“Fare capping” is a jargon term for a fare policy that any transit agency can implement to save their riders money, make fares fairer, and potentially increase ridership. Another term is “deal”, as these policies net riders a break in the fares.
Fare capping ensures that riders who pay for rides with a transit card* will never pay more than the cost of one or more daily and multi-day passes that the transit agency includes in its fare capping policy.
Example 1: Consider a tourist or infrequent visitor to the city. The tourist will use transit to get around and when they arrive at a ticket vending machine, they’re given the option to get a smart card and load with “e-purse” (cash to pay as they ride) or get a smart card and load it with a pass for one or more days. In Chicago, there are 1-day, 3-day, 7-day, and 30-day options, for $10, $20, $28, and $105.
Just like anyone else, the tourist doesn’t want to pay more than they have to so they try to estimate the number of trips they’ll take today to see if the number of rides will cost more than $10 (the price of a 1-day pass). That sounds like a complicated thought exercise and one with a high likelihood of being wrong at the end of the day!
In a fare capping system, the tourist won’t have to choose! They obtain the transit smart card, load it with $5 cash, and perhaps connect it to an app or connect it to an auto-load functionality. The tourist rides buses and the ‘L’ and as soon as they ride $10 worth in the service day, their transit smart card automatically starts granting them free rides – their transit card has just been granted a 1-day pass!
By eliminating the need to choose between fare products, the tourist is more comfortable riding transit as much as they need to today because they know that they’ll never be charged more than $10.
Example 2: Consider someone who doesn’t earn very much and uses transit to get to work two times a day, five days a week, 20 days a month. At $2.50 per ride, that works out to $100, which is less than the cost of a 30-day pass in Chicago (which is $105, and an oddity, but I won’t address that). This person also sometimes takes additional rides after work and on the weekend to run errands, so their monthly rides will end up costing more than $105, the price of a 30-day pass.
It would make the most financial sense for this worker to get a 30-day pass. But when you don’t earn much, it’s hard to come up with or part with $105 at one time.
In a fare capping system, the person doesn’t have to worry about putting up $105 at this very moment. They would be able to ride transit as much as they want to in a 30-day period knowing that they will pay $2.50 per ride each day, but never more than $105 in a 30-day period. They don’t need to have $105 right now to be able to save money in the long run.
Cities with fare capping
12 cities, last updated May 13, 2023
- London is first in the list because they were first with fare capping – It was pretty cool back in 2014 when my Anglophile friend told me to borrow his Oyster card and just tap away and ride transit all day, because I would never pay more than the cost of a 1-day pass (in May 2023 the cost is £8.10).
- London also has weekly capping, but this doesn’t include the Underground or Overground (buses and trams only). The week also starts on Monday and ends on Sunday.
- Miami is the most recent place to have fare capping, which @erik_griswold spotted on a poster. Daily capping only.
- St. Louis now has a transit smart card, and has daily capping.
- Sydney’s Opal card offers daily capping, weekly capping, and Sunday deal.
- On Sundays, people can ride on metro, train, bus, ferry and light rail services all day Sunday for the price of one ride, $2.80 AUD (about $1.89 as of August 22, 2019).
- Another deal the Opal card offers users: Ride 8 times in a week, and all subsequent rides are 50% off.
- Indianapolis’s IndyGo transit agency has daily capping, and weekly capping.
- San Jose-based transit agency Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) has daily capping which they call “Day Pass Accumulator”.
- Oakland-East Bay’s AC Transit has daily capping, but they don’t use those words. The website says that a day pass is applied to the Clipper transit smart card when a third trip is taken in a day.
- Portland, Oregon: TriMet, C-TRAN, and Portland Streetcar seem to have the most flexible payment options for their fare capping policy: Riders with a Hop transit smart card get daily capping and monthly capping. People who pay with Google Pay and Apple Pay can also get daily and weekly capping; people who pay with Samsung Pay or a contactless credit card can get daily capping.
- Victoria (Australian state) has daily capping on metropolitan Melbourne routes and regional routes when using the myki card.
- Houston, Texas: METRO has daily capping that kicks in after “Q” fare card holder takes three trips.
- The Ride in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has daily, weekly, and monthly capping – this is the policy to beat.
- Lothian buses in Edinburgh, Scotland, has the “TapTapCap” fare capping scheme that’s £4.80 per day and £22 per week since August 2019.
- Los Angeles implemented daily and weekly fare capping on July 2, 2023.
- New York City’s MTA implemented a kind of weekly fare capping with the introduction of OMNY contactless payments in 2022: Spend $34 – 12 paid rides – in a 7-day period and subsequent rides in that 7-day period are free.
- San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) has “best fare” daily and monthly fare capping when people use a PRONTO plastic card or the PRONTO app.
- Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) has daily, weekly (Monday to Sunday), and monthly fare capping for users of the Umo app (which generates a QR code to be scanned by an on-board validator).
Similar fare benefit schemes
GO Transit in Toronto – a regional rail and bus network – offers a large discount to people who pay with PRESTO and repeat a trip 36 to 40 times a month, and it’s free for trips 41 and later. I think this is at first a bit confusing, but the chart below may clarify.
How transit agencies advertise fare capping
A transit card is only necessary for transit systems that store the values and passes on a card. The Chicago Transit Authority and its vendor, Cubic, created Ventra, an account-based system that stores values and passes on an account in the cloud, and is expressed through the Ventra card, compatible smartphones, and compatible smartwatches. Fares to pay for rides Metra, a commuter rail company that participates in Ventra, can be purchased using the Ventra account’s stored value. Metra doesn’t accept taps from a Ventra card.