Behind the scenes with MBTA data.

As the MBTA works to implement a new fare collection system (AFC 2.0), we are investigating the usage of our existing fare products in order to inform fare policy choices for the new system. This post discusses the usage of the 7-Day LinkPass. 

7-Day Pass Overview

The MBTA sells a perhaps surprisingly high number of 7-day passes compared to our monthly passes. In October of 2018, we sold roughly 70,000 LinkPasses at fare vending machines and RSTs, and just over 200,000 7-day passes (these exclude monthly passes sold through the Perq program that are stored on cards and auto-renewed each month). We think this is mostly because the 7-day pass is priced competitively—while buying one pass for the whole month is more convenient, there is only a 50 cent difference between the cost of a monthly pass versus four 7-day passes throughout a month, so passengers don’t lose a whole lot of value if they buy a 7-day pass instead of a monthly pass. The 7-day pass is also a valuable option for passengers who cannot afford a monthly pass at the beginning of the month, are unsure of their entire month of transit usage, or start needing a pass in the middle of the month. 

In the interest of knowing more about our riders, we investigated the data to see if we could find other potential reasons or interesting patterns unrelated to price. Considering that about 22% of all rides made on the bus and rapid transit network with a pass are made with 7-day passes, it is in our best interest to understand the motives driving these purchases. The questions then become: Why do people choose to use 7-day passes? And what data and trends should we investigate to possibly identify these driving factors? 

We looked at all of the 7-day passes sold in October 2017; here’s what we found:

CharlieTicket vs. CharlieCard

Almost half (45.0%) of all 7-day pass holders use paper tickets instead of plastic CharlieCards. This is surprising because CharlieCards are more durable than paper tickets and have a higher chance of lasting an entire 7-day period in a wallet or pocket. This may be due to a lack of knowledge about how to access this pass type at fare vending machines (FVMs). If riders don’t tap their CharlieCard before selecting from fare options, the machine will print a ticket by default. Also, 7-day passes weren’t available on all FVMs until 2016, so many people may be unaware that they can purchase them there.

Where are these 7-day pass paper tickets being purchased? The following table shows the top locations ranked by the percentage of 7-day passes sold on CharlieTickets (ignoring locations that sold fewer than 30 passes in October). These are mostly terminals and stops that are located in areas known for attracting Boston tourists and short-term visitors.

Table 1: Locations with More than 50% 7-Day Passes Sold as Paper Tickets

Rank Station CharlieCards Paper Ticket Total Number Paper Ticket %
1 Logan Terminals 185 1,462 1,647 88.8%
2 Airport 2,857 5,647  8,504  66.4% 
3 Orient Heights 1,422  2,488 3,910  63.6%
4 World Trade Center 226  379  605  62.6% 
5 Waban 26  42  68  61.8% 
6 Convention Center 14  22  36  61.1% 
7 Haymarket 2,172  3,396  5,568  61.0% 
8 South Station 2,613  3,914  6,527  60.0% 
9 Prudential 500  659  1,159  56.9% 
10 Longwood 107  128  235  54.5% 
11 Eliot 74  85  159  53.5% 
12 Aquarium 991  1,135  2,126  53.4% 
13 Central Square Lynn 254  286  540  53.0% 
14 Woodland 67  75  142  52.8% 
15 Sullivan Square 2,979  3,304  6,283  52.6% 
16 Dudley Station 1,348  1,413  2,761  51.2% 
17 Brookline Village 406  424  830  51.1% 
18 Newton Highlands 194  202  396  51.0% 

Point of Purchase

Overall, regardless of media, where were 7-day passes most frequently purchased? The Retail Sales network has the highest number of 7-day passes sold, but this counts all the retail sales locations as one group. Of physical stations, Maverick on the Blue Line has the highest share of 7-day pass sales, followed by Forest Hills on the Orange Line and another Blue Line Station, Airport. 

The Blue Line actually sees quite a bit of the overall 7-day weekly pass activity: over 15 percent of all 7-day passes are purchased at just 9 Blue Line stations, and another 2 percent are sold at State Street, which serves both the Blue and Orange lines. The Blue Line likely has multiple categories of passengers who are more likely to buy 7-day passes: tourists visiting and entering the system at Airport station, people with lower incomes who may not be able to afford a monthly pass all at once (and are not enrolled in Perq or otherwise able to get their pass via a pre-tax deduction), and people with irregular work schedules (certainly, there is overlap between these last two categories).

Table 2: Locations Where 7-Day Passes Are Most Frequently Purchased

Rank Station Line No. of Passes % of Total Passes
1 Retail Sales Terminals - Core n/a 14,342 6.6%
2 Maverick Blue 9,960 4.6% 
3 Forest Hills Orange 9,127 4.2% 
4 Airport Blue 8,504 3.9% 
5 Downtown Crossing Orange/Red 7,283 3.4% 
6 South Station Red 6,527 3.0% 
7 Malden Center Orange 6,336 2.9% 
8 Sullivan Square Orange 6,283 2.9% 
9 Harvard Red 6,255 2.9% 
10 Haymarket Green/Orange 5,568 2.6% 
11 Ashmont Red 5,437 2.5% 
12 Back Bay Orange 4,749 2.2% 
13 State Street Orange/Blue 4,361 2.0% 
14 Park Street Green/Red 4,166 1.9% 
15 Quincy Center Red 4,096 1.9% 
16 Ruggles Orange 4,011 1.9% 
17 Orient Heights Blue 3,910 1.8% 
18 Wellington Orange 3,890 1.8% 
19 Wonderland Red 3,800 1.8% 
20 Jackson Square Orange 3,792 1.8% 
21 Fields Corner Red 3,779 1.8% 
22 JFK/UMass Red 3,646 1.7% 
23 Central Square Red 3,504 1.6% 
24 Copley Square Green 3,469 1.6% 
25 Andrew Square Red 3,239 1.5% 

Time of Purchase

Data on when 7-day passes are sold during the day also has an interesting pattern. Last October, most 7-day passes were bought during the middle of the day. A full third of passes (33.1%) were sold after 10 a.m. and before the PM rush (beginning at 4 p.m.). These riders do not seem to have a typical 9-5 work schedule and could be motivated to purchase 7-day passes—perhaps their irregular schedules mean they travel on the MBTA for shorter stints of time, rather than having the same schedule each week. 

Day of Sale

Finally, most weekly passes were sold on a Monday or a Tuesday. This is not surprising—using a 7-day pass on Rapid Transit ten times (or, twice a day during a five-day work week) is the break-even point for seeing any savings over a single-ride fare. However, the consistency of the sales both by day of week and by weekly total is surprising. About the same number of people bought weekly passes each full week of October 2017. There is also a striking consistency across individual days of the week. (Due to a Monday holiday, the Tuesday on the week of 10/8 saw higher sales than usual.)

Table 3: Daily 7-Day Pass Purchase Quantity

  Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Total
10/1/2017 4,806 10,613 8,076 7,186 6,696 7,113 4,401 48,891
10/8/2017 3,946 7,243 10,860 7,727 7,152 7,117 4,150 48,195
10/15/2017 4,080 9,253 9,164 7,743 7,344 7,738 4,579 49,901
10/22/2017 4,221 9,767 8,680 7,137 7,037 7,346 4,027 48,215
10/29/2017 3,452 9,273 8,146          
  20,505  46,149 44,926 29,793 28,229 29,314 17,157  216,073

Conclusion

While we don’t have detailed data about who is buying 7-day passes, the patterns we see in our (admittedly limited) dataset suggests that many 7-day pass holders may not be commuters with traditional work hours. While retail locations are the single largest point of pass sales, most passes overall are sold at FVMs. With roughly 33% of 7-day passes being sold in the middle of the day, we imagine that these riders travel between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during traditional working hours. 

We also saw a higher rate of 7-day use compared to our other pass products among people who report low incomes in our system-wide passenger survey

Table 3: Means of Fare Purchase Among Passengers

Rate of Use (self-reported) Monthly Pass 7-Day Pass Pay-Per-Ride Other
Low-Income Passengers  62% 10% 22% 7%
Non-Low-Income Passengers 74% 2% 19% 4%

The fact that so many 7-day passes are sold on paper tickets is also compelling: the lack of access to plastic CharlieCards is frustrating for many riders. These riders may not be routine riders, or might not know that you can now get a weekly pass on a plastic CharlieCard. This a challenge that will be addressed with the introduction of AFC 2.0.

Analysis such as the above help us understand more about different segments of our passengers, and ideally tailor policies and service to their needs. If you have more comments about the 7-day pass or the future of MBTA fare collection and purchasing, come to one of the upcoming AFC 2.0 outreach events, listed here.