28 Mar Pilot Project Could Make Most Transfers Across Transit Agencies Free or Heavily Discounted
A blue-line Valley Transit Authority light rail passes by the federal courthouse in San Jose on Oct. 6, 2021. (Harika Maddala / Bay City News)
By Eli Walsh
Bay City News
Most transfers across multiple transit agencies would be heavily discounted or even free under a new pilot project Bay Area public transit officials are currently considering.
The “free transfer” project would allow riders who transfer between two or more transit agencies to only pay the full fare for the first transit agency they use.
If the project is ultimately approved by regional transit officials, transfers from BART to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, for example, would be discounted up to $2.50, as long as the transfer is made within two hours of paying a BART fare.
According to BART financial planning director Michael Eiseman, regional transit officials hope to have the pilot project launch in tandem with the next-generation Clipper system in summer 2024, with the intention of eventually making free and reduced transfers a permanent policy across the Bay Area.
“The proposed policy is, in principle, that the act of transferring between agencies should not increase the overall fare paid,” Eiseman said Monday at a committee meeting for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “Customers can use all of (the Bay Area’s) services as one system.”
The pilot project would last at least 18 months and make use of some $22 million that the MTC has set aside for efforts to streamline usage of the Bay Area’s myriad transit agencies. The MTC would allocate funding up-front to participating transit agencies to offset the loss in fare revenue.
The pilot could also be extended up to two years if there is funding left over or if new funds become available, according to William Bacon, MTC’s principal of transit programs.
“We’ll be closely monitoring how the pilot is working in terms of growing ridership being our overall most important goal,” Bacon said. “And then secondarily to that, encouraging users to transfer between agencies and making more trips on transit than they might be making under the status quo.”
Making transfers across transit agencies free or reduced cost is part of a larger plan developed in 2020 by the MTC’s Blue Ribbon Transit Recovery Task Force that is intended to unify the wayfinding, mapping and fare systems across the Bay Area’s public transit agencies.
The MTC is already seeking prototypes for new transit maps and signage that would include integrated schedule information for multiple transit agencies.
A two-year pilot program is also ongoing for a single transit pass that is compatible with every public transit agency in the region.
The MTC must still approve a memorandum of understanding for the free and reduced fare project for it to be formally implemented. Individual transit agencies must also approve the memorandum, according to the MTC.
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