Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Comment on Caltrain fare changes...

An anonymous commenter writes...
Now the new fees have me pissed. My old dual 8-ride system is going away so I'll have to purchase a 4-zone monthly. This ups the monthly payment by $20 and yearly up significantly since there are 2 or more months when I travel much less than the value of a monthly - so I have to go back to managing the account which is a pain in the ass. Also pisses me off that Lawrence is costing me ~$50 a month to cross that zone boundary. Makes me almost want to say fuck them and only do a 3-zone. I don't think I've ever been checked between Lawrence and Sunnyvale.
And Caltrain thinks this fare increase will work out OK.

A few things to note.

While Caltrain has noted that 6% or so of their passengers use 8 rides (down from 16% before Clipper), they don't give any real clue as to the nuances of this number. A larger percentage of riders switch to 8 rides a couple of months per year, most notably December where many riders take a week or more off from work. So the total population impacted is much higher than 6% (plus the 10% that were already impacted). And as you can see, this population is not happy.

It also underscores the level of math that riders do regarding the amount of money they spend on Caltrain. The accounting can go down to the nickel. On the other hand, it's a very rare bird that understands "If I drive at 8 AM, I burn an extra half gallon of gas on 101 than if I drive at 11 AM, because of time I spend idling in traffic". The cost of driving is very abstract. We know quite clearly that very few amortize the life of their transmission when calculating the cost to drive 40 miles to Mountain View.

It's less clear, but I theorize it is absolutely true that drivers also have a pretty static view of how much it costs them in gasoline, the one marginal cost they actually consider when comparing driving to public transit. They think "I get X miles per gallon" and "pay Y dollars per gallon". Time spend idling in traffic is neglected, and the price of gas is frozen at an optimistic level. They decide "It costs me $7 roundtrip to drive" and that number rarely changes because they aren't getting feedback from the car that "because you missed the exit and had to circle an extra 5 miles, you burned an extra dollar in gas". But they sure as hell remember every time they forget to tag off Clipper!

With the internal biases in calculation stacked against the use of transit, fare increases like this can be deadly to ridership levels.


djconnel said...

The woefully ignorance of true driving cost is evident by just walking down the street. The number of drivers who gun their engine to reach a red light or stop sign is remarkable: if a cash meter ticked off a 25 cent transaction for those zero seconds saved, maybe they'd have a lighter touch on the gas pedal.

Driving is viewed as a fixed cost, both in dollars and in risk. Nobody asks the metabolic cost of taking another breath: it's an unavoidable expense of living. Driving is viewed similarly, as we've all been exposed to car company advertising virtually every day since the womb.

Unknown said...

I was one of the few people who actually made it to the public meetings (maybe it had something to do with calling it "Codified Tariff" rather than "Fare Increase"?) and some of what I learned is here:


Obviously, I am against the proposal and am hoping as many folks as possible write in to express their comments against it as well. According to the Caltrain rep at the meeting, 10k people buy an 8-ride ticket per month. This is a lot of voices to be heard!