OCTA’s Discounted Day Pass Fails to Impact Declining Ridership, Will End

The OCTA day pass promotional discount that began in October will phase out on April 9 and return to a $5 fare. Image: OCTA
The OCTA day pass promotional discount that began in October will phase out on April 9 and return to a $5 fare. Image: OCTA

Last Monday, OCTA’s Board of Directors voted 13-1 to phase out its promotional $4 day pass for the bus, ending a six-month experiment with one of its strategies to turn around the county’s steep ridership decline.

The return to a $5 fare for the day pass comes after the discount brought less than a one-percent change on weekday and weekend ridership between October 2016 and February 2017–when the discount was offered–compared to the period a year earlier. Staff had hoped to increase ridership by 600,000 boardings during the promotional period.

“The day pass didn’t provide the movement of the needle that we were looking for in terms of increasing ridership,” said Sean Murdock, director of finance and administration.

Image: OCTA
Image: OCTA

The fare reduction coincided with the agency’s work to overhaul its bus system as part of the OCTA’s Bus 360 plan. The plan focused on making bus service more frequent, cutting low-performing lines, reallocating service to higher use areas, and adding mobile ticketing and the discounted pass.

Sales of day passes did increase by a little over ten percent, but that was offset by a more than 23 percent decrease in purchases of $2 full-fare trips, according to the staff report. This trend led staff to determine that day passes were from existing riders and, if the promotion continued, would decrease future revenue by $1.9 million per year.

An estimated $1,179,956 of cap-and-trade funds that OCTA received from the state’s Low Carbon Transit Operations Program will be used to offset the revenue loss from the failed promotional fare. Staff will return to the board with a proposal on how to use the $3.3 million remaining in that program, specifically around efforts to improve ridership.

This is the latest setback in the agency’s aggressive effort to turn around its falling ridership. In the past five years, annual ridership decreased from 53 million in 2012 to 43 million in 2016.

But Orange County isn’t alone in the flight away from buses. The county’s ridership decline follows a trend happening in the region, state, and country.