Embrace Fare Capping to Improve the Customer Experience and Promote Equity

By Miguel Velázquez | 9/1/2023

Regional Transit Service
Rochester, NY

While public transit systems across the country serve different people, with different needs, facing different realities, one thing we all have in common is the desire to improve transit and make the overall experience better and easier for our customers. We share this focus because we are the mobility safety net for the people we serve. We provide safe, reliable access to jobs, education, healthcare, food and entertainment.

Here in Rochester, New York, we serve a community that is working to improve equity and overcome high levels of poverty. One of the ways we are working to help address these issues and improve the customer experience is by embracing fare capping as part of our fare payment system: RTS Go. Fare capping is something that can be adopted by public transit agencies across the country.

When we introduced RTS Go in July 2020, we were just a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and the new platform provided a contactless fare payment option that made it safer for our employees and customers on the bus. While that was a significant benefit given the circumstances at the time, our primary focus while developing the new platform with Masabi was to improve the customer experience and promote equity through a more modern fare payment system.

RTS Go utilizes account-based ticketing and fare capping, which gives us the ability to provide more equitable access to the best fare value, whether a customer has a smartphone or not and whether they have a bank account or not.

For many years, the backbone of our fare structure has been—and continues to be—a fare of $1 per ride. We have also offered value passes, such as a $3 daily pass and a $56 monthly pass. While we pride ourselves on the low fare we offer, the value of the daily and monthly passes was not always realized by the people who needed it the most because they often didn’t have the money to pay for the pass up front. For many, it meant they had to decide between paying the cost of the pass or putting food on the table. When customers use RTS Go via the Transit app or an RTS Go reloadable smart card, they will still only pay $1 per ride, but the fare capping technology makes sure they are never charged more than $3 a day or $56 a month, and they can pay as they go.

Customers who take advantage of RTS Go have the option to create an account where they can add money to pay their fares and manage their ridership activity. Those who use a bank card can add one directly to their account and add money whenever they need to. Those who choose not to add a card to their account can still add money through the app, online or at one of our ticket vending machines. For customers who prefer cash, they can add money for their fares at one of our ticket vending machines as well. This approach works for customers who choose to access RTS Go via the Transit app on their smartphone, or by using a reloadable smart card.

The response to RTS Go has been very positive. So much so, that in the summer of 2022, we took another important step to get RTS Go into the hands of more of our customers by partnering with VanillaDirect, a retail network that allows people to reload their RTS Go account at stores throughout the county. Through this partnership, customers can bring their VanillaDirect-powered RTS Go card to the cashier at a participating retailer such as Walmart, Family Dollar or 7-Eleven, and ask them to load money to the card. Customers can pay using cash or any other payment option that is accepted by the retailer.

All of this work was done to improve access, equity, fare payment options and the overall transit experience for our customers. Even though our ridership is still recovering from the pandemic and many of our customers still prefer to use cash directly at the fare box, RTS Go and fare capping have helped level the playing field for thousands of our customers. When combined with the benefits of the redesigned transit system we put in place in 2021, as well as our new on-demand service, our embrace of fare capping has been a game changer for our customers and it’s something you can take advantage of too.