Marin County eyed for unlimited transit pilot program

A pilot program testing a new pass that allows unlimited rides on all Bay Area transit agencies could soon be offered to some Marin County employers by the end of the year.

The Bay Area's top transportation agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and BART have been testing the new program, known as the Clipper BayPass, with university students and affordable housing residents since 2022.

On Monday, staff from the two agencies gave a presentation to the Marin Transit board on a plan to expand the program to 10 large employers in the Bay Area.

"We have had a lot of interest throughout the Bay Area for participation," BART planner Ryan Reeves told the board. "We're looking to make sure we have this range of industries and diversity of locations. We have heard from folks in the North Bay interested in participating."

One possible candidate in Marin for the next phase of the program is the College of Marin, according to Marin Transit staff. Attempts to contact the college for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.

While employers and universities offer transit passes for individual agencies, the Clipper BayPass allows users to access any of the more than two dozen transit operators in the nine-county Bay Area.

The pilot program is part of an effort by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to simplify and integrate fares across transit providers in the region.

"The Bay Area is home to over two dozen transit agencies, each with its own fares, fare products and fare policies," Metropolitan Transportation Commission analyst Terence Lee told the board during the meeting. "This is a pretty disjointed landscape that can often lead to a disorienting and oftentimes discouraging experience for our riders."

Reeves told the Marin Transit board that the results of the first phase of the program so far have been promising.

Students from three universities — University of California at Berkeley, San Francisco State University and San Jose State University — were selected at random to receive the pass. Staff then analyzed the transit travel patterns of the students compared to other students who are provided transit passes that only allow for rides on a single transit agency.

Reeves said they found students with a Clipper BayPass took 40% more transit trips, with a 74% increase in transfers between different transit operators. Additionally, students took more trips on larger transit providers, such as BART or Caltrain, rather than only traveling on local bus services such as AC Transit.

"From this randomized control trial, we know that the BayPass increases public transportation usage, increases transfers between operators and increases the average fare of transit used," Reeves told the board.

The second phase of the program seeks to provide the passes to 20,000 employees at 10 employers in the Bay Area beginning in December. Employers would pay for the passes in one-year contracts, with the prices based on the number of employees and density of transit operators near their offices, Lee said. The prices would be set based on estimated ridership for each employer and would be meant to reimburse the costs of service to the transit agencies.

"The average price per employee should be a discount from what any individual might need to pay for transit in the open market," Lee told the board.

The commission has $5 million set aside in the event that the cost of service exceeds what the employers pay in their contracts, according to Lee. If the costs are lower than the contract payments, the money will be provided to the commission and participating transit agencies.

The second phase of the program is expected to run through the end of June 2026. Reeves said organizers plan to gradually add in more businesses throughout the second phase rather than offering the passes to all 10 employers at once.

Marin Transit board members voiced support for the program on Monday. The board president, Marin County Supervisor Katie Rice, said the passes "would add an increasing convenience" and "hopefully create more demand and use of the transit service that exists."

"I think this is really important and the way of the future," Rice said.

Another board member, Marin County Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, said the program could supplement existing transit benefits already provided by local businesses and employers.

"Employers have already bought into offering commute benefits and this could fit within that framework," Moulton-Peters said.

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