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Monday, December 13, 2010

Time to Switch from Muni Monthly Passes to 31-Day Passes?

As the months fly by the seat of our pants, and youth & senior paper passes will be eliminated in February 2011 (last paper pass issued in January) in favor of Clipper e-passes, maybe it's time for Muni to consider changing the way it sells passes.

When I say: "changing the way it sells passes," I don't mean to have the prices radically change or make it too complex; my idea is simple: switch from a monthly pass system to a 31-day pass system.

Wouldn't it be nice to purchase a 31-day Muni pass effective the first day you activate it instead of buying just before the new month comes around? Or for those who are forgetful, how about loading up to two or three 31-day Muni passes on your card for back to back coverage?

Sounds great... but how can Muni change? Take a look at these examples of agencies using the 30 or 31-day system:
  • AC Transit used to have flash passes on a monthly basis (the ones you visually show to the driver), but with the replacement to magnetic stripe passes to stop fraud, the agency changed from a monthly pass basis to a 31-day pass. Passengers would purchase the ticket at a vendor, and once inserted into the reader on the bus, the pass is immediately activated for use. The big advantage is a passenger could activate their pass at anytime, no matter if it's the first of the month, mid-month, or end of the month. Since AC Transit is converting all passes to Clipper, they have maintained the same policy with 31-day passes as people would purchase it onto their card, and their first use will activate the 31-day clock.
  • New York City's subway system sells various unlimited use MetroCards, from one day to 30 days. With the use of a simple tracking system, passengers can buy their passes at anytime instead of lining up at a ticketing machine or vendor days before the new month and hoping the monthly pass is still in stock.
Muni does have something like a 31-day pass where it's valid for first use at anytime, it's known as the Muni passport. Many visitors purchase the one, three, or seven day pass and is activated when the user scratches off the month and date of first use. If I understand correctly, Muni may also consider converting the paper passports to Clipper cards (or possibly Limited Use Tickets).

Here's my suggestions and ideas for Muni to convert from a monthly pass system to 31-day:
  • 31-day passes can be purchased at anytime. This reduces the demand on in-person vendors by not having a swarm a week before the new pass is due (monthly system). It would also benefit the automated machines by allowing passengers to purchase the passes at anytime.
  • It's perfect when you have friends or guests in the city that's staying for a long period, and especially when they visit mid-month.
  • Allow Clipper card users to hold more than one 31-day pass at a time. This gives coverage after the initial 31-day pass expires. This may be a requirement as commuter benefit programs that automatically load Clipper passes only disburse them on a monthly basis.
  • There would be no 3-day grace period, otherwise it would be called a 34-day pass.
  • The pass prices would remain the same. No more complaining that February has only 28 (less days of unlimited rides) days while October has 31 days.
  • A 31-day pass would be beneficial to college students because the first day of classes for Fall and Spring doesn't start until mid or late of the respective month. They don't need a January pass they won't use for about the first 20 days.
  • If a passenger has a damaged, lost, or stolen Clipper card, the 31-day pass can be freezed until the new card arrives and the remaining days will be reactivated when tagged on a Muni reader. Some have complained that a lost, damaged, or stolen card can take longer than promised, thereby their monthly pass can't be carried over the extra days it took to issue a new card.
I also think Clipper machines at Muni metro stations should also sell day passes and multi-day passes. Visitors and locals alike not needing a full 31-day pass can get something smaller and fits their budget. Not a lot of vendors around the city sells the paper scratch-off passports, so adding more places to buy would help.

Lastly, an alternative to the 31-day passes would be the pass accumulator program. It's basically a policy where if you use so much e-cash in a day, multiple days (e.g. one week), or month, the rest of the rides on the transit agency would be free; it's simplified because there is no need to purchase monthly or 31-day passes. Explanation of the pass accumulator program here.

What's your thoughts on my proposal on the 31-day, day, and weekly passes? How about the pass accumulator program? Leave it in the comments.


Anonymous said...

I'd push for the pass accumulator instead of a 31-day pass. It's less work for the rider and it guarantees they don't pay for rides they don't take.

it's also less work for the transit system once the software's in place.

Anonymous said...

Agree with previous commenter about the pass accumulator saving riders from paying for rides they don't take.

A pass accumulator or 31-day pass whose clock starts ticking only on first use would also save the MTA itself a little bit. When I first got my Clipper card I pre-paid for a Fast Pass on the assumption MTA would mail the card in time to use the pass. MTA took two extra weeks to ship the card, so I forced the MTA to compensate me. If either of your suggested alternatives had been available, MTA wouldn't have had to pay extra. I'm sure I'm not the only one whom MTA has had to compensate, either.

Anonymous said...

A pass accumulator will never happen. It completely breaks the MTA's business model of people under- or over-estimating their transit usage (either failing to buy a pass and overpaying in single fares, or buying a pass and under-utilizing it).