The ways to pay on ETS now seem to be growing as quickly as the fares: Along with the smart card demonstration comes a pilot program to accept Air Miles for monthly passes.
While ETS expects to increase ridership, 650 points for a monthly pass is hardly a good deal. Air Mile dollar values are variable and hidden, but gift cards are consistently cheaper. Rather than a $74.25 ETS pass, 650 points are worth about $81 to $93 of gift cards.
One reason for the price difference is stores are more likely to take a bit of a loss in the hopes that you’ll end up spending money you didn’t plan on. This is why I’d still recommend the pass if you have the points.
The other reason, unsurprisingly, is that Edmonton transit riders are just plain being gouged again. In Toronto, the $109 monthly pass is 850 points. This suggests a fairer price for an ETS pass would be 580 points — an overcharge of more than $9.
Perhaps the price will be a better deal after the next — now annual — hike on monthly passes next year. Holding on to points until then might turn out be a good strategy — or a very bad one.
The bottom line is Air Miles is a loyalty program, not a transit charity. Points aren’t free and are unlikely to add up fast enough for more than a pass or two per year: Done the hard way, it can take on the order of $20 of purchases to get a single point.
Certainly coupons, deals, and special credit cards speed the process up. It’s possible to play the game well, but the game plays back. Large corporations and chains can afford loss-leaders, and special credit cards often have higher fees.
Some people with Air Miles lying around can now use them to buy a basic necessity, and that’s something I can support. After the points run out, though, I can’t see this saving any money.
I also have to doubt the hopes to convert measurable numbers of drivers. Given the choice, it’s hard to see very many choosing a bus pass over a vacation or shiny new blender, let alone an overpriced pass.
Ultimately, although new payment services are nice, they aren’t nearly as important as the amount to be paid or the quality of transit service.