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​Important experiences and lessons from integrated fare systems

Jorge Rebelo's picture
Although integrated modal fares are important innovations for low-income riders, these systems can be plagued by many problems.

For example, in Rio de Janeiro — despite efforts by the government to convene all transit operators during the planning stage —private rail-based operators were reluctant to participate in the design of the system because they feared that the bus system would stand to benefit more from integrated fares.  In the end, the government went ahead with its plans.

Today, although the integrated fare system benefits the poor, it fosters the inefficiency of inter-municipal buses that receive a subsidy that allow them to survive despite low load factors. Several of those routes should have been integrated with rail. There was also fraud by van operators using transport routes and the system’s smart cards. Consequently, the subsidy rose very quickly. 

Even so, Rio de Janeiro’s system is a blessing to low-income users, and overall ridership increased. If challenges are met, the system can work better for everyone. Efforts must be done to fine-tune the system, close loopholes, decrease fraud and reward the most efficient parts of the system.

In my previous blog entry, I wrote about nine suggestions for designing and implementing integrated fare systems. Now, in addition to the initial example from Brazil, I’d like to share a few other experiences and lessons regarding integrated modal fares.

When there is a regional transport agency, an integrated fare system’s level of service can be monitored from a central location, provided buses are equipped with GPS and smart card systems (as in Santiago, Chile).