Things are bad in California. In the Bay Area, every major transit provider has recently raised fares, cut service, or is about to (or all three), and Caltrain’s budget crisis is so bad they nearly cut service by 50%.
It seems to me there’s some should-be-low-hanging fruit in terms of where to cut costs and save money without negatively impacting service (in some cases, it could lead to better service). Here goes, and I hope all the decision makers are reading my authoritative screed:
- Speed Clipper adoption with discounts and easier purchasing. Clipper has finally been adopted by every major agency (many years after other leading cities deployed similar systems). It’s still far from perfect, but like FasTrak, the next step is to create enough user pressure to drive the last round of improvements. To that end, there’s many things SFMTA could do to speed Clipper adoption:
- Make each BART or bus trip 20 or 25 cents cheaper if Clipper is used. Washington DC’s Metro already does this with the SmarTrip card. London does it with a vengeance: the price of a tube ride (subway) with the Oyster card is about £2, but if paid any other way it’s £4. (That is, you are penalized for not using Oyster, rather than rewarded for using it.)
- Set up a Clipper sales booth or machine at SFO, SJC and OAK airports, the Transbay Terminal, and any other venue through which visitors might enter the Bay Area.
- Let hotels sell Clipper cards.
- (Hard) Make it possible to return your Clipper card and get the $5 deposit back (possibly along with any remaining value, less a processing fee). Buying an Oyster card in London is a no-brainer because you can always turn it in and get your cash balance plus £5 deposit back.
- Get rid of paper tickets. There’s no reason for every agency to also maintain its own system for processing fare media, and there are no serious privacy issues now that Clipper can be refilled using cash at any BART machine or Walgreens.
- Publish data in open formats. Gavin Newsom had this right with datasf.org. With open information about transit schedules, delays, planned construction, service disruptions, etc., individual developers would create their own apps and mashups and distribute them free or cheap, probably to the chagrin of contractors used to growing fat on software contracts for things like the “BART mobile app”.
- Get rid of the 511.org trip planner, and use Google Maps or mashups. Google Maps for Public Transit works just as well, and with open data, I bet we’d soon see a mashup of trip planning with service disruption info and suggested alternate itineraries. In fact, between Google Maps, NextBus-with-GPS, and various kinds of traffic and transit alerts delivered by SMS, I can’t remember the last time I visited 511.org for anything.
- Get rid of agency-specific service alerts, and use Twitter to crowdsource delay information. Caltrain and Muni riders have already done this on their own. Twitter has a deployed infrastructure for rapid notification, and one can imagine mashed-up channels catering to (e.g.) riders who take both BART and Caltrain and want to know if they’re at risk of missing a connection at Millbrae.