Stored-value farecards: coming to a wallet near you!

July 18th, 2013

Stored-value farecards will soon be available at the Downtown transit store! They’ll be replacing the ten-ride zone-1-only passes that are currently for sale1 on August 1st. The stored-value cards will not, like in most cities with such technology, be refillable to an arbitrary value but will be available in $10, $20, and $30 values. That means if you want to buy $50 worth next time you’re in the mercantile center, you’ll need to get one $20 and one $30 card.

The cards may be a little less convenient than the ten-rides for travelers sticking exclusively to zone 1, but they could potentially make things a whole lot simpler for everyone else.

Once the stored value card gets below the value of the fare you’ll need to pay the difference with either cash or another card. The big improvement in convenience then will be for zone 2+ or express passengers who’s choice is currently between a very expensive monthly unlimited-ride pass and paying with cash each time.

As a general rule, the more the agencies can reduce cash payments, the less they have to pay someone to straighten your crumpled bills and most importantly, the quicker people can board and the vehicle can get on it’s way. That means less bunching, more on-time buses, and less wasted time that needs to be padded into schedules to account for normal delays.

The next step is for both SORTA and TANK to introduce durable, arbitrary-value cards that can be refilled online or linked to a bank account. Such cards are fitted with a chip that can be tapped against the till as people board. That kind of card saves time over the thin disposable cards SORTA and TANK currently use which need to be completely inserted, read, possibly printed on, and returned. Tap-able cards will go even further toward reducing transaction costs, saving everyone a lot of time, and making services faster and more convenient.

WMATA SmarTrip card

WMATA SmarTrip card…hopefully we can do a better job designing a Cincinnati farecard ;-)

A quick calculation tells me that with about  23,000,000 transit trips in the metro area last year, shaving one second off each boarding time would save 6,389 vehicle hours a year, or 17 hours each day. If we value driver time at $20/hour that’s $128,000 a year. If we value passenger’s time fairly, I suspect we’d easily justify any capital costs in the first year alone assuming most regular riders made the switch. 6,389 hours by the way is 0.62% of total annual service hours2 meaning that the savings from losing a single second off each boarding could lead to an increase in total service the agencies would be able to provide of more than half a percent; that’s not insignificant.

Stored value farecards: This is a good first step. Let’s have more of this kind of improvement please!

Show 2 footnotes

  1. ..and which will continue to be accepted through December
  2. As reported to the NTD for 2011

One response to “Stored-value farecards: coming to a wallet near you!”

  1. Nate Wessel says:

    Also, a refillable card would tend to stick to a person, being used for a long time before being lost, discarded or replaced. The possibilities for collecting data on travel habits over a long period of time are extremely interesting, both to me as a nerd and I’m sure to transit planners working to optimize services.