The National Academies

TCRP Synthesis J-07/Topic SH-21 [Active (Synthesis)]

Transit Fare Capping: Balancing Revenue and Equity Impacts
[ TCRP J-07 (Synthesis of Information Related to Transit Practices) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $45,000
Authorization to Begin Work: 5/1/2020 -- estimated
Staff Responsibility: Mariela Garcia-Colberg
Research Agency: Nelson/Nygaard
Principal Investigator: Amy Pettine
Effective Date: 10/13/2020
Fiscal Year: 2020

Final Scope


Transit agencies in North America are beginning to experiment with fare caps to ensure that passengers that pay for single rides do not pay more than multiple-ride passes included in their fare structure. A fare cap is a practice in which users are charged according to rides taken over a period of time; a user’s combined fares over multiple rides cannot exceed the amount a rider would have paid if they had purchased the optimal period pass based on their usage. Fare capping offers many advantages: greater convenience, transit fairness, and most of all more equitable access to the discounts afforded by those who purchase transit passes.  The tradeoffs include reduction in revenue, uncertain ridership impacts, and required investments in new technology.

The practice of fare capping is growing quickly in the United States. In 2017, Portland’s TriMet became the first major transit agency in the United States to institute fare capping, although international transit agencies in places like London and Dublin had already demonstrated its success. Other agencies in the U.S. offering fare capping include DART (Dallas), Houston Metro, Interruban Transit (Grand Rapids), CTtransit (Connecticut), IndyGo (Indianapolis), AC Transit (Oakland), Metrolink (St. Louis), and Miami-Dade Transit. Other agencies are considering fare capping but find that there are limited resources dedicated to this emerging practice. Advocacy groups like TransitCenter and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign are calling for fare capping in large transit markets like New York City and Boston. Because best practices in fare capping are still unclear, transit agencies may have a difficult time weighing fare capping’s benefits against revenue and ridership impacts or comparing overall costs against equity issues. 

The objective of this synthesis is to document the implementation, planning and assessment of fare capping in the North American transit agencies.

Information to be gathered will include (not an exhaustive list):  

·       What were the motivations for implementation of fare capping? What are the real and perceived barriers to fare capping?

·       What framework has been used to support the decision making process?  What are the quantitative and/or qualitative metrics used, if any? What equity lens was used for the framework, if any?

·       How has fare capping impacted ridership, revenue, and fare collection costs? What are the quantified and/ or perceived changes?  

·       What changes were needed to be made to the fare payment systems? Is there any innovative technology that could be used in implementing fare capping?

·       How do these effects vary according to pass structures and pricing schemes (e.g. daily, weekly, monthly; discounted ride structure)?

·       How was customer engagement and education used before, during and after the implementation process? What tools and methods were used during the process? Has the agency received any feedback from transit riders and other stakeholders after the implementation of fare capping?

Information will be gathered by a literature review that will include the international perspective and a survey of transit agencies. The report should also include a minimum of five case examples, including examples from each of the following categories:

·       agencies that have implemented and retained fare capping;

·       agencies that have implemented and discontinued and/or studied and did not proceed with fare capping ( for other reasons than Covid-19);

·       agencies that are planning to implement fare capping.


The case examples will gather information on the state-of-the-practice, emphasizing lessons learned, challenges and successes. The needs for future research should also be discussed.

Information Sources:

(1) AC Transit Press Release: “New Day Pass & Other Fare Policy Changes Coming in July.” 1 May 2014 

(2) “Cap & Ride” TransitCenter. 15 August 2017.

(3) Chalabianlou, Raza, Adam Lawrence, and Brian Baxter. “A review and assessment of fare capping as a passenger incentive mechanism for Australia and New Zealand.” Australasian Transport Research Forum 2015 Proceedings.      

(4) Chu, Alfred, Andre Lomone, and Robert Chapleau. “Evaluating the Impact of Fare Capping and Guaranteed Best Fare Policies.” Presentation at Transit Data Paris, July 2019. 

(5) “Fare Capping: A Formula for Fairer Fares.” TransitCenter. 17 August 2018.

(6) Schmitt, Angie. “Portland Debuts a Fairer Way to Pay for Transit Fares.” StreetsBlog. 16 August 2017. 

(7) Transportation Research Board. TCRP Report 94: Fare Policies, Structure and Technologies: Update, 2003. 

 TRB Staff 
Mariela Garcia-Colberg
Phone: 202-334-2361
Email: mgarciacolberg@nas.edu

Meeting Dates
First Panel: October 13, 2020
Teleconference with Consultant: November 12, 2020
Second Panel: June 29, 2020

Topic Panel

     Jeff Bernstein, New Jersey Transit

     Fabian Cevallos, Florida International University

     Amy Fong, California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS)

     Maha Jahshan, King County Metro

     Peter Lipscombe, TransLink - Vancouver Transportation Agency

     Mark McCourt, Redhill Group, Inc.

     Simon Mosbah, WSP

     Sam Sargent, Capital Metro

     Kimberly Slaughter, HNTB Corporation

     John Xie, Foothill Transit

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