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Metro Transit Usability Design of Fare Structure, Minneapolis - Saint Paul, Minnesota MN, Fare Structure: Barrier To Use?

We all know the Metro Transit of Minneapolis and St. Paul is designed to FAIL, not succeed. Known as "product sabotage" in economics and marketing, the idea is to make the transit system uncomfortable and unusable so we use a more expensive product; we all jump into our $20,000-$30,000 cars on multi-billion dollar freeways because Metro Transit stinks so bad. This is real "social engineering" going on, not the fantasy you hear from the right wing privatizers in billboard campaigns against transit. Part of the degradation of transit ridership is the fare structure, how does this drop ridership? An answer to this question lies in transit usability design and testing.

Reviewing The Metro Transit System Usability Testing Field

In a past article introducing transit usability testing I listed a few basic points:
-The people should be able to find routes to destinations.
-The people should be able to find a destination when using the transit mode.
-The people should not be stressed or uncomfortable which brings to mind some standards like a "Geneva convention of transit use", no torture, cruel and unusual punishment, basic rights of people using the system, etc.
-The people should be able to switch from one mode of transit, say "car", to another mode "bus" easily and with convenience, or "bus" to "train", or "bicycle trail" to "bus."
-The people should be able to easily enter and egress the transit mode.
-The people should be able to pay a fare conveniently and across the system with the same method and fare structure.
-The people should be able to have commute times that are close or better than auto only commute times.
-The people should be able to safely use and interact with the transit mode.

Metro Transit User Interface Testing Scenario: Fare structure

Lets do one test scenario where a thought construct is good enough, the criteria to test is from above:
-The people should be able to pay a fare conveniently and across the system with the same method and fare structure.
A fare difference of about 100% for an "express" vs "local" off peak ride is a barrier to use. Successful transit systems, like New York City do not charge a different fee for express subway vs local service. Local service should cost the same as express, local service is more stressful, slower, more wear on the buses, riders and drivers than express service, why charge more for the express service? There is currently no charge difference between local service and LRT or bus "limited stop" services, why is the express service fare gouging about a 100% overage?

Product sabotage is the effect if not the intent of Metro Transit fare structure; by not following the fare structure of a successful system such as New York, by making the price of a round trip Metro Transit express ride more than the federal minimum wage for an hour of work and by making the fare higher than the price of parking downtown Metro Transit has made an effective usage barrier for express service. By observation I have seen people riding the local or limited stop service to express destinations because the fare is $1.50 less round trip. How many people drive instead? An interesting study that Metro Transit probably knows but I do not know where it is published.

This brings up other types of fare structures and the effects as barriers to transit usability, such as "rush hour" fares costing more than "off peak" fares as well as special "zone" fares. As a user, a principle is simplicity: -The people should be able to pay a fare conveniently and across the system with the same method and fare structure. Zones, time changes, hinky fare structures depending on mode violate this principle.

Arbitrary time changes are confusing; by definition "rush hour" fares are higher to discourage transit during normal transportation times and therefore antithetical to usability, which by principle is to make the system usable for the public, not to discourage use when the public needs it. I do not want to go to work before 6AM or after 9AM, I cannot leave my kids unattended before school to fit the transit system, I must to go at the regular time, between 6-9AM. Again, as in the above analysis of express vs regular fare problem, successful transit systems do not have a difference between "rush hour" and "off peak" fares, for example, San Francisco's Muni and Chicago's CTA has a single fare for buses, trains and street cars that does not change at arbitrary times of day.

The multiple fares for classes of people, different times fares are in effect and different service level fares also creates a safety problem. Metro Transit relies on bus drivers to enforce fare compliance and answer endless questions about how much is is to get on the damn bus. While people stand around in a line to board, some poor old confused thing is told to add fifty cents as the time has changed, or that the express fare is whatever more. Then when the bus is driven, people interrupt the driver to add fares to the box or ask more questions while hurtling through rush hour traffic. A simple fare structure cuts driver distraction and makes a safer system. Instead, a usability principle is violated:
-The people should be able to safely use and interact with the transit mode.
The use of drivers as fare enforcers has caused drivers and passengers to get injured and even killed. Crashes, system slowdowns, and the resulting degradation of service drives people away from the transit system all as a result of bad fare structure.

Another fare structure example is given in a previous article: Transportation usability testing, a new field. The pre-paid magnetic strip transit fare cards do not work on the LRT, this looks like a planned usability barrier to keep people from using LRT, or at best, a callous disregard for the regular transit user trying to get the teeny discount given by buying a multifare card. Again Metro Transit violates a basic usability principle:
-The people should be able to pay a fare conveniently and across the system with the same method and fare structure.

Zones are confusing and most zone fares have been dropped by Metro Transit which used to have many layers of zones where the rider paid when they got off as well as when they got on! Confusing for the public when demands for 75 cents by drivers to leave the bus were met with a blank look or plain scofflawing. Drivers should be driving, not enforcing a complex and goofy fare structure. The current "Downtown Zone" fares I did not even know about until recently, though I have been a regular transit user for years I have never used it and the instructions to use the current zone fares are too difficult to explain in this short article.

Simplicity and safety are both factors in a usable fare structure and Metro Transit seems to need some work in both areas. A simple fare structure is easier to use and distracts the drivers of the transit mode less, less driver distraction is safer for the public.

Missed Opportunity! Let's Make The Fare Fair For All.

Here is an obvious opportunity for the anti-transit advocate to further depress ridership for Metro Transit: raise the fare of the LRT and limited stop service buses relative to local service! By applying the logic of the express service fare to the rest of the fare structure more people will back off the "higher class" services justifying more cutbacks. Finally, a "tool" to depress LRT ridership, why should people enjoy the relative comfort and speed of limited stop service by rail or bus without paying more! Of course, for those of us that do want improved service and wider use of transit the large fare difference between "express" and "local" is an obvious barrier to use. The time difference between local, limited stop and express service is a scant handful of minutes, the comfort difference is basically non-noticeable except for the train (more comfortable) vs bus (less comfortable) difference. As the fairness fanatics say, "It is only fair to charge for any difference in any service. Somebody might get some infinitesimal benefit more than another and that would not be fair."

"Fairness" Is A Bogus Basis For Fare Structure.

The above example illustrates the barrier to usability that is the widely held concept of "fairness" in fare structure. There seems to be an assumption taken by some analysts of fare structure that costs must be "fair" and that some person who has been on the bus one more mile or one more city block than another person should pay proportionately more. The complexity of creating fare structures tied to routes, distances, zones, relative speed or other factors for a ride on public transit is a worthless enterprise and usually ends up with a fare structure that is a barrier to usability by its complexity and unwieldiness.

The "fairness doctrine" is a ruse to create unusable transit and is nothing but an argument to appeal to a base emotion. Who is not for being "fair"? Certainly not me. I am also for children, moms and apple pie. If the "fairness doctrine" were applied across the board in transit semi-truck owners would pay huge costs as they cause the majority of damage to the road system. Though trucks are relatively few in number compared to all vehicles, they now pay minuscule fees or taxes in proportion to the cost of repairing the highway and road system that they pound into rubble. Oh my, this is not "fair" but no one proposes that the truck operators pay for most of the highways that they destroy. So why do people think that the passenger that rides an extra mile on a bus is getting away with all the gold in Fort Knox? In many cases the discomfort and trouble of using transit in this country should diminish the cost to a passenger that is inflicted with it more time than another passenger. They should pay us to ride longer distances to put up with the current system, that would be more "fair". Those guys that hop on for four blocks and jump off have it easy, they don't have to suffer hardly at all, while a person doing a stretch of 6 miles of local service should be paid a dollar per mile to endure the uncomfortable ride. Usability testing should change the point of view of what is really "fair" in public transit.

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