Monday, October 22, 2012

10 Minute Fare

I rode the Eugene, Oregon BRT ('Emerald Express', or EmX) last week from end to end. Very quick journey, not more than 18 minutes for the whole trip. Strangely enough, this was almost exactly the amount allotted my by my fare card. I found the idea of a 'timed' ticket rather relevatory, for it provides a solution to several issues UTA is having.

1) The 'Free Fare Zone' in downtown SLC. UTA promised it to the downtown merchants about a decade ago, and is not pleased with it. Ideally, any trip that begins and ends in downtown is free. Normally, patrons pay when boarding the bus. In the Free Fare Zone, this is not so, and passengers who leave the Free Fare Zone are supposed to pay without exiting. This aids and abets fare-beating, as passengers will board in the free zone, and disembark without paying, with not a thing the driver can do about it. Thus, UTA would very much like to do away with it, but downtown is very interested in keeping it for the convention crowd and the office worker lunch rush. Nobody wants to buy a $2.50 ticket to ride the train a couple of blocks, or even to ride the train a mile.

Currently, a one way TRAX tickets have a 2.5 hour limit, which is long enough to get from one end of the system to the other, such as from Central Station to Sandy. It's also long enough to make a short trip, run an errand, and get back, (although that can be a chancy thing).  So what about a 'Dollar Ticket'? Purchasable only from select downtown locations, and only good for 1 hour, and only sold at downtown stations? 

Some transit systems have a 'zone system', where you pay a different price depending on the number of zones you travel in. Within Zone1 might be one price, Zone1 to Zone2 a different price, and Zone1 to Zone 4 a different and much higher price. It forms a matrix of zone-pairs, and if you're not familar with it, trying to figure out which ticket to buy can be confusing.

But the dollar ticket is easy: Cost $1, gets you 10 minutes of travel-distance. More than enough to get around downtown. Buy a second one to return. Or you could include a 'right of return' option on it, so you can travel to any point within 10 minutes distance of the original station. Long enough to get lunch for the business crowd, and suitable for the convention crowd. It could even last all day. With the right of return, it's perilously near a zone system, but the time budget+origin station provides a bit more flexibility.