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RTA Fare Study Shows Many Passengers Are Overpaying For Passes, Transfers

An RTA bus crosses the Detroit-Superior Bridge in downtown Cleveland in 2013.
An RTA bus crosses the Detroit-Superior Bridge in downtown Cleveland in 2013.

A recent study of RTA’s fares showed low-income and minority passengers are not using weekly and monthly passes that might save them more money.

The reason could be economics, says a consultant for LTK Engineering, which conducted the survey. 

Riders don’t have enough money to cover the one-time cost that offers a long-term discount, so they’re opting for daily passes that cost more in the long run, Rick Halvorsen speculated at an Aug. 6 transit board meeting.

“They’re paying with cash, or getting an all-day ticket on the bus when a five-trip ticket or a weekly or monthly pass would be in their best interest,” he said.

Regular transit fares are $2.50 per trip, with discounts for seniors and students. Park-and-ride and paratransit passengers pay $2.75. Passengers paying cash must pay extra for transfers.  

Five-ride transit passes cost $12.50. Weekly passes run $25.00 and monthly are $95 for unlimited riding privileges. 

The study made several recommendations including:

  • better marketing of the five-ride passes, or replacing them with a $10 four-ride pass;
  • charging passengers a small fee for transfers; and
  • reducing the cost of the day pass.

A long-term solution would be fare-capping – letting riders pay for each trip until they hit a monthly cap and afterwards, they would ride for free. Halvorsen also mentioned implementing “smart cards,” as well as tickets. Passengers would add money to online accounts and scan the cards when traveling. 

The study also suggested raising the fee for park-and-ride or dropping it altogether. Right now, the fee is 25 cents in addition to the regular $2.50 fare. The difference is too small to be profitable, Halvorsen says.

“The park-and-ride differential should be at least 50 cents, or be eliminated,” he said. “They’re both reasonable options, but at the moment it’s costing you a fair amount to collect that 25 cents.”

For the long term, however, the report urged RTA switch to smart cards with free transfers, loaded via a cloud-based account. 

Valarie McCall, who heads RTA’s External Stakeholder and Advocacy Committee, said the recommendations needed go even further when it comes to technology. 

She compared Cleveland to Atlanta, where riders use smart cards exclusively. She also suggested smart cards might solve “fare evasion” - where passengers use a single fare for several rides. 

“Imagine if we went to a total smart card system,” McCall said. “Then we’re not dealing with fare evasion because you can’t ride that bus without uploading [money].”