How a Simple Change Affects Behavior: Providing the 7-Day Pass on CharlieCards

One of the stickier problems for the MBTA and many other transit agencies is the problem of fare media. In past posts, we’ve analyzed some of the potential benefits of reducing and eliminating cash use on-board buses and light rail vehicles. But even the paper CharlieTicket presents problems for the T. Not only are tickets less durable than CharlieCards, but even when brand-new, they cause wear on the moving parts of the readers at faregates and fareboxes. If they become damaged, wet or worn-out, they can become unreadable and even jam up the readers, rendering the gate or farebox inoperable and potentially losing whatever value was on the ticket. While CharlieCards are more expensive than tickets to produce, the maintenance required by tickets makes them more costly to the T overall.

The T already gives a discount on the regular fare for passengers who use stored value to pay per-ride, providing an incentive for regular riders to use a CharlieCard. But until recently, 7-day LinkPasses were only widely available on CharlieTickets. Since approximately 43 million trips are made using 7-day passes each year, this product is responsible for a lot of the wear and tear on faregates and boxes all by itself. While the T’s next-generation fare system (AFC 2.0) plans to eliminate tickets entirely and make other payment options easier, starting May 2016, the T changed the software in its fare vending machines to allow 7-days to be purchased and loaded onto a card.

How much of an impact did this have? We took a look. We queried the AFC database to find validations in the entire MBTA system, aggregated by month, by type of media (CharlieCard, CharlieTicket, or cash) and by fare product (e.g., 7-day LinkPass, Stored Value). Note that in all the following charts, September data is incomplete as bus and Green Line data are stored on the individual fareboxes (as opposed to the faregates, which have a wired connection to the T’s databases) and it takes a few weeks for all their data to be collected.

7-day LinkPass Validations by fare media type

The above chart shows the number of validations on the MBTA system using a 7-day LinkPass by month. Before May 2016, 7-days were available on CharlieCards, but only when purchased at the CharlieCard store or at a Retail Sales Terminal (also, they were activated at the time of purchase instead of being stored on the card and activated at the time of first use). As you can see from the above, use of 7-Day passes on CharlieCards steadily increased beginning in May, and not because 7-day use dropped — it has remained relatively steady, with an increase during the summer as more tourists visit the region.

Monthly validations on CharlieTicket by fare tariff type

Figure 2 above shows all validations made with a CharlieTicket, by category by month. This shows that total CharlieTicket validations are declining as 7-day passes decline and other tariff types hold steady. In addition to 7-day passes, the MBTA also allowed 1-day passes to be purchased on a card at FVMs, but the usage of these passes is very small (and they are likely often purchased by visitors who do not have CharlieCards). The “Monthly” category above includes some LinkPasses sold on tickets, but also monthly Commuter Rail and Ferry passes used on the bus and subway system (which need to be on tickets so that they can be visually inspected on the Commuter Rail). Finally, “Pay-as-you-go” is mostly stored value on CharlieTickets.

Validations on CharlieTicket by Month normalized to 100%

Finally, Figure 3 shows the same data as Figure 2, but normalized to a percentage. This shows the change in 7-day usage since May: 7-Day validations used to make up around 60% of overall ticket usage in the system, but have now dropped to around 50%.

While there is still more work that could be done, the above charts show that a seemingly simple software change has had a huge impact — saving on AFC maintenance costs and downtime by removing nearly one million ticket transactions a month from the system and making the system easier to use for passengers. We are working on ways to advertise this change to passengers and move even more 7-day ticket purchases to cards. The MBTA will continue to explore other near-term fixes to reduce maintenance costs and passenger inconvenience as we prepare to transition to AFC 2.0.