|TriMet bus parked near MAX tracks (helping out on opening day) in Portland, OR. Public domain photo, taken by the poster. Category:Transportation in Portland, Oregon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|English: Honda Civic Hybrid used by Zipcar, a carsharing service. Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|Public bike sharing station (Bicing) in Hospital del Mar, Barceloneta District (Barcelona, Catalonia). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Are you like me and have a large number of the chain store loyalty cards attached to your key ring that your rarely if ever use? One of the reasons that the stores use these cards is that their marketing people tell them that a customer that if a person has a loyalty card they will more likely shop at that store when they have a choice.
The problem is you get so many of these cards and many of them are nothing but a program to get access to your information so they can target even more advertising your way. There is not a benefit for you as a consumer to have these cards unless you actually get something for your effort.
Now if you could just carry one card that would work in all the stores and you could benefit from it by the total dollars you spent maybe it would be worth something but then again that would require the stores to work together which is not going to happen. In other words they companies want you to have the cards so they can target more advertising at you, but the programs are so cumbersome that many people don't want anything to do with it.
The reason I bring this up is that we have a similar problem when it comes to alternative transportation modes such as transit and vehicle sharing whether it be bicycle or auto sharing. Each of these systems are an integral part of creating an alternative transportation system and are interrelated but each of theme operate in their own little world with their own system and not integration.
For example here in Portland to ride Tri-Met I need one fare or pass, to get a car share I need a either a Zip Car membership or Car to Go, and once a bike sharing system is actually operating in the city you will need another membership for that. In addition you do not have a one stop shopping center on line for all of these services either, you have to go to different websites to get all the information you need. In other words the system is not easy to use which reduces the usefulness of the system for many people.
Now imagine a system where you only needed one card to ride your transit, then pick up a car share when you needed it or rent a bicycle for that final mile to your house or business? You can also use the same card to access parking lots and pay tolls which makes life a lot less complicated because you do not have to worry about buying your transit pass and joining a car share and a bicycle share in different transactions with different cars.
Planning magazine from the American Planning Association recently had an article that described a system just like that is being used in Germany. In one of the major German cities there is now a universal transit card that works for transit, parking lots, car sharing, bicycle sharing and tolls. You simply pay a monthly fee just like you would with a current transit pass and it allows you to not only allows you to use the transit system but also allows you to use car and bicycle sharing with a certain amount of time allowed each month. Using a system like this you could have different levels of travel allowances much the same way some transit systems such as Sound Transit has different amounts of passes depending on how far you need to travel on a regular basis.
While this type of system has the potential to create more transit and sharing trips by making the system much easier to use, the difficulty is that you are dealing with both public and private organizations that have their own self interest in mind and often have tunnel vision when it comes to cooperating with other organizations. One only has to look to any city with more than one major transit system to see a lack of working together. While we have seen the implementation of fare cards that be used on different transit carries, there is still little integration of schedules, services, and information. While there has been some progress over the years such as on line trip planners that have multiple transit agencies information in them, there still a lot more that could and should be done.
If we are to get more people thinking about getting out of their automobiles, it is necessary to make transit and its support systems easier to use and more convenient.