WMATA’s SelectPass pilot could become permanent, would complement TDM plans

When transit passes are simple, flexible, and useful, the choice to take Metro or bus over other modes becomes that much more clear.

In the D.C. region, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authorityhas been testing a pass structure that does just that, while encouraging extra rides that would essentially be free to passholders. The SelectPass program allows riders to pay the cost of their typical Metro commute for 18 trips for the entire month, allowing them to ride for free after those trips.

On Greater Greater Washington, David Alpert and Michael Perkins write that the pass, called SelectPass, is likely soon to become a permanent option for commuters. WMATA has been selling them at almost four-times the rate it sells unlimited rail passes, and almost every user has given the program a high rating. Given its success already, Alpert and Perkins note that SelectPass would fit well within TDM programs:

… Metro could explore building a program to create such passes for other groups, including condo or apartment buildings, employers, and others. When passes are purchased in bulk, the price per pass can be reduced, and everyone is encouraged to use transit.

To get approval for new buildings in many jurisdictions, developers have to prepare Transportation Demand Management plans, where they identify strategies to help residents or workers commute by more efficient means than driving. This often includes Bikeshare memberships, car-sharing memberships, TransitScreens in lobbies, and more. Passes could be a great amenity as well.

In Arlington especially, where multi-family buildings often use transportation amenities to entice new tenants, pre-established SelectPasses that offer riders a recurring deal on Metro trips would be especially attractive.

SelectPass sales, which increased after new price points were introduced. Image from Metro presentation.

SelectPass sales, which increased after new price points were introduced. Image from Metro presentation.

Employer transit benefits, too, are another avenue Albert and Perkins identify for further SelectPass expansion, albeit one with anecdotal reports of difficulties for human-resources departments. As SelectPass joins WMATA’s roster of pass options, the agency will have to establish better resources for employers and jurisdictions to ensure smooth transitions for employees who wish to make it part of their transit benefits.

Ultimately, the added flexibility – the SelectPass pilot program eventually added more payment levels – should be key to meeting rider needs and reasserting the usefulness of transit.

Further reading:
Looking more broadly to new technologies and pass structures, TransitCenter recently put forth an idea for MTA in New York City, which is planning to replace the magnetic strip MetroCard system. It cited Transport for London’s “capping” pass structure, wherein once the total number of rides per week equals the price of a weekly pass, the system credits back the money spent over that mark. TransitCenter notes that this system is a good option for low-income riders who often do not have the money on hand to pay for an entire monthly pass up front.

Photo, top: A SmarTrip card in action (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com).

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