In those circumstances, our project on regional fare integration kicked off Monday when we met Adina Levin, Executive Director of Friends of Caltrain. We peppered Adina with a number of questions regarding both the challenges and opportunities around integration, whether technical, economic, or political. Perhaps unlike other groups, Adina indicated that, rather than zero in on one predetermined side of the issue, she welcomed us tackling whatever piece of the puzzle we felt we could best exert leverage on — which could mean anything from surveying low-income riders to generate data around the impact of fragmentation on their lives and commutes, to working with larger institutions in order to map out how the region might generate the political will to wrestle the issue to the ground. In other words, she encouraged us to consider: what question can we best address or solve in the 8 weeks we have together as a team?
Knowing that, we began working on two fronts: firstly, beginning a lit review of other metro areas around the world which have integrated their systems; and secondly, generating a wide range of questions we may want to address, investigate, and answer in the course of our project. On the first front, we began to study and report to one another on integration efforts in areas including Seattle, Los Angeles, a Netherlands-wide program, Singapore, and others. In researching these systems, we seek not only to discover the nuts and bolts of how each plan works but also, crucially, how they were politically willed into being, as well as any and all data we can find on their outcomes for their communities. In fact, the lit review even serves a way of starting to address that second front, by examining what we know, and thus what we can best contribute.
Simultaneously, we began to ask questions around fare integration. Here is just a sampling of our brainstorming so far:
- Do we want to focus on hardware integration (e.g., merely working towards Clipper functioning on all 27 agencies’ vehicles) or fare integration, or both? Would first tackling the former facilitate the latter cause (perhaps by giving agencies a positive experience of collaboration to build on), or instead undermine it (potentially by obscuring higher costs or lulling riders into feeling like integration has already occurred)?
- What data do we already have to work with? What data (especially that we could generate) might be most useful for integration advocates, or for policymakers, or for large institutional customers?
- Is one large organization to coordinate, implement, and manage a fare integration effort necessary, or could integration be accomplished without one? If the latter, who could spearhead this project and how?
- Does solving this challenge hinge on political responsibility, political willingness, or political leverage? Where would any of those come from — a popular source, institutions, or even internally? Where has the leverage or willingness been found in similar scenarios? What is the private sector’s role in providing political momentum or financial support?
- Does public data on our local transit providers’ finances combined with what we know from the literature give us a clear picture of the likely financial impacts of fare integration? If the impact on transit operators is negative, how might we overcome that hurdle?
Having already gotten to know one another, including discussing the respective strengths and background we each bring to the project, we will continue to work on our brainstorm and lit review, including beginning to cull our questions to identify which we might be most interested in and able to tackle. We coordinated schedules to find regular team meeting times, and are in communication with Adina about visiting Friends of Caltrain together soon. We eagerly look forward to sinking our teeth into this critical challenge facing the Bay Area — and while we may not have the entire region fare-integrated by the time we’re done, we certainly hope to have a substantial contribution to the public and policy conversation around the issue to offer in 8 weeks’ time!