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Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

Transit riders could pay less under new fare proposal by Cap Metro

Tuesday, March 22, 2022 by Nathan Bernier, KUT

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority is planning to roll out a new fare system this fall that would limit how much people pay to ride the bus or train.

Riders using a new smartphone app or fare card  – branded as Amp – would stop being charged after paying the equivalent of a day pass in a calendar day or a month pass in a calendar month.

An illustration of CapMetro's proposed Amp cardFor example, a passenger paying the standard fare of $1.25 on a local bus would ride for free after two trips with an Amp card, because they would have met the equivalent cost of a $2.50 day pass. The same principle would apply for a month pass. People could still pay cash, but they wouldn’t have their fares capped.

The proposed fare system, scheduled to go before the Capital Metro Board of Directors next week, would also create a new reduced pricing tier called Equifare, targeting those with low incomes.

Equifares would be available to households earning under 200 percent of the federal poverty level – which amounts to $53,000 for a family of four – or to people enrolled in one of several social assistance programs including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. A single Equifare ride would cost $1 instead of $1.25. A monthly pass would be $77 instead of $96.25.

People aged 65 and older, Medicare card holders and riders with disabilities would still get a 50 percent savings on fares, as required by the Federal Transit Administration. Active-duty military personnel also ride for half price.

CapMetro's potential new fare schedule
Capital Metro’s proposed fare schedule is subject to an analysis of how it could impact people of color and riders with low incomes, both of whom are afforded certain protections under the FTA’s interpretation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Replacing Capital Metro’s app and implementing the new Amp card would cost a little over $2 million. App users would be able to tap their phones to pay instead of scanning a QR code. Existing equipment in buses and trains would not need to be upgraded for the new system, Capital Metro said.

Exactly how much the new fare system would eat into Capital Metro’s revenues isn’t yet clear. The transit agency hired California-based consultant Four Nines Technology to study how capping and reducing fares could affect ridership.

“Theoretically with fare capping, we’re potentially lowering the per-customer revenue,” Capital Metro Executive Vice President Catherine Walker said. “But on the flip side, what we’re hoping is that we actually get more ridership.”

The 315 waiting at the South Congress Transit Center.
Patricia Lim/KUT

Before March 2020, Capital Metro ridership had increased 17 months in a row, according to the agency’s data dashboard. While more people are using public transit now than during the depths of the pandemic, overall ridership is still down compared to 2019.

In each of the last three months for which data is available – November, December and January – Capital Metro ridership declined. The drop coincided with reduced frequency of bus routes and less consistent service that the agency blames on a lack of drivers and Covid-related staffing shortages.

Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke says he expects full service to return in August, which would be right before the new fare system is scheduled to roll out.

Fares account for a relatively small percentage of Capital Metro’s revenue. The agency expects to take in $18.1 million in fares this fiscal year, less than 3 percent of overall revenue.

A table of CapMetro's approved 2022 annual budget
Capital Metro’s budget for Fiscal Year 2022: Fares account for less than 3 percent of Capital Metro’s projected revenue this fiscal year.

Almost half of Capital Metro’s $658 million annual budget is funded by a local 1 percent sales tax. The rest of the money comes from a mix of other sources like state and federal grants, and freight companies that pay to use the agency’s rail lines.

The new fare system is subject to an analysis of how it could impact people of color and riders with low incomes, both of whom are afforded certain protections under the government’s interpretation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Four Nines Technology is conducting Capital Metro’s Title VI analysis.

The fare proposal must also earn the approval of Capital Metro’s governing board, which is scheduled to hear about it next Monday.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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