BART to reward riders who commute during off-peak hours

A six-month pilot program to reward BART riders to not ride during peak hours will launch sometime in spring.

BART is collaborating with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority for the program, which has already been piloted in Singapore. According to Ryan Greene-Roesel, a senior transportation planner for the transportation authority:

“The pilot will be focused on trying to address peak congestion on BART using travel incentives.”

As many BART riders know, capacity inside trains during the morning and evening commute is at its tipping point. BART reached an average of 429,000 weekday riders between April and June of this year ­­­– a 5.2 percent increase from the previous quarter.

Tentatively called the San Francisco BART Travel Rewards Program, the pilot will work similarly to Singapore’s Travel Smart Rewards program. Commuters will sign up online using a software program and enter the account number on the transit card. In this case, BART riders would sign up using their Clipper cards.

Commuters earn points for just using the rail system, but earn bonuses for catching trains during the off-peak commute hours.
Depending on the number of trips made during off-peak hours, commuters receive different weekly badges, such as Bronze, Silver or Gold.

Rewards offered in Singapore are cash prizes, and commuters can win from anything to $1 to $200. There is even a monthly drawing to win $1,500. Points can also be redeemed for cash directly, according to Singapore’s Land Transportation Authority website.

Greene-Roesel said the BART program would offer similar incentives.

To be successful, employers would have to offer their employees a more flexible schedule. Greene-Roesel said she has already had two workshops with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce to provide resources for employers to adopt more flexible schedules.

Singapore’s rail system saw a 7 to 9 percent decrease in congestion during peak periods, which makes it worthwhile to test out on BART, said Greene-Roesel.

The software used in Singapore was from the Los Altos-based Urban Engines, which transit planners are also seeking to license the program from.

The total cost of the pilot project is $954,000. Last Tuesday, SFCTA’s Finance Committee approved to execute a three-year agreement with BART for up to $406,000 for the pilot project. BART will contribute $400,000 to fund the pilot, while $508,000 will come from federal funds.

The SFCTA plans to contribute $46,000 in Proposition K sales tax to finance the pilot, but it must get approved first by the authority’s Plans and Programs Committee.

Greene-Roesel said the program is a short-term solution to the jammed-packed BART trains while the transit agency waits for new trains to arrive.

Additionally, BART officials announced last week that more trains would be added to transbay routes during the rush hour commute and provide more service to the Oakland International Airport starting on Monday.