded onto my card, to cover my most likely trips. It was annoying to load them all because the Clipper readers can only "load" one product at a time.

This will really benefit riders - and Caltrain. Currently if I have a Zone 1-3 8 ride, I can't use it to ride from Zone 4-2, even though the cost of the ticket is the same. This is an artifact of the paper system - you couldn't buy a "3 zone ticket" because it wasn't clear where you got onto the train for citation purposes (with the Validators, in theory the Conductor could figure it out, but that's not very efficient). With a Clipper Card, all the tag reader needs to know is "Did you tag on". With the conductor issue solved, they can go to a seamless system.

This would greatly simplify the software on the Clipper end, and the user interface as well. It solves various issues like "Why can't I use a zone upgrade with my 8 ride" - because you effectively can.

This has the benefit to the rider of being able to get the volume discount even though they take an atypical trip. Right now, with my 1-3 8 ride, going from San Francisco to Sunnyvale is $5.53. But sometimes it might be more convenient for me to use Lawrence (zone 4) but since I don't have an 8 ride, the fare is $8.50. I'd be much more likely to take that extra zone if I automatically get to pay the discounted rate of $7.22.

In a perfect world, the "Caltrain cash" could be applicable to the purchase of a Monthly pass, allowing people to more easily move between 8-rides and passes for months where they ride more, and ones where they ride infrequently.

The $20 denomination is the same as a 1 zone 8 ride ticket now, but would allow riders who go longer distances to purchase volume tickets for fewer rides, allowing them to try out the system without as much commitment.

Convenience. Simplicity.

The only downside is that this would probably reduce the amount of "shrinkage" that Caltrain benefits from, but that should not be the goal of a ticketing system - Caltrain is not Bank of America, they are a public agency and nickel and diming should not be their strategy. But with a simpler, more user friendly system, they are likely to make up the shrinkage in increased ridership that comes from a happier ridership.

The monthly pass product needs to stay for now - because of the dearth of Clipper readers at the station.


295bus said...

I basically agree.

I'd suggest another, really simple alternative: if you take 7 (or some N) rides (within some span, say, a month) you get an 8th ride (of the same value) for free.

It's simple, doesn't require riders to put up a lot of money up front, and has the upside of encouraging you to keep riding--and people really like feeling like they got something for free.

murphstahoe said...

That was the first iteration of my thinking. I prefer removing the tie to specific zones or distances. But the incentive to get something for free is a very tasty carrot - like Elaine on Seinfeld choking down Sub Sandwiches she didn't like just to finish her punch card.

The second iteration of my thinking was "Once you spend $20, get a $3 refund"

Either of those mean they don't have to sell another product - just passes. Cash is already on the card.

I'm extrapolating and hoping that this concept would be the easiest to program for the Clipper folks, not having to track your usage and act upon it. BART already has High Value tickets, so in theory they could "just whip the code together" ;)

blobree said...

I'm agreeing more with the comments here than your first iteration. Mainly, what makes Clipper Cash = Caltrain cash. I use my clipper way more for Muni and don't really consider it as Muni cash. It's just cash. There is no way I would allocate money to one transit system as this implies.

One other note. Removing the tie to specific zones does not seem Clipper specific. With the paper system the validation station was printed on the pass for that day. Seems they could have done non-specific zone passes before, but chose not to burden the "ticket" checkers.

murphstahoe said...

For BART, you can pay "cash", or you can buy a "High Value Ticket" - $48 for $45 or something like that. I have the high value tickets autoloading on my card - while this means BART gets a float on my money, the resultant discount is six percent - I'm not getting six percent on my money anywhere.

The zones goes back to the non-vending machine tickets - which had little squares on them for each zone, the station agent (or conductor! - back in the day) would punch the squares for the right zone.

Mike said...

I like this idea. I have also had 3 different 8-ride tickets at some points, although right now I only have zones 1-3. Sometimes I add a zone 1-4 for Sharks and a zone 2-3 if I am going to do the Millbrae shuffle instead of riding to 4th & King. I would love to have a Caltrain high-value discount.

berk said...

I would love not to have to tag off an Eight-Ride ticket.

The paper ticket most recently replaced was pre-purchased with certain zones specified.

The day of use you would activate one ride by sticking an unstamped end into the machine at the station and it would date and time stamp it.

It was like a Day Pass in the respect that, within the pre-specified zones, you had eight hours to get your ride accomplished.

If you went too far on not enough ticket, you were written a ticket (fined), or at least sternly warned & instructed to correct your behavior.

Being charged a ride from SF to Gilroy, by default, is stupid and reeks of poor systems design, swindling, or perhaps both.

berk said...

Correction, I meant to post the old Eight Rides lasted FOUR hours..."