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Planner: Metro Should Consider Mobile Payment Platforms

by Kris Ankarlo
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(Photo credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

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As Metro continues to weigh proposed rate hikes for next fiscal year, some believe the transit agency should also consider an alternate fare structure. One idea would mimic the marketing of cell phone plans by allowing Metro’s board to set an average fare and then allowing the agency to set up different ridership plans based on usage.

Adam Davidson, an urban planner, believes exploring such a method could help sway potential passengers debating whether to utilize public transportation or to drive. While cost factors significantly in the decision-making process, an easier platform would benefit Metro — even if by perception only.

“Let’s say the cost of (a car trip) is a dollar. People don’t feel that dollar because the gas is probably already in the car,” said Davidson. “Whereas, if you’re deciding to hop on the bus, you’re paying that dollar or two dollars for just that one ride and you still have the return trip to worry about.”

Davidson’s solution is a fare structure modeled of the pricing used by cell phone companies. Passengers could pick a plan plan best suited for their needs: tourist, occasional user, or commuter. The transit packages would be paid ahead of time, thus eliminating the need to calculate individual trips.

The approach would also force transit agencies to be more customer-centric. Currently, agency manpower is largely devoted to providing consistent transportation services.

“There isn’t a focus on maintaining the customer relationship,” Davidson said. “One thing that really bothers people is when they can’t get good information or when they’re being sold a product, but really have to jump through hoops to do it.”

Davidson created a “back of the envelope” fare system that also includes such novel ideas as trip-chaining. The concept would afford passengers with unlimited rides for a set amount of time, which is ideal for someone running errands.

A separate family plan would allow passengers to share trips among children or partners.

Davidson admits there are still many kinks to be ironed out, including the need to develop an alternative for those without mobile devices, but feels it is a good starting point as transit technology continues to evolve.

“You’re getting the freedom from making not to be making a decision about if you should be spending this money, which is something that happens when you’re priced marginally for every minute of every ride. You do a little calculation in your head,” Davidson said. “Sometimes there’s a value in just knowing it’s included.”

Follow @KrisAnkarlo and @WNEW on Twitter.

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