Transparency Means Show Your Work (fare change proposal, part 2)

In a previous post, I asked questions about the proposed changes to the fare.  The Capital Metro communications and public involvement team at Capital Metro forwarded them to the people doing the original analysis, and I got some responses:

 1. What, if any, are the projected changes in costs associated with each of the proposals?

There are always costs associated with a fare increase, in particular with reprogramming fareboxes and ticket vending machines to reflect changes to the fares and adding new passes.  In addition, there are production costs for printing new fare media, and costs for distributing the new fare media to the retail outlets.  There are also costs for new overlays to the Operator Control Units (OCU) and informational labels on the fareboxes and the labor associated with placing them on the equipment, including the ticket vending machines.  Could be as much as approximately $10,000.

2. If there are no projected changes in cost, by what analysis do you consider it worthwhile to eliminate 117,000 MetroAccess rides to gain a negligible  $9,000?  If there are projected changes in cost, how do you expect the public to judge this proposal without providing the data?

$2.6 million per year savings in reduced operating costs due to reduced demand. Revenue is the not the main goal of this proposal, it is equity and demand control.

3. Is the additional revenue and lost ridership for changing premium service to $1.50 measured against the current baseline or the baseline of a change to $1.25?

Measured against current $1.00

4. What would the revenue and ridership numbers be different if you had adjusted the MetroBus fares to $1.10 or $1.50?  Presenting only the selected numbers gives us little room to judge the proposal by.

The numbers would be different if we had raised the fares more or less.

5. How will day passes work when transferring between premium and base service?

Currently, whether your swiping a Local Day, 7-Day or 31-Day on an express bus, the farebox will prompt you for an upcharge (per ride) of $1.35 (full fare) or $0.65 (reduced fare).  Being that a Premium fare has yet to be determined, the upcharge has yet to be determined, as well.

However, the logistics would be…customer with a local pass boarding a premium bus, the upcharge would be less than the upcharge for boarding an express bus with the local pass.   And if a customer with a premium pass boarding an express bus, the upcharge would also be less than boarding with a local pass.  On the other hand, if boarding a local bus with a premium pass, there would be no upcharge.

As always, a Regional pass is valid on all bus and rail services.

6. Will different fares between MetroBus and MetroRapid cause difficulty in advanced payment facilities, such as the promised smartphone app to prepay MetroRapid?  If passengers opt to pay cash, will this slow MetroRapid down?

Smartphone apps handle multiple fares quite easily.

Cash fares will continue to be accepted on all MetroRapid buses, however; although customers can board and alight from the rear doors on all MetroRapid buses, customers paying cash fares will still require boarding through the front door where the farebox is located.  Rear door validators will not accept cash.

7. You dismiss collecting payment for parking as too difficult logistically, yet 100s of private operators consistently collect parking payments for much smaller lots than Capital Metro operates.  If you don’t believe Capital Metro is capable of operating as well as them, did you consider outsourcing the job to one of them?

 Yes, you could outsource. Cap Metro likely would spend more collecting the parking fees than they would earn, even with an outside operator.

I found these answers… rather lacking.  The point of asking for answers in the first place was that I wanted the people who did the analysis to show their work, to explain how they chose $1.25 and not $1.50 for local bus service, how they chose $1.50 and not $1.25 for premium bus service, how they chose free parking and not paid parking.  None of the reasons behind these decisions can be gleaned from their answers, with the exception of question 2.

Regarding Question 1, I would like to know changes in operating costs, not the capital cost of the switchover.

Regarding Question 3, they fail to answer the obvious follow-up: why $1.50?  How would the calculations have been different if they had selected a different fare?

The answer to question 4 is frankly insulting.

They didn’t seem to understand question 5 (I was asking about those who hold a day pass, not those who hold other passes and are purchasing a day pass).

And the answer to question 7 seems to read that they did not do any analysis regarding the ability to collect parking fees, nor do they plan to do any.

I wrote the Cap Metro communications team back asking for follow-up, and I have received this back so far and a promise for more:

4. What would the revenue and ridership numbers be different if you had adjusted the MetroBus fares to $1.10 or $1.50?  Presenting only the selected numbers gives us little room to judge the proposal by.

I don’t think that looking at $1.10 or $1.50 in detail (estimating ridership and revenue) is really necessary at this point. Raising fares by only a dime is not worth the implementation effort and is rarely done anymore in the industry, particularly with such a low base fare. Raising the fares by more that 25% in one stroke is also uncommon because of the challenges and the potential burden on low income riders. I recommended the 25% base fare increase as being large enough to positively effect fare recovery without being so large as to be burdensome.

This answer is improved.  Although it doesn’t have the numbers comparison I was expecting for choosing $1.25 over $1.10 or $1.50, it does give the rationale: both other fares were eliminated by constraints, leaving $1.25 as the only plausible increased bus fare.   I await the rest of the replies to find out whether we get a rationale for the premium bus fare and evidence that paid parking is implausible.

I have been pushing for these answers not because I think the fare changes are egregious.  Neither is it because I believe Capital Metro is hiding a super secret analysis that has been done.  Rather, it is because I believe that transparency means “show your work.”  I would frankly be relieved to find out that there was an analysis that we haven’t been shown yet.  My fear, rather, is that the public, Capital Metro staff, and the Capital Metro Board will all be left with a take-it-or-leave-it proposal that explains the effects of adopting the recommended fare changes, but offers no analysis on any alternative such that anybody could be informed about other options for the choices they’re making.  I have trust that the people who prepared the fare change report are transit professionals. However: 1) the Board is the appointed decisionmaker, not the consultant, and therefore the Board should be well-informed about possibilities for their decision; 2) no decision is better made by one person or group without showing their work.

I look forward to further responses to my questions.  I will be attending the Capital Metro Customer Satisfaction Advisory Committee (CSAC) on Wednesday 8/14 to discuss these emails.  My current suggestion to improve this transparency is to add contract language to all committee reports asking not only for recommendations, but also all information and reasoning necessary to arrive at those recommendations.

Transparency Means Show Your Work (fare change proposal, part 2)

4 thoughts on “Transparency Means Show Your Work (fare change proposal, part 2)

  1. Novacek says:

    >>yet 100s of private operators consistently collect parking payments for much smaller lots than Capital Metro operates.

    In Leander? Or in North Austin?

    _Nobody_ charges for parking the suburbs. Even the “densest” parts of suburbia (Domain, the Triangle, etc.) don’t charge. The market rate is effectively $0, as there’s so much over-supply (rather than paying anything, people will go to a business’s lot across the road, or park along an adjacent side street). So now you’re paying someone (plus benefits) to watch over an empty lot. It’s a money-losing proposal and a red herring.


    1. In downtown, most daytime lot operators use some form of pay-and-prove, whether stuffing money in collection bin or a machine similar to a parking meter with a receipt left on the dash. No need to have an employee there all day, just use occasional fare collectors.

      But if it’s true that nobody’s willing to pay for parking, why are we even providing it? Why not sell the land?


      1. Novacek says:

        Being unwilling to pay for parking =/= still willing to patronize your business if you don’t provide free parking. Americans expect free parking. Whether they should, and what that means for continued sprawl are separate questions, but right now they view it as their “right”. CapMetro isn’t in a position to change that all by its lonesome.

        If charging for parking in suburbia was so easy, or providing free parking wasn’t a market necessity, why does everyone else do so? Why doesn’t every Wal-mart, home depot, and corner drug-store charge for parking? Or just not even provide any (in unincorporated areas with no parking minimums)?

        Charging for parking only works if it is truly a scarce resource (downtown) or is otherwise monopolized (airport, circuit of the americas, etc.). Even downtown, a bunch of places don’t _really_ charge, they validate.

        Why in the world would you attempt to create a separate revenue stream, with all it’s associated overhead, from customers you already know are already buying tickets. If you want extra revenue from those customers, just raise the ticket prices at those stations (CapMetro’s attempt to get rid of zones and charge the same price across all 32 miles of the line is a separate idiocy).

        And there would indeed be overhead of trying to implement this. Even with pay and prove, someone needs to check cars. Someone needs to clean out the bin, on a prety regular basis. Bins downtown have a lot of pedestrian traffic, and anyone attempting to break one open would be noticed pretty quickly. That’s not the case in the suburbs.


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