March 16, 2009
|IN DEPTH: FARE COLLECTION TECHNOLOGIES
L.A. TAP Card: A Useful Tool for Ridership Analysis
By JANE MATSUMOTO, Deputy Executive Officer, TAP Operation, and KELLY HINES, Systems Project Manager, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
The introduction of the TAP smart card at Los Angeles Metro is providing new insights into the use of prepaid fare media, such as Metro monthly and weekly passes.
In the paper, pre-TAP environment, paper passes were sold throughout Los Angeles County by retailers, including chain check cashing outlets and grocery stores. As TAP smart cards have been replacing paper products, Metro is seeing new pass utilization data that were previously unavailable.
Prior to the introduction of TAP, measurement of pass usage on bus was dependent on bus operator classification that grouped all forms of passes (monthly, weekly, employee) together as one category, “Metro passes.” This raw data relied on further refinement by the incorporation of statistical data provided by fare checkers and passenger surveys. Still, the actual utilization of prepaid passes, by type, was an estimate. Further, fluctuations, such as seasonal variations in pass utilization were less obvious.
As these paper products transitioned to TAP, Metro’s monthly and weekly pass utilization data began to be measured on a monthly and weekly basis in February 2008. Over the past year, two significant trends became evident:
Weekly pass users have a higher rate of pass utilization (i.e., taps per pass) than monthly pass users. At $17, the weekly pass is relatively more expensive than the $62 monthly pass, yet the revenue per pass boarding of the weekly pass is less than that of the monthly pass. Riders who buy weekly passes ride more than monthly pass riders; and
Seasonal fluctuations in pass utilization are readily apparent, as can be seen in the weekly taps per pass during the Thanksgiving and holiday seasons (Weeks 48, 49, 52, and 53). Not only did the number of passes purchased trend downward during these periods, but the taps per pass also declined.
Eighty percent of Metro’s patrons are bus riders; 20 percent are rail riders. With a barrier-free rail system, counts of pass utilization on Metro Rail depend on voluntary tapping of a TAP pass, whereas bus operators monitor tapping compliance on board buses.
For customers used to having a paper pass in possession that they only had to produce if asked by a fare inspector, the requirement to tap for every boarding has necessitated customer education on the rail system. A rider is subject to citation for failure to “tap.” The improvement in tapping compliance can be seen over the past year as the taps per Monthly pass increased from 55.2 in February to 69.8 in January, peaking at 74.2 in October.
The shift in rail fare policy from a barrier-free, proof of payment system to a gated system and the installation of new fare gates in all of the subway’s Metro Red Line system, and the grade separated Green Line system, plus at other strategic light rail stations on the Metro Blue and Gold lines beginning this June, should further increase the reliability of TAP pass utilization data.
The implications for setting fares are significant. The availability of pass utilization by pass type provides an opportunity to examine previously established relationships between base fare and the various period passes provided by Metro, essentially a re-evaluation of pass multiples in setting product prices. Metro is preparing for transition of paper day passes in mid-March. Paper Day Pass utilization data, again dependent on bus operator tally, can be better refined with transactions captured automatically on TAP smart cards.
Metro will have better data to evaluate usage volumes and patterns, and the actual number of boardings per Day Pass will be known so Day Pass prices can then be evaluated relative to the base cash fare.
The opportunities to perform analysis of other fare product utilization and pricing continues to grow as Metro converts its reduced fare (i.e., Senior, Disabled, College/Vocational, and Student) monthly passes to TAP over the coming months.