Significant praise has been heaped on ridesharing services. Uber, Car2Go, HourCar and NiceRideMN, to name a few, are lauded for increasing transportation options. Each service adds another way to get from point A to B, making our multi-modal system stronger. These networks run best when switching from one mode to another is easy and obvious.
Now, however, these services accept payment in different methods. Uber and Lyft charge through a smart phone application. Car2Go and HourCar have membership cards to unlock the vehicles; and NiceRideMN uses a credit card or a membership card. Each of these services uses a different system, making it challenging to switch from one to another. This makes our multi-modal network weaker. There should be one card that works across all platforms, so each mode is easily accessible. The Metro Transit Go-To cards can be that card.
Go-To cards already make for a more efficient public transportation system. They can be used as a monthly pass or as stored value, so no accidentally throwing out a needed transfer. With only a quick swipe needed for payment, boarding the bus is faster. When money is added to the card, an extra 10 percent is added, making taking the bus an even cheaper option than driving. With a solid track record of success, expanding Go-To cards to all the transportation options just makes sense.
The expansion would benefit many regular Go-To card users. Many high school students use a Go-To card every day. Since 2013, all public school buses to high schools have been discontinued and replaced with Go-To passes. The collaboration between Met Transit and Minneapolis Public Schools gives each eligible student a Go-To card that provides rides between 5:00am and 10:00pm. Adding the other multi-modal options to the card improves access for these students. It facilitates students to take the bus to the library or a museum and take a NiceRide the last 5 blocks, making the city a classroom for all students.
Let’s expand Go-To cards to NiceRides and car-sharing services like Uber and HourCar. Adding Go-To cards to other transportation services would strengthen our multi-modal transportation system helping people connect to destinations in a way that works for them.
This post first appeared on MN2020
When I started a car sharing platform for colleges, one of the technologies we were looking to integrate was the Student ID for billing and RFID access.
While we struggled to get our vendor to integrate with it on a few systems, I still think that would have been a huge win for usability for our customers, both at point of service and for transaction management. This is basically the college equivalent of using GoTo / Oyster Card / Octopus Card for transportation transactions within a region.
Heck, I remember in Hong Kong I could buy a coffee at Starbucks with my Octopus card. People are doing this elsewhere. We just need to facilitate tighter integration here in our own market.
I’d rather see MTC go the opposite way, and support smartphone transit fare. I was in Oslo this summer, and they have a terrific app for Android and iPhone. I was able to keep a credit card on file, buy fare with the app whenever I needed. Since suburban Oslo has a zone system, I could also calculate how many zones I needed by telling it my destination, and it would charge me the correct amount.
The Go-To card works OK for regular transit users, but it’s very inaccessible for everyone else. My mom (who lives in Northfield) might only use Metro Transit every six months. All those Vikings and Twins fans create catastrophic lines at the ticket machines because they only use it on game-day. Are those people going to go to Rainbow or the other obscure stores that sell the cards, pick one up and monitor the amount of money on it? They’re not eligible for auto refill, because for some reason MTC’s system doesn’t allow people who use their card less than once a month to be on auto refill — so they may well end up having their card run out of money without being aware of it.
None of this is an issue for a mobile phone app. That seems to serve regular and new users equally well.
The Oslo example is interesting. It is the transit authority finding new ways to pay for their service. It seems good at attracting infrequent users to the systems. My suggestion is focused on something else: getting metro users to use other non-car transportation methods. My aim was to find ways to facilitate increased mobility through one card. The increased network effects would create more regular users.
My option does not address infrequent users like sports fans or those who call Northfield home. I think my argument gets stronger in parts 2 and 3, where I expand the idea of a transportation card.
I guess my more targeted skepticism would then be to wonder if there is any benefit to Go-to users. I assume Minneapolis Public School Students have a pass, not cash value, on their card.
For everyone else, my general impression is that white and middle-class commuter types tend to use the Go-to card, while other transit-dependent populations generally use cash. (Although I assume MTC must have looked into this at some point?)
It seems that the people who have Go-to cards probably already have credit cards, smartphones, etc connected to other services. While people who might be less likely to have established credit cards are also less-likely to have Go-to.
But I look forward to seeing our subsequent articles where this is fleshed out more.
I am skeptical of the smartphone-as-bus-fare concept. It reminds me of the experience that seems to be common with smartphone boarding passes… people try it once or twice, but revert back to paper as soon as they have trouble loading the app or their battery runs out. Considering that transit locations are much like airports in a critical way — people away from home without access to a charger — it seems like a tough sell.
This has not been my own experience, or what I see at airports at all. (I use electronic boarding passes every time.) Smartphone boarding passes seem to be becoming more and more prevalent. Rather than reverting to paper because we worry about dead batteries, I think we’ve just become more and more obsessed with keeping a charge. Hence every new car having USB ports (and every new plane), plus a seemingly infinite march of external batteries and compact charging cords on Kickstarter and similar. (Perhaps some day our buses and trains will feature USB charging ports, too?)
With regard to the equity issue — obviously I don’t want to go to a smartphone-only system. But I think it’s a useful supplement that’s more accessible to a lot of people than Go-to cards. As it stands, MTC doesn’t even have a mobile app, and their mobile website is pretty clunky.
In the specific case on MPS students, I am sure they could add stored value if they wanted to. Access to NiceRide could also just come with your high school pass. It could come as a sign on bonus for getting a monthly/yearly metro pass.
I do not know the demographics of those with go-to cards. My informal survey from sitting on the bus and watching people suggests it has a broad usage across income levels. Many social services hand out bus passes to help people with transportation costs. I think I have heard that some social services will add credit to a go-to pass. (Can anybody verify this?).
If we’re treating these privately-operated transit modes as public services, why not simply turn them into public services — complete with equal access for low-income neighborhoods and public benefits for their employees?
I agree. Public options make a lot of sense. I would love to see the Met Council be an early adopter of new ideas in transit. NiceRide is one of the few non-profit, not corporate sponsored bikeshare programs. It is doing well. More on that in a coming post.
Smartphone-as-bus-fare strays even further from equity than does the GoTo card.
High school kids with GoTo cards (my daughter has one) is great, though. It gives kids a firm foundation in alternative transportation. She has more mobility at 16 with no driver’s license than I did at that age WITH a license (parental restrictions, no gas money, etc).
I do agree, though, that it would be nice to have more integrated services. I use my bike in combination with the train more than I did with buses because it’s easier. I can see an increase in multi-modal use if it were more seamless.
Many (most?) cities in Europe have single for-everything cards such as London’s Oyster. Note that London’s Oyster does not work with bikeshare though that is promised in the future. The Netherlands has a single card (OV-Chipkaart) for all public xportation country-wide (trains, trams, subways, buses, bikeshare). There has been discussion of an app based version of the OV card as well.
However, there have been a lot of concerns about privacy and security of these systems as well as complaints about use being complicated with some effort needed to figure out what products (most systems are pre-pay) to load on the card.