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Fare Capping Is Being Adopted by Transit Agencies of All Sizes

Fare capping may be one of the latest innovations being deployed by public transit for its ability to make it easier, cheaper and more equitable for regular riders to use the vital systems.

A gray municipal bus for the Orange Line of L.A. Metro parked at a station on a sunny day.
One of the new buses traveling the Orange Line for L.A. Metro.
Transit agencies are adopting fare capping in another move toward bringing down the cost of transit for regular riders, and taking a firmer step toward transportation equity and expanded access.

The move is one more step forward using technology to modernize ticketing and make transit service more seamless across multiple regional public transit systems.

Los Angeles Metro, the third largest transit system in the nation, has enabled fare capping, which places a maximum of $5 per day for using transit or $18 per week. A standard one-way fare is $1.75 on the system’s network of trains and buses.

NEOride, a regional network of 29 mostly small transit agencies across Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Arkansas, has introduced the EZfare account-based ticketing system across 15 of the transit agencies, which includes Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio, with 11 of these enabling account-based ticketing. The EZfare system also enables fare capping at participating agencies, based on their individual fare rules.

The EZfare system “will allow for riders to tap within a transit system including fare capping and smart cards,” said Katherine Conrad, director of NEORide, adding an eventual goal is to allow for a single-user experience all across the NEORide network with a coordinated contactless e-tickeing and fare-capping system.

“So that a transit passenger can tap and ride on any transit system within EZfare and the apportionment is done on the back end,” said Conrad.

Masabi is powering the technology among NEORide members, while Cubic is the technology provider for the L.A. Metro system. Cubic is also the technology backbone behind the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) system in New York City, an open-payment architecture that allows riders to tap a wireless credit card or mobile device to access subways and buses.

Fare-capping, said Matt Newsome, senior vice president and general manager at Cubic, is being pursued by an increasing number of transit agencies as they explore opportunities to ease transit’s financial burden but also reward regular riders.

“There are so many people who have to ride transit. A car’s not an option for all sorts of reasons,” Newsome pointed out. It’s why a number of regular, and more cost-conscious, riders often buy monthly passes, which traditionally has meant a sizable upfront cost every month.

“And if I’m on a very tight income, that’s a lot of money to put out on Jan. 1, Feb. 1, whatever,” said Newsome. “And so what capping has done is say, wait a minute, don’t do that anymore. Just put on the amount of money that you can, either every day, every three days, whatever. And we’ll guarantee that we’re going to keep that fare right to a level that you don’t need to outlay that pass anymore in the front.”

In Los Angeles, riders load “stored value” onto their TAP cards. All rides using the TAP card include two hours of free transfers. Seniors and riders with disabilities receive lower levels of fare-capping with a daily cap of $2.50 and a seven-day cap set at $5. Community college and K-12 students ride for free.

Metro ridership was up 16 percent in May this year compared to May 2022, according to Metro statistics. Weekend ridership is now at 88 percent of pre-pandemic levels, while weekday ridership is at 74 percent of 2019 levels. Total ridership on Metro is now at 77 percent of 2019 levels.

“The cost of transit should never stand between L.A. County residents and opportunity — and this new fare policy will make our systems more affordable, accessible, and appealing for every Angeleno,” said Ara Najarian, chair of the Metro Board of Directors, in a statement.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.