Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Caltrain Fare Increase coming?

If you pay $10 for a product, and someone else pays $10 for a product, and the seller starts charging that person $12 but you still pay $10 - do you feel like that product is now less expensive for you? Caltrain does!

There is a disturbing note in this week's agenda for the Caltrain JPB meeting. It's basically a fare increase.

We need to let them know we dislike stealth fare increases, use this handy email link to send a message to Caltrain customer service, copying the Caltrain board and staff at the same time.

Staff Coordinating Council (SCC) recommends that the Board schedule a public hearing at its February 2, 2012 Board meeting to consider changes to its Codified Tariff.
Setting the public hearing will allow staff to schedule community meetings to solicit input from customers and the general public on proposed changes to the tariff. Proposed changes include (1) elimination of the 8-ride Ticket; (2) increasing the cost of paper One-way tickets, Day passes and Zone Upgrade tickets, which will result in a less expensive Clipper cost for these items; (3) increasing the Go Pass price; and (4) lengthening the sales period for monthly transportation passes and parking permits. Further details on the proposed changes will be provided in advance of three community meetings in January.
Holding a public hearing will not impact the budget.
In response to customer fare media usage, and in the spirit of Metropolitan Transportation Commission Resolution 3866, staff will propose the changes described above.

As described, this is a fare increase for people using 8 ride tickets. Paper ticket users would also see a fare increase, but it could be mitigated by getting a Clipper Card. But the population that rides Caltrain 3-4 roundtrips per week, currently getting a nice discount via 8 ride tickets, would see a fare increase of 15% if they buy one way tickets. They could buy a Monthly Pass, but that pass is priced the same as 31 rides on an eight ride ticket, users currently using Caltrain for fewer than 15 round trips per month would pay more for the pass than they currently do. 15 round trips per month is a regular rider - not the demographic that Caltrain should be lumping the entirety of an increase on.

As I've discussed before - 8 ride tickets are an anachronism and have been very inconvenient for Clipper users. I do think they should be eliminated. But that elimination is no excuse to pass on a stealth fare increase to a big chunk of the ridership. If Caltrain truly needs a fare increase, they should ...

1) Eliminate the 8 rides
2) Give all Clipper users a 15% discount off of a one way ticket.
3) Institute an across the board fare hike.

This is far more honest and does not specifically impact a subset of passengers. It could be phased - change the fare structure first, quantify the impact to revenue of people formerly paying full fare now getting a discount, and adjust fares if needed.

Of course, this brings up the topic of "Does Caltrain need a fare hike?" Despite the angst over their budget, the apparent need for a fare increase is going to fall upon a lot of deaf ears given this, also from the same report.

Revenue: For October of Fiscal Year 2012, Total Operating Revenue (line 7) is $3,079,284 or
15.2 percent better than budget. Within total operating revenue, Farebox Revenue (line 1), Parking
Revenue (line 2) and Other Income (line 5) which together are $3,066,486 or 15.9 percent better than
budget. Compared to the prior year, Total Operating Revenue (line 7) is $4,604,583 or 24.5 percent
higher driven by Farebox Revenue (line 1), Parking Revenue (line 2) and Other Income (line 5)
which together are $4,600,325 or 25.9 percent higher.
Expense: Grand Total Expenses (line 46) show a favorable variance of $1,337,579 or 3.9 percent.
Total Operating Expense (line 33) is $934,242 or 3.1 percent better than budget. Within total
operating expense, Contract Operating & Maintenance (line 23) and Services (line 31) together are
$678,465 or 3.3 percent better than budget. Total Administrative Expense (line 42) is $403,337 or
10.0 percent better than budget.

I would hope that Caltrain would quickly revisit the apparent proposals before finalizing a plan for the January community meetings. Whenever Caltrain cooks up a poorly thought out change to service or fare structures, a lot of bad blood is spilled in the process of fixing it. The customer base will not see the benefit of removing logistical nightmares from the Clipper setup - they will see a fare increase. No matter the end result, Caltrain's image with the public is the victim. Long term, they cannot afford that to be any more tarnished than it already is.


Bryce Verdier said...

As things move towards a clipper card system (which it seems Caltrain prefers). I would also love to see them drop the zone pricing structure and move to the BART price structure. I believe zones where a good design choice when the things started. But as things become more automated, good design become bad and need to be updated.

arcady said...

Now if only they actually had non-paper zone upgrade tickets. Right now, if you try to use Clipper for a trip outside the zones on your pass, it will charge you full price, and you need to buy a paper zone upgrade. It would also be nice to be able to buy Clipper cards and passes at any Caltrain station, though we're tantalizingly close to having that in San Jose (the machines are installed, powered up, and "temporarily out of service")

djconnel said...

Caltrain should focus on continuing to increase mode share, as that would drive demand for a denser schedule and for more stable regional funding, driving the positive feedback loop. Bleeding the customer base with even phantom fare increases only discourages that mode shift.

thielges said...

arcady brings up this year's other stealth fare increase which also targeted 8-ride users exclusively since that ticket became the only type ineligible for a zone upgrade. I really can't complain about fare increases as they're a fact of life. But disproportionally targeting 8-ride users seems odd. Its enough to encourage honest riders to start exploiting some of the loopholes enabled by Clipper.