Metro's lost passes
Thanks to the Internet Archive, we can travel back in time to see the passes Metro used to offer to the public (we can also take a look at hideous late 1990s webpage design). Let's look at some pass ideas that for one reason or another have been cancelled.
28-day "monthly" passes: Metro used to offer longer pass periods than the current weekly passes. These were activated on first use and offered customers unlimited rail or short rail trips for 28 days. The unlimited rail pass was sold at 7.7 times the maximum one-way fare at the time, and the short rail pass was sold at 10 times the one-way value.
According to WMATA, the 28 day passes were cancelled because they were not very popular. This is not surprising. The 28 day passes were exactly four times as much as the 7-day passes, even though purchasing a 28-day pass involves greater outlay and risk for the purchaser, with no added benefit.
If Metro reinstates a "near-monthly" pass, they should consider having true monthly passes. While this appears to be giving riders a bigger discount, having longer pass durations discourages customers from being choosy with their pass weeks. If people know they have a leave day or travel coming up, they may choose to pay by the ride for a specific week. With monthly passes and automatic subscription, people are more likely to buy passes anyway, especially if it is slightly cheaper than the equivalent weekly passes. That way, when riders take a sick day or leave or travel, Metro has already collected the fare for those work days in advance.
Combined rail and bus passes: You used to be able to get one of the two rail passes that was also good for bus trips for just a few dollars more. For just $5 more, you could add a weekly bus pass to your 7-day rail fast pass, or for $2.50 more, you could add bus to your short rail pass. This offered the best deal Metro had: If you regularly rode a maximum distance rail ride and transferred to the bus, you could get your whole week worth of commuting for the price of less than four days. Metro got rid of this combined rail/bus pass during a round of fare simplification.
Now that rail pass holders don't have the transfer option, Metro should reinstate this pass (at a price of $10.00 higher than the equivalent rail pass) or go with the flexible pass option I recommend.
Zoned or jurisdiction-specific bus passes: Since Metro bus fares used to be distance- and jurisdiction-based, Metro sold bus passes good for use only in one or two jurisdictions or for limited-zone trips. When Metrobus fares were simplified, the need for these passes went away. These passes disappeared when Metrobus fares were simplified, apparently around the year 1999 or 2000.
Bonus fare: Metro used to offer a bonus fare value of 10% when you purchased a farecard worth $20 or more. In my opinion, this bonus program is no longer necessary to spur ridership. Metro is already crowded during rush hour periods, and the discount would primarily reduce the revenues received by the longest-distance, peak fare customers.
The bonus provided a discount on Metro service that we do not really have a surplus of anymore, and would require raising all other fares accordingly. Passes are a more appropriate option, they give a discount on regular riders' additional trips, which are more likely to be outside of rush hour when the vehicles are less crowded.
As the Metro system has aged, Metro has offered fewer discount or unlimited-ride programs for riders. Some of these eliminations have been appropriate for the way Metro has evolved, and some have taken away options that would be appropriate for today's riders. Metro should bring back a form of the 28-day pass, and should use the "Puget Pass" model to effectively bring back the combined bus and rail pass.
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