DIGITAL TICKETING, AWAY FROM VISUAL VALIDATION
RTD has made significant headway with its digital ticketing since introducing its own application with Masabi in 2016. Recently, it partnered with Uber and Transit to sell tickets through their apps. A report from January noted that 14.2% of fare revenue is from these three sources.
The importance of this trend cannot go unnoticed; fare boxes can be costly to maintain, and cash fares slow down buses. We should continue to leverage the power of digital ticketing in the coming years by doing the following:
increase marketing related to MyRide, mobile app purchasing options, and LiVE discount
transition all monthly passes onto MyRide or RTD mobile app
in the next round of fare adjustments, apply fare increases to cash fares to incentivize digital ticketing, paper passes, and reloading of MyRide card
introduce capability to print-at-home ticket with QR code
invest in electronic validators for front (and eventually rear) of bus that sync with range of digital tickets/passes
continue exploring account-based ticketing to reduce the friction of riding transit
The move to digital ticketing would be an adjustment for many riders. More than ever before, however, RTD must deliver reliably fast service; cutting down boarding time is one means to that end.
RTD made the prudent decision to implement rear-door boarding on its buses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure was intended to put distance between operators and riders who did not need to use the lift, making the use of transit a less fraught experience.
When regular service resumes, we should adopt a corollary of this measure by instituting all-door boarding (which is already the case on light-rail and commuter-rail). Riders would board either the front or rear door depending on their needs and ticket type; all riders who require the lift should board in the front, along with those who will pay through the fare box, while all digital tickets could board in the rear. The creation of multiple of entry points would allow riders to board faster and limit the amount of time spent at stops. Researcher Herbert Levinson calculated that on average buses spend 9 to 25% of their journeys simply waiting, and the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority noted that buses spent 40% less time waiting after instituting all-door boarding.
Of course, this change would not be without challenges:
electronic validators would need to be installed to ensure that customers can pay their fare at both entry points
customers would need be need informed of the change
additional staff (whether trained-ambassadors or security) would need to perform random sweeps of routes to check for fair evasion
It should be noted that fare evasion remains quite low in Denver. Of the more than 2 million light-rail and commuter-rail riders whose fare was checked in the 4th quarter of 2019, less than 1% had not paid.
This change could be phased in gradually, beginning with the handheld electronic validators on a couple of most popular local routes before progressing to fixed electronic validators. Giving riders more reliable and faster service, while reducing stress on operators, would be worth the staff and economic outlay.
The Department of Transportation & Infrastructure (formerly the Department of Public Works) has installed infrastructure along several corridors to improve bus service in Denver, including dedicated transit lanes (first and second pictures) and traffic signal priority (third picture).
The benefits of these types of projects are well-documented. In his book Better Buses Better Cities, Steven Higashide notes how dedicated transit lanes in Arlington and Boston saved riders up to ten minutes on trips and moved buses twenty-percent faster, respectively. Meanwhile, a study by SFMTA showed that vehicle collisions, speeding, and hard-braking decreased with the introduction of a dedicated transit lane. Finally, transit signal priority in New York City resulted in an average travel time reduction of fourteen percent for buses during commuting hours.
RTD should enhance its partnership with Denver government to implement small-scale speed and reliability projects. This includes both pilots and permanent changes. We need to improve the performance of bus routes across the system and demonstrate the viability of transit as a mode of transportation for more residents now. Pursuing isolated bus rapid transit that require major streetscape projects should not be a near-term goal of RTD.