MetroTransit releases a factbook every year, and 2013 was just released (2012 here). The formatting makes this an attractive way to showcase the entirety of work that MetroTransit does for the community, from outreach to the U-Pass, the details add up to a trove of possible calculations begging to be analyzed, or just toyed with, hopefully this falls between the two.

U-Passes :

The U-Pass is a bus pass for students at the University of Minnesota, for $97 you receive unlimited rides for a semester, with three semesters in a year. There were 28,681 U-Passes in use, which were scanned for rides a total of 4.79 million times. Our base assumption will be a $2.00 fare average, that everyone uses their U-Passes an equal amount, that no transfers are included in the times scanned, and that all the active U-Passes were used for two semesters out of the year. This would mean that every U-Pass was used for $334.02 worth of fares for $194.00 in base price. Now, are these assumptions justified? I would think not, seeing as graduating seniors and freshmen would be counted for only one semester of having an active U-Pass if they graduated with what is considered the normal timing for a Bachelors degree. We can account for this by reducing the active U-Pass accounts by, let’s say 1/5, to account for people who go straight into grad school or take an extra semester of classes. Now every U-Pass is used for $417.53 of rides. But wait, when I use my U-Pass to go shopping or go to work I often have at least one transfer in my route, since I only do these trips three times a week and take the bus a total of close to 15 times a week with a single ride, let’s assume I am normal (bad assumption right there) and say that everyone has an average of 5 transfers (which cost no money in normal fares) for every 23 rides they take/times they scan. This will reduce the average worth of a U-Pass to $326.76.

While these are fun, let’s do something a little more applicable, and consider the frequency of rides needed to make the U-Pass financially viable. At $97 per semester, and three semesters per year, each renewal of the U-Pass should last for 122 days, minus a few hours. Assuming off peak rides, a student would need to ride once every other day, or 3.5 rides a week, to make the U-Pass viable.

I hope someone continues to play with the numbers, especially considering commuting students might be more likely to have a U-Pass, and more likely to pay the $3.00 express fare. But the end result, I think we can see from the analysis, is that a U-Pass is a good investment if you use it as the average U-Pass holder does.

MetroPass (employer sponsored/discounted passes) :

Again we will be using the U of MN, this time as an approximation of the entire MetroPass program. At $76 per month (at the U) the MetroPass is much more expensive than the U-Pass. However, it has many more riders and many more rides are taken. Because this is for employees let’s assume that most fares are during rush hour, and a significant portion of those are used on express services, with higher fares, let’s say the average is $2.60 (slightly below the average of rush hour local and express services). We will also start with the assumption that these are not used for transfers. There were 43,571 MetroPasses in use for 2013, accounting for 12.1 million rides. If everyone used their MetroPass for 12 months and all employers gave the same subsidy as the U of MN we could estimate the value of an active MetroPass to be $722.04 in a year, with a cost to the rider of $912. While we always knew there would be some flaws in our assumptions, this deficit is quite high. Let’s assume everyone used their MetroPass for a total of 10 months, (taking off holiday heavy months, or maybe everyone has a kid in school and needs summer vacation time) and used only express services during rush hours, raising our fares to $3.00. Our new worth of a MetroPass is $833.12 and the cost is $760. Looking at the past, five new employers were added in 2013 (270 to 275) and 0.1 million more rides were taken, but the number of passes rose by nearly 10,000! What happened that a program expanded so rapidly in users, but rides per user fell so sharply? Let’s check the results for 2012, to see if there using 12 months and $2.60 a ride, we get a worth of $924.33, and a cost that was still $912. This eliminated our chasm between presumed cost and benefits, using our second assumptions we get a value of $1,066.54 and a cost of $760. Because of the small benefit-cost ratios for the first calculations this leads to the conclusion that at least one of the following is likely true (in decreasing likelihood) ; 1 – MetroPass users do not use the program year round, and may opt out for months with a vacation or with several holidays, 2 – The U of MN is not a typical MetroPass employer and does not contribute as much other employers do, 3 – Several MetroPass users are bad at math.

Other Notes :

The bus fleet expanded in normal diesel buses (+16 or +2.9%), articulated buses (+3 or 1.9%) and coach buses (+5 or 13.9%), while holding constant in the hybrid bus count.

The bus fleet itself carried 233,300 rides a day, roughly equal to 100 lane-hours of traffic

The METRO Blue Line Light Rail carried 33,500 riders a day, roughly 14 lane-hours of traffic, I like to think that this number is more useful as state highway 55 runs along the route. Also, two Light Rail Cars were retired, but 31 new cars took their place (most of those will transfer to the Green Line).

NexTrip seems to be a great success, with nearly 5/8 the number of requests for info on trips as the number of total rides.

There was one Bike Locker for every 74 Park and Ride spaces. No info on number of bike spaces in racks.

Northstar had slightly more weekday rides than park and ride spaces, but the capacity should be about double that (2 rides per car, one ride in one ride out).

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I spent a lot of time thinking about the cost/benefit of the Metropass, so it is intriguing to see these numbers.

I always prefer to bike when possible, so I found the Metropass to be a poor investment which either de-motivated me to bike or was just wasted money when I was able to consistently bike in. This winter I have been using a mixed mode of biking and taking the train, or just busing some days. Also, my location does not allow me to take express buses, which would have potentially enabled a better return.

My solution was a stored value Go-to card. Since I only use what I pay for, it has seemed to be a better deal to me. Plus, when I do things like travel to the airport, I can pay for multiple passengers on one card. You got a 10% discount, so $100 => $110 in rides, which is reasonably competitive with the Metropass. I think semi-regular or irregular riders would benefit from switching over.

Yes, MetroPass numbers require about 2 rides a weekday to make it worthwhile… otherwise the 10% bonus outweighs the benefits. It could be more effective if you not only commuted but also was able to use it for an errand or two a week. But the abnormalities in the aggregate data made me not want to do those more applicable calculations.

I wonder if the decline in MetroPass is potentially caused by the rise of working from home. The economics of MetroPass disappear as soon as someone no longer takes transit to the office every single workday.