SJCOG Makes Transit EZ

The Bay Area has its Clipper Card, and the Sacramento region has its Connect Card – all-in-one payment cards that allow people to board buses and trains without the hassle of buying individual tickets.

Now San Joaquin County has something that might be even better: contactless tickets available over a mobile app that also offers trip planning.

The new app, which debuted Nov. 19, is called EZHub. Together with another trip-planning app called Vamos Mobility, EZHub enables transit riders in San Joaquin County to plan their routes across different bus and train systems and pay for tickets through a smart phone. EZHub, which is accessed from inside the Vamos Mobility app, covers transit in Escalon, Lodi, Manteca, Ripon, Tracy, and includes the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) commuter train and San Joaquin Regional Transit District.

“The concept came from my personal envy that Sacramento and the Bay Area have their own payments cards,” said Diane Nguyen, incoming Executive Director of the San Joaquin Council of Government (SJCOG).

The contactless ticketing provided by EZHub comes as COVID-19 has put public transportation in crisis. Ridership on buses has dropped as much as 75 % in San Joaquin, while rail is down 90%, Nguyen said. She hopes the contactless nature of EZHub, and the convenience of planning and paying for travel on a mobile device, will encourage more riders.

Collaboration with UC Davis and San Joaquin Valley MPOs

Improving shared mobility in the valley has always been part of SJCOG’s mission.For decades, SJCOG has operated the three-county travel demand management program (dibsmyway.com) across San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced.  For the last few years, SJCOG convened transit operators to collaborate on improving the ease and affordability of transit for residents. The metropolitan planning organization is also part of a consortium, with seven other San Joaquin Valley regional planning agencies,working closely with UC Davis’ Institute for Transportation Studies.

Their partnership is focused on developing low-carbon, affordable mobility options. Recently, that work launched Miocar, a rural, electric car sharing program in Tulare and Kern counties, and, more recently, Vamos Mobility. The Vamos Mobility app provides information and plans routes across all transit agencies in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, including trips across different agencies and services, covering both fixed-route transit trips and connections to dial-a-ride services.

The idea for EZHub took root when Nguyen started wondering if San Joaquin County could create a single-card payment system as one of its solutions to improving mobility. In exploring the idea, it became clear that instead of a plastic card, a contactless mobile app might work even better – and that ideally, it would mesh with the Vamos Mobility trip-planning app.

Working with transit operators, SJCOG provided seed funding to jumpstart planning and implementation of a mobile ticketing application. When the pandemic hit, their work became even more urgent.

“We didn’t know of a mobile app that served as a clearinghouse connecting all these transit providers but we decided to see if we could make it work,” Nguyen said. Last month, EZHub was unveiled.

“It was a happy, serendipitous event,” Nguyen said of the timing.

“We thought, ‘Let’s connect the dots and make it a one-stop shop.’ We merged the trip planner with the EZHub fare payment system so people can plan and purchase all in one place.”

Funding Success

EZHub – along with Miocar and Vamos Mobility – is supported by the California Air Resources Board’s California Climate Investments program, which uses cap-and-trade dollars to reduce GHG, and fund clean transportation options especially in economically disadvantaged communities.

EZHub will begin with an 18-month demonstration period. It received about $135,000 from SJCOG’s SB 1 (formula funds) for a feasibility study. Once the concept was vetted, it received an investment of $33,000 from Measure K, SJCOG’s half-cent sales tax, to integrate the Vamos trip planner with the EZHub app. The costs of the EZHub app development include $950 a month over 18 months, paid to the app developer, to run and maintain EZHub and a $350 per month fee to integrate with the Vamos Mobility app. Additionally, 5% of the cost of each transit trip goes to the app developer, a cost covered by each of the seven transit providers.

The investment of staff time in collaborative meetings between SJCOG and its seven transit operators made the project possible, Nguyen said. A formalized “Integrated Ticketing Working Group” met almost monthly for two years.  When the vision started to become reality, the members shifted to intensive planning and decision making, meeting weekly for nearly six months to hammer out the logistics that come with aligning seven operators.  The reinvented Vamos Mobility App (with EZHub) launched in November in Google Play and App store.

EZHub recently received another boost with the award of $800,000 from CARB’s Sustainable Transportation Equity Project (STEP). SJCOG will invest $200,000 each of the next four years into mobile application technology, licenses, and the continuation of EZHub and Vamos Mobility trip planner, and to develop the EZ fare payment system for the electric cars and bikes. The plan is to scale EZHub to include public transit operators in other counties, as well as partner with private sector ride hailing services.

Ease of Use

To use the new system, users download the Vamos Mobility app, which has links to EZHub inside the app. If you’re in Lodi, for example, and want to go to Stockton, Vamos Mobility displays route options and times; it then takes you to a window to purchase a ticket, puts the ticket in your virtual wallet to be activated on the ride. The ticket is tied to the rider’s phone and can’t be transferred due to security technologies.

Photo courtesy of Mabasi.

Among other things, EZHub offers:

  • Customized branding –while all tickets can be purchased in one place, each ticket has customizable content by fare type, date, time, agency logo, and colors.
  • Hub Analytics – each operator will have access to a secure and scalable back office portal that will enable an agency to manage their customers (such as setting specific customer accounts to access discount rider types like senior and student riders) and gain important analytical insights. Through the Hub, as an example, operators can access revenue and usage reports and monitor ticket validation activity.  An operator can also set varying user protocols for internal access by different departments—administration, finance, and customer service.

In the future, SJCOG plans to scale the app by improving integration with existing services and systems such as:

  • Uber/Lyft.
  • Stanislaus County public transit operators ticket purchases.
  • Neighboring county public transit operators (i.e. Sacramento and Bay Area) who connect trips to northern San Joaquin Valley.
  • Mio car (www.miocar.org) – San Joaquin Valley’s electric car sharing service .
  • dibs (www.dibsmyway.com) –Three county (San Joaquin – Merced – Stanislaus) county transportation demand management ridesharing and vanpool services.
Lessons Learned
  • Find Efficiencies. Look for efficiencies and economies of scale by working in partnership with other institutions and agencies.
  • Be Adaptable Technology is always changing. Clean mobility options grounded in technological innovation require fast decision making.  MPOs and partners must be able to reassess and reimagine their vision.  SJCOG started out with the idea of a plastic card and ended up with a paperless mobile ticketing solution.
  • Line up funds quickly. When decisions are made, the funds to seed the startup should have already been lined up to deploy the invention.
  • Think Forward. Consider how to scale. SJCOG plans to expand upon EZHub by adding electric bikes and electric car fare payment.
 



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