RailPAC Board members Doug Kerr and Steve Roberts attended this event, and their report follows. Chad Edison and State staff have been working hard to bring together the many State rail and transit agencies to make travel easier for the passenger, a long standing RailPAC goal.
On May 1 and 2 Steve Roberts and I (Doug Kerr) attended the California Integrated Travel Conference held on the UC Davis campus. Steve and I put together this summary. The conference was put on by the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), Caltrans, and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority. The two-day conference contained a large amount of content presented by many speakers. This is just a short overall summary. The major factor driving this initiative is the need to fully utilize existing and planned transportation assets if the state is to avoid transportation gridlock. Population growth in California will continue. We cannot continue to offer the same disjointed product, continue doing the same things we’ve done for the last fifty years.
If one thinks of the service integration as a three step process – First, gateway with a single portal to link systems with information and service options, Second, specific travel/schedule choice, ticketing/payment and ticket verification, and Third, station navigation, train boarding and connections – this conference focused on the second step, specific travel/schedule choice, ticketing/payment and ticket verification.
The conference was a first step in providing a process to integrate travel across the many modes, jurisdictions, and agencies that exist in the state. The end goal is to provide methods to plan a trip using multiple modes (such as corridor trains, rail transit, bus transit, and rideshare) and provide a single method for fare payment. As was noted above the conference focused on journey planning choice, ticketing and payment. While it appears the overarching goal is to incorporate all three steps, the immediate focus is on step two because the fast evolving technology and protocols can be rolled out in the near future. These innovations will drive customer service improvements and lower ticketing transaction costs. Needless to say, full service integration would require progress on the other two steps especially schedule coordination. The terms used often at the conference were Urban Mobility and Public Mobility. Transit services are looked at as one part of mobility which also includes rideshare, bikeshare, and any other mode to get from point A to B.
While some integration exists today in the US, for example Bay Area Clipper Cards can be used on BART, Muni, SMART, Golden Gate Ferry and others, there are still many exceptions such as Capitol Corridor trains do not accept Clipper Cards. There is also some integration on travel planning provided by sites such as Google, but these often don’t include all options and pricing.
In Europe and Asia the technology and protocols are more advanced. Examples of successful travel integration were presented from London, Toronto, Hong Kong, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany. In all cases the integration produced increases in ridership and revenue justifying the time and expense of producing seamless travel. It also generated improved customer satisfaction by eliminating the frustration of searching different carrier websites and buying multiple tickets in order to complete a single journey.
Some emerging trends:
- More robust stored value cards (Clipper Card, TAP card, etc.) linked to a customer profile and database that would allow not only multi-carrier use, but calculate a through journey distance discount, discounts based on usage in lieu of 10-ride and monthly fare plans, and passenger class discounts (students, seniors, seniors, disabled, etc.) without the need to produce multiple types of cards.
- Solutions for the unbanked customers are under development. One near-term strategy pivoting around the reduction of the number types of stored value cards (i.e. student, senior, disabled, etc.) is increasing the number of distribution outlets (i.e. retail stores, 7-11’s, etc.).
- Information standards to allow easy merging of data sources i.e. carrier fares, inventory and schedules, etc. across multiple transportation operators.
- Calculation of the best fare. An underlying goal is for the customer to have confidence that the fare/ticketing system will always calculate the best fare. This does not mean that parallel transit bus, commuter rail and intercity rail have the same fares, it means the fare/ticketing system will always generate the lowest applicable fare for the journey choices of the customer.
- Contactless use of a credit card for fare payment. This is the next wave for credit purchases not only for transportation fares but for small retail purchases (i.e. Starbucks). This eliminates the stored value card for most riders. Linked with a customer profile and database all the features of an advanced stored value card fare payment are available, just tap your credit card and go.
- Mobile ticketing. Travel and schedule choice, ticketing and payment and ticket verification will be done via Smart Phone. The phone will be virtual wallet electronically scanned as the rider passes the platform entry gateway or barrier. Smart phones as virtual wallets that may soon be available for lower value purchases in retail stores.
All of these emerging trends increase customer convenience, reduce ticket transaction and settlement costs, get cash out of the system and speed the platform entry process. However, there is a need for non-carrier funding to jumpstart the process.
Some of the issues/barriers identified that hinder implementation include the following:
- Ease of use must be top priority. Often it is not. Sometimes what is done is what is most convenient for the operator. Focusing on this goal is important because the personal automobile travel often wins out because it is easier and simpler to use than figuring out public transit.
- The main impediments to integration are not technology based, but are tied to interagency agreements, governance, agency concern about loss of revenue and agency perceived threats of loss of independence.
- Public transit serves everyone, including those without smart phones, bank accounts and credit cards. Methods must still exist to accept cash payments.
- A multi-agency fare policy is critical. Fare policies, particularly involving discount amounts and requirements for various passenger classes (students, seniors, disabled, etc.) need to be “harmonized” across agencies.
- Integrated fares do not exist today. Transferring from one mode to another requires payment of separate fares and can become costly because the customer does not received the value of the distance based discount also known as a fare taper.
- The goal is to create one network consisting of multiple operators.
There were also some higher level discussions concerning the current poor utilization of urban streets, the need for right-of-way management and road pricing reflecting that road capacity is a scarce resource. Alternatives discussed were dedicated bus and bicycle lanes reducing the space allocated for personal automobiles.
Overall the conference, attended by over 100 people, was optimistic that integrated travel can happen in spite of the large amount of work to get there. CalSTA seemed willing to lead the way in the effort.