Articles

METRO Matters – METROLift, Street Teams and Q Cards

September 23, 2019


Hello everyone and welcome to METRO Matters.
I am Mary Sit. In February, METROLit saw some major changes.
The biggest change was a fare increase of 10 cents. The base fare went up to $1.25,
the first fare hike in 25 years. Here to tell us more is Michael Andrade, Director
of Paratransit Service of METROLift. Thanks for being with us, Michael.
Thank you for having me Mary. Tell me why did METRO decide to raise its
fare after 25 years. The fares, we looked at this as a broader
initiative with our METROLift Moving Forward Program. The METRO board wanted us back in 2013 to take a look at METROLift as a whole.
Because we wanted to improve the quality of the service and the sustainability of the
service, fares was one of the nine different areas
that we were looking at. Some of the areas, other areas that we were
looking at was on-time performance, our No Show and Late Cancellation Policy;
we hadn’t raised fare since 1991. So it was important for us to take a look at that and
look to see how we can improve in that area. Michael, I can’t think of another product
where the rate didn’t go up or fee in 25 years, that’s pretty incredible.
Exactly. You know, the cost of providing the service has increased over the years, so.
And does METRO subsidize each fare anyway? That’s correct. METROLift is one of the highest
subsidized or the highest subsidized service that METRO operates,
so yes, we had to look at that. So how much does it actually cost to transport?
We look between $26 and $27 per trip to actually operate the service.
There is still an annual pass, right, but the fares went up on that?
Correct. So what I can do is kind of give you a base rundown on how the fares changed.
How the fares work is our base fare is $1.25, and again, that’s the area that’s a three
quarter mile buffer around our fixed route and rail.
We also have another fare which is $2.50 fare for expanded service area.
That service area encompasses areas that are not required by the ADA basically, areas like
Bear Creek, Clear Lake, Atascocita, Humble, those areas. So we didn’t want to eliminate those areas
for our customers, but basically we had to recoup some of the
money because that is an area that’s outside the service area.
The other thing that we looked at is our passes. It was mentioned that we may do away with
passes because other transportation agencies don’t have annual passes or monthly passes
for their paratransit service. But the board decided and staff agreed that
we would keep the passes for our customers because it was convenient for our customers and we did know that it may be somewhat of
a hardship for the customer. So, our passes for our base fare area is $47.25
so basically customers can utilize those passes in our base service area. That’s a monthly pass.
Okay, monthly pass at $47. –25, then we have a yearly pass.
And that’s unlimited trips with that pass? Unlimited trips within our base service area.
That’s very nice, okay. And then what’s the other one?
Right. Then we have our annual pass that’s $418.50 where customers can buy an annual
pass and utilize the service in our base service
area. Now, the only caveat to that is customers
can only use those passes in our base service area.
In our expanded service area, customers would have to use two tickets or basically $2.50. And you can buy a booklet of tickets?
We still offer a discounted rate of sorts. We added an extra ticket so 11 tickets for
$12.50, so a customer still sees a 10% discount.
Now Michael, there is an interactive map and a new app that tells customers
if you are in that service area or out and how much of a cost if you are going to a certain
area. Can you tell me about that? Right. So basically what we have done is we
have worked with our IT department to come up with an interactive map that’s already
part of the METROLift service map that we have on our website.
So basically customers would go to www.ridemetro.org, click on the How to Ride tab,
go to METRO’s interactive map, and under Other Services there is a dropdown that says METROLift
fare calculator. And with that, customers can actually go in
and put in a pickup address, a drop-off address, and hit Calculate, it will actually show on
the map what the fare is for that trip. That’s great. It allows all the patrons to
plan ahead and figure out how much they need to go where they want to go.
Absolutely. And the other thing that it does is we have a lot of questions about,
well am I — is this address even in the service area?
So this map will allow customers to see well if I go to this address do we really go there?
So it helps the customer not only see what the fares are, but if we actually go to that
service or to that address. Michael, we need to wrap up now but one great
feature METRO started was Freedom Q Card, which gives everybody a free ride if you are
already a patron of METROLift, is that right? Correct. The Freedom Q Card, basically customers
will come into our 1900 Main address, and actually ask to get their cards upgraded
to a Freedom Q Card. This allows customers to ride our regular
fixed route rail and park-and-ride for free unlimited amount of time.
And the caregiver can also… Absolutely, an attendant can ride for free,
and as you know all of our METROLift options are 100% wheelchair accessible.
Michael, if someone is not used to riding the fixed routes how do you learn about it?
We have a travel training program that’s free to our customers.
It’s there to educate and actually promote bus riding and rail riding. So simply call our number that we have. Our
number is 713-652-8928, or simply e-mail us at [email protected]
and we will have a travel training group actually go out with our customers, kind of map out a strategy how customers can
actually ride the bus and actually ride with them and show them
all the different features of the bus, how the bus is accessible,
all of those different things. It basically promotes again more options for our customers
to ride. Michael, thank you so much for being with
us and telling us about the changes at METROLift. Thank you.
Coming up next why you need to get a METRO Q Fare Card and use it every time you hop
on the bus or train, details when we come back. The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, METRO is the Houston region’s largest
public transit provider. METRO serves a 1,300 square mile area with
local, express and park-and-ride buses, light rail, paratransit services, van pools and about 100 miles of HOV and HOT
lanes. METRO has achieved great success recently
tripling the size of its light rail system with almost 23 miles of light rail. A 2012 voter referendum allows METRO to keep
more of its sales tax revenue for transit. METRO recently redesigned and launched a new
local bus system. It’s a true game changer for local transit
with a more frequent network, extended weekend service and an easier to understand system. METRO system-wide ridership increased each
year over the past three years with total annual trips topping 110 million. From a TRIP app and Next Bus Texting to the
Bikes on Buses Program, METRO’s 3,700 employees work hard everyday to put the customer first. At METRO, they are doing their part to provide
a wide range of travel choices in the nation’s fourth largest city. The METRO Q Fare Card is a wonderful and convenient way to pay your fare. You load it up with money just like a debit
card and then every time you hop on board, simply tap it.
Here to tell us why everyone needs a Q Card is Tanya McWashington, Senior Director of
Public Affairs. Tanya, thanks so much for being with us.
Thank you for having me Mary. Now, we are doing a big effort to get people
to use Q Cards and you have something called Street Teams.
Who are they and what are they doing? We do. We are so happy that we have about
a team of 20 folks that are onboard with us specifically to engage our customers on the
buses, at transit centers, at bus stops and share great information about what we are
doing here at METRO. And what are they telling customers?
With the Q Card Initiative, not only are we telling them the benefits which are one, no
registration required, two, for every 50 trips they get five free,
that’s a 10% discount if you use the METRO Fare Q Card,
and the most important one now, when you use the Q Card,
you can travel for three hours in any direction and not have to pay again.
And that’s something new and we are really, really highlighting that with our customers.
So essentially for that one tap or that $1.25 for three hours they can travel in any direction.
They can get on/off, on/off in any direction. On/off, on/off in any direction.
So they are not to worry about getting a paper transfer or transferring in the way of one
direction, all that’s gone now. All that’s gone. And for our customers who
do a lot of small trips in different directions, that’s a huge, huge benefit to them, and so
we are really trying to make them aware of that
and encourage to use the METRO Fare Q Card. Are the Street Team people just actually handing
out blank cards to people? These brochures that they are handing out
actually have a Q Card on it. Oh great.
We are trying to make this as easy for our customers as possible.
Once they get that brochure and the Q Card they can just rip the card off but they have
to put money on it. You do have to put money on it; it is a stored
value card. And so you can, right there, go to the back
of our bus, there are machines on the bus that we call Back of the Bus Reloaders,
and they can load money on the Q Cards right then and there.
They can also go to the grocery stores, mini retailers, right?
There are numerous retailer locations. Most of our grocery store chains have METRO fare
media at their customer service desks and we have a whole list of over 200 retailer
locations that are available on our website. And they have to put at least $5 to get started
for the new card. That is correct.
And can they use credit cards to add money to it like let’s start with $10 or whatever?
Now, on the bus it is cash only, but at our retailer locations and at our ride store,
they can use credit cards, and we also have an option if they do choose to register their
Q Card, that they can add money online.
Okay. And if they register that means if they lose the card they can get credit for the
money, the balance on theirs, right? There is a huge benefit to registering your
card because as you said, if in fact they lose it,
they can have it replaced and the money transferred to the new card, but the registration is not
a requirement anymore. Now we are also promoting this on social media,
right, and we have a clip that talks about this. so let’s take a look at it now. Guess who’s back. METRO Street Team with some enhancements. Let us upgrade you. The Street Team will be out in the transit centers and on the buses before, during and after the deployment of the new enhancements which are coming January 24. They are an asset. They are an extension of Public Affairs. And help tell the story and help us get the word out. They’re actually getting on the bus connecting with out riders as well as our drivers Explaining to them and talking to them about New Bus Network. We like to get the information in their hand and face to face. So Tanya, the Street Teams are back and they
are going to be here for how long? They will be here until the end of March as
it is right now. Tanya, what’s the goal? How many Q Cards do
you want to distribute? We are trying to distribute 25,000 Q Cards.
I have a stack of boxes in my office. What I will share with you is that we really
want to concentrate on first grabbing the attention of our customers who we know historically use cash. So we have identified the top 10 cash paying routes and we are focusing our efforts on those routes initially. And then also if you have Q Card and you happen to be a senior or a student, you get discounts. Can you tell me about that?
If you are a student, you utilize our system for half off. If you are a senior from the
age of 65 to 69, you use it for half off, and if you are a senior that is 70 years or
older, you utilize our system for free. But you need a Q Card to do all that.
Yes, and that’s a little bit different because with the discount programs,
it does require registration and that is handled at one of our ride stores.
That’s great. So are there any challenges out there you are finding from your Street
Team when they are out there handing this out to people?
Well, what I thought was interesting when we debriefed this morning,
our customers have heard about the Q Card effort that’s going on in the 82
and so they are asking them do you have any Q Cards? So the word, the word is getting
out. Oh that’s great. So they are asking –
Correct. So we are making our rounds with a lot of onboard bus engagement,
but the great thing is we are going to have a schedule of transit center events coming
up in February and in March, and we will be at those transit center locations where we will have Q Cards that we can give to our customers. Very good. Tanya, thank you so much. We will be looking for those friendly faces out on the streets.
All right. Thank you for having me Mary. That’s all for this edition of METRO Matters.
Be sure to join the conversation on our blog at www.ridemetro.org,
friend us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. I am Mary Sit, thanks for watching.

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