Septa’s New “Weekend” Regional Rail Tickets are Not Really a Discount

May 15, 2008

Yesterday, Septa announced a new promotional fare for travel on its regional rail trains on weekends and major holidays. It’s not really as much of a savings as one might expect.

Septa trains are broken up into a system of 6 zones – higher zones require a higher fare. Furthermore, fares are broken up into peak, off peak, on-board peak, and on board off peak… and there are also round trips and one ways.

Here is the complex pricing matrix of one-way tickets:

When all six zone and ticket type combinations are tallied, that’s a total of 30 different fares… and that’s just for one way tickets.

Now let’s look at the round-trip discounts.

Four fare types for each zone times six zones equals 24 round trip fares.  We’re up to 54 so far.  We also have to consider the inevitable combination of a trip that is half “peak” and half “off-peak”, say, someone who goes from Philly to Wilmington on a Friday during rush hour and comes back to Philly the next morning.  These fares aren’t even listed.

Now, the new weekend discount fares.

Four more prices.  Sigh!

Let’s study how much of a savings these weekend fares really are.  Since they are weekend fares, they are really a special case of off-peak fares, which are already lower than the peak fares.  They’re also advance purchase fares.  So let’s compare these to the third column in the chart above – Off-peak round trip (A).

In zones 1 and 2, the weekend fare is 75 cents lower than the regular off-peak fare, a discount of about 12%.  Ok, cool.  A zone 3 off peak round trip is $8.25, and the new weekend price is $8, a whopping 25 cents….3% off.  Zones 4 and 5 normally would be $9.25, and the weekend fare is $9… another mighty 25 cent discount, about 3% discount.  The most insulting is the non-discount for zone 6, which is a $15 round trip regardless of whether it’s a “weekend” or “off-peak round trip” ticket.

What Septa really needs to work on is simplifying these complicated fares.  They could get by with three fares.  Center city Philly to somewhere else within the city, somewhere outside the city but still in the State of Pennsylvania, and somewhere out of state ( NJ or Delaware ).

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