A man pays the Muni fare with a Clipper card on Thursday, April 19, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Bay Area to study integrating fares among region’s transit agencies

Improving discounts and transfers could give riders new incentives to travel by train and bus

Whether you hop a Muni bus to BART, or a ferry to an AC Transit bus, riding public transit via more than one agency can be so expensive it scares off riders. A new study aims to fix that.

Monday morning the Clipper Executive Board, a group comprised of transit leaders from across the Bay Area, approved $599,839 to study Bay Area public transit fare integration.

The idea is simple: Right now, most public transit agencies don’t regularly offer fare discounts or transfers that reflect this regional travel. Instead, each agency charges its own fare.

That can offer a perverse incentive to drive, which can be cheaper in the short-term, critics say.

But with the Bay Area’s crushing traffic congestion and climate coals in mind, transit agencies want to give people incentives to leave their cars behind and ride transit. To do so, they must integrate fares, transit officials said.

“It would certainly help longer distance riders, and that’s what a lot of folks are focused on,” Denis Mulligan, chair of the Clipper Executive Board, told the San Francisco Examiner on Monday.

The fare coordination and integration study is expected to take 12-14 months and will be paid for by “residual funds” available from Regional Measure 2, according to a Clipper Executive Board agenda document. The aims are simple: To develop “goals” for the regional fare system to increase transit ridership, identify barriers related to those fares, and developing an implementation plan for fare integration.

Mulligan is also the general manager of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, leading not only the iconic Golden Gate Bridge but North Bay commuter buses and ferries. They’re already ahead of the game, Mulligan said.

“In the North Bay we’ve standardized transfer credits among all the operators, so if you get off a Golden Gate Transit (bus or ferry) and get on a local bus, we extend that” trip, he said. They coordinate.

Transit riders across the Bay Area wrote the Clipper Board imploring them to find similar solutions to riding multiple transit modes in San Francisco, the East Bay and along the Peninsula.

In an email to the Clipper Board, Nishant Kheterpal said they commute from Berkeley to San Francisco at least once a week, riding an AC Transit 51B bus to a BART train, then transferring to Muni’s 48-Quintara/24th Street bus. The total cost of that trip is roughly $10 each way, they wrote, “which is far more than the toll required to cross the Bay Bridge driving.”

Another transit rider, Alexander Li, was perhaps more blunt in an email to the Clipper Executive Board.

“I am personally abhorred by the Bay Area’s lack of fare coordination,” Li wrote. “It costs me more to take a round-trip from Stanford to Berkeley than it does for me to take a bus home to Los Angeles.”

Various advocacy groups and nonprofits commended the study but offered advice to improve it.

In a letter to the Clipper Executive Board, SPUR Transportation Policy Director Arielle Fleisher advised conducting its own research instead of relying on research from various transit agencies, which they characterized as inadequate.

Fleisher wrote, “no study has looked at fare policy from a regional perspective. We simply do not have this information and without it, we cannot expect to understand how fares are a barrier to transit use well enough to propose adequate remedies.”

The San Francisco Transit Riders advocacy group also urged a regional customer research study. They also framed the problem in broader terms.

“We have a climate emergency, record traffic congestion, and a street safety crisis,” wrote Cat Carter, acting executive director of the transit riders group. “Public mass transit is the most efficient, equitable way to address all of these issues. We’ve seen that ridership increases when public transit is made efficient, welcoming, and easy to use.”


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