Why vary fares by time of travel?

Why would you choose to vary fares by service type? Why not?

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  • Keeping the fares consistent all day will not create inequalities and at the same time encourages more transit improvements and ridership. In addition, consistent all day and night fares would be more predictable.

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  • As Translink showed in the Phase One report, the current peak demand means they have to focus on having enough capacity to service that peak demand, even if that capacity or vehicles may be little used, if at all, the rest of the day. Previous Translink off-peak discounts as well as evidence from other metro systems shows that having two separate prices (peak and off-peak) allows for a much more well-balanced ridership, allowing better efficiency due to similar capacity-utilization throughout the day.

     

    While I do believe there should be the different peak (~6a-9a and 3p-6p, I believe, according to Translink) and off-peak fares (all other times of day), I would want to keep the fare differences as low as possible while achieving the desired results. The differential amount could be determined with further study of other metro systems and possibly trials with small groups of Compass users, looking at the where the optimum differential is to balance ridership while bringing in enough fare revenue and supporting increased ridership.

     

    Hourly pricing seems to try to achieve the same results as off-peak discount, while just making everything more complex, hence a subpar solution.

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  • I agree keep all the fares flat rate.  I do hope Translink implement that.

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  • Most people who are most inflexible with their times of using transit (people commuting to their jobs) are monthly passholders, who wouldn't be subject to pricing by time of day. For other users, I fully support aggressive pricing by time to reduce congestion and spread volume out over the day. Some people will be able to adjust their errands and habits.

    Also, traffic patterns are likely different on different routes. We should consider applying different charges to different routes at different times.

    Finally, on my principal bus line, there is a tonne of difference between catching a bus at 7:05 am and 7:45 am. Congestion pricing should reflect this, since people are most able to make small adjustments.

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  • Matthew Cowper

    For other users, I fully support aggressive pricing by time to reduce congestion and spread volume out over the day. Some people will be able to adjust their errands and habits.

    I support a differential between peak and off-peak pricing to level ridership, but I think that should be kept to the minimum difference while still achieving the goal of making the system more efficient with more level ridership all day. Anything beyond that seems punitive and I would oppose.

    Also, traffic patterns are likely different on different routes. We should consider applying different charges to different routes at different times.

    You are correct that traffic and ridership vary for different routes, however, implementing a fare system around that would make it extremely complex for most people to understand, unless they only took a specific route at a specific time  constantly. When something like fare systems get too complex, people either don't bother trying to figure it out and just go, or take a different means of transportation. In either case this fails to encourage ridership while making the system more efficient. Looked at as a single route, it is not terribly complex, but when I have to transfer a few times, or take different routes fairly frequently, it quickly becomes very complex and difficult to remember and keep track of.

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  • Joel Gibbs 

    The main problem with the existing discount fare structure is that relatively few people can structure their business and travel to take advantage of the lower fares because there is only one step, once a day on weekdays. Many people can shift their schedules 15 or 30 minutes, but fewer can shift them hours. So, I think you want a lot more specificity, even if fewer are aware of the shifts.

    Even relatively small discounts may have a significant effect since they will also signal riders how crowded the bus or train is likely to be. There is no need to be punitive for riders at peak times - small incentives could have significant effects if you allow people to shift their behaviour in small, manageable ways. The effect could be maximised if there were an app available so that riders could determine what the discount would be at different times. That kind of easily-available information would allow for off-peak discounts to vary for different routes.

    Although a discount functions similarly to a surcharge, I think you'd want to provide a top-line price, and then provide discounts to stored-value Compass users for using off-peak times. Riders would have clarity on the maximum a trip will cost, even if they wouldn't easily be able to calculate exactly what a given trip would cost when taking into account any off-peak discounts. The app could provide a monthly summary of money saved which might be a better incentive than  just seeing a small discount on a single ride.

    It is worth considering whether Translink could also provide a small rebate to monthly passholders who use off-peak hours fairly often - maybe up to 10% of the monthly cost. That would vastly expand the number of riders who would have some small incentive to shift their travel habits and make the system as a whole more efficient.

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  • Matthew Cowper 

    The main problem with the existing discount fare structure is that relatively few people can structure their business and travel to take advantage of the lower fares because there is only one step, once a day on weekdays.

    I agree. I think the mid-day off-peak needs to be added, so that you have peak periods of roughly 6a-9a and 3p-6p, with the rest of the day being off-peak discount.

    Many people can shift their schedules 15 or 30 minutes, but fewer can shift them hours. So, I think you want a lot more specificity, even if fewer are aware of the shifts.

    The whole point of having differential pricing between peak and off-peak is to shift customer behaviour and make the ridership more consistent, thereby making transit more efficient. If people are less aware of the pricing difference and when it occurs, they will be less likely to change their trip times, which would defeat the purpose of having the peak and off-peak difference in the first place.

    Although a discount functions similarly to a surcharge, I think you'd want to provide a top-line price, and then provide discounts to stored-value Compass users for using off-peak times.

    That's a fair point. A top-line price with a discount would be better received as well I would think.

    Riders would have clarity on the maximum a trip will cost, even if they wouldn't easily be able to calculate exactly what a given trip would cost when taking into account any off-peak discounts. The app could provide a monthly summary of money saved which might be a better incentive than  just seeing a small discount on a single ride.

    Just to re-iterate again. The main reason for different pricing at various times is to have a system that can easily be understood that encourage people, that are able, to take transit when it is less busy instead of during peak times. When pricing starts varying based on route, direction, or a high number of changes during the day, clarity and effectiveness is lost and while a few people may make use of the app, it likely won't be enough to shift ridership to the point of being well-balanced throughout the day.

    It is worth considering whether Translink could also provide a small rebate to monthly passholders who use off-peak hours fairly often - maybe up to 10% of the monthly cost. That would vastly expand the number of riders who would have some small incentive to shift their travel habits and make the system as a whole more efficient.

    The off-peak pass is definitely something that should be considered. I don't have a strong opinion either way on it, but it's something that should probably be looked at.

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  • Joel Gibbs 

    The whole point of having differential pricing between peak and off-peak is to shift customer behaviour and make the ridership more consistent, thereby making transit more efficient. If people are less aware of the pricing difference and when it occurs, they will be less likely to change their trip times, which would defeat the purpose of having the peak and off-peak difference in the first place.

    Specific or precise knowledge is not necessary to shift behaviour. Riders now know that there is no discount to catching an early bus at 7:00 rather than one at 8:00. In a more specified system, riders will not necessarily know the exact times that the changes occur at or the exact discount, but they will know that there are discounts at less busy periods - and they already know when their routes are busiest. In addition, those who are price-sensitive are also those who are most willing to seek out the specific information about how the discount system works.

    Your example of 6-9 and 3-6 peak periods only provides three (four if you include pre-6am) points at which consumers can shift their behaviour. While this is an improvement from the current system, it still provides very few decision points for riders. By having a greater number of fare discount levels, you can increase discounts in multiple steps away from peak periods, providing many more decision points for riders. This would vastly increase the number of people who can shift their behaviour in response to the price signals.

    One other note: price signals don't merely affect ridership behaviour simply because of rational economic calculations. Some people put a high value on saving money, even in small amounts. Others will understand that the discount levels indicate socially desirable behaviour, and respond in a co-operative manner. This last factor could best be maximized with a modest PR campaign, something along the lines of "help the city and others, save a little money, be more comfortable on your trip - ride off-peak."

    The off-peak pass is definitely something that should be considered.

    A pass that would only work at off-peak times strikes me as a non-starter since almost all pass-holders will need to travel at peak times at least occasionally, but a small rebate to pass-holders who largely travel at off-peak times would be both equitable and massively increase the number of people who have some degree of price signal.

     

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  • Matthew Cowper 

    Specific or precise knowledge is not necessary to shift behaviour. Riders now know that there is no discount to catching an early bus at 7:00 rather than one at 8:00. In a more specified system, riders will not necessarily know the exact times that the changes occur at or the exact discount, but they will know that there are discounts at less busy periods - and they already know when their routes are busiest. In addition, those who are price-sensitive are also those who are most willing to seek out the specific information about how the discount system works.

    Your example of 6-9 and 3-6 peak periods only provides three (four if you include pre-6am) points at which consumers can shift their behaviour. While this is an improvement from the current system, it still provides very few decision points for riders. By having a greater number of fare discount levels, you can increase discounts in multiple steps away from peak periods, providing many more decision points for riders. This would vastly increase the number of people who can shift their behaviour in response to the price signals.

    I see a few potential issues with fares changing every hour or less. First, there is currently a 90 minute transfer window, and decent support that it may possibly be extended to 2 hours. With those transfer windows, someone starting their trip at 7 as opposed to 8 could still be riding until 8:30 or 9 as opposed to 9:30 or 10. That assumes that the fare doesn't change if they transfer to a different bus at 8. This creates the problem of potentially having a large number of riders during the highest peak that still pay a discounted fare.

    If there would be different pricing when a transfer occurs, then it would be impossible to predetermine the amount that the fare would be, especially since traffic, accidents, etc could alter the timing to throw off when the transfer was made. This is especially an issue for people that are using a disposable compass ticket or magnetic ticket from a bus as they would not be able to ascertain the amount needed to be paid for the ticket. Or would you say that people using single-use fares only pay the top-line rate, giving them a precise fare, but then they would not be subject to the price signals?

    Additionally, roughly 60% of trips are currently made with a pass. Assuming that passes or fare-capping remain, 60% of trips are already not applicable to to such frequent fare changes throughout the day, or very minimally affected in certain fare-capping scenarios.

    One other note: price signals don't merely affect ridership behaviour simply because of rational economic calculations. Some people put a high value on saving money, even in small amounts. Others will understand that the discount levels indicate socially desirable behaviour, and respond in a co-operative manner. This last factor could best be maximized with a modest PR campaign, something along the lines of "help the city and others, save a little money, be more comfortable on your trip - ride off-peak."

    You are correct, but it must be remembered that only a minority of people using transit would be subject to price signals, as pointed out above, and those people usually use transit less frequently. This leads back to what I said before, in that people that then use transit less frequently are usually less likely to be quite as informed about such price signals. Some people will be and will plan accordingly, but those will be a minority of the already minority.

     

    To attempt to summarize my thoughts above:

    1. Too short of windows between changes in fare pricing cause issues with transfer windows and single-use tickets. Larger windows minimize this.

    2. Most people aren't affected by fare pricing changes throughout the day, so the system needs to be specifically targeted at those that may change their riding pattern.

    3. Keeping a smaller number of fare differences throughout the day makes it simpler to understand, and more likely that those that would be affected by them would change behaviour. More complexity leads to lack of knowledge and caring by more people that would be affected.

    A pass that would only work at off-peak times strikes me as a non-starter since almost all pass-holders will need to travel at peak times at least occasionally, but a small rebate to pass-holders who largely travel at off-peak times would be both equitable and massively increase the number of people who have some degree of price signal.

    Sorry for the confusion. When I though of an "off-peak pass", I assumed it would be similar to the current 1-zone pass in the sense that if you needed to travel during peak times, you would just pay the difference between off-peak and peak rates (compared to paying the difference if you cross a zone boundary). I agree that an off-peak pass that wouldn't work during peak times would not be a good idea.

    Such a rebate as you mention could be problematic in how you determine it as the different methods (proportion, volume, etc) all favour certain types of riders over other.

    I personally like the idea of fare-capping best instead of passes. Besides caps for max daily, weekly, and monthly rates, I guess there could be an off-peak cap (ie if you hit $35 in a week for off-peak travel, you would then have unlimited off-peak, but would keep paying until you hit the total weekly cap, say $40 - which would include all fares paid - after which you would have unlimited travel anytime). This is just an idea with random numbers, and the same could be done for daily and monthly capping as well. If someone doesn't travel much during peak times with a fare-capping system, they would only have to pay the off-peak cap plus the nominal amount for the few times that they rode during peak times. The difference can always be adjusted to encourage optimal ridership patterns.

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