The Potential for Using Transit Smart Cards to Encourage Regional Transportation and Land Use Integration

Many metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), councils of governments (COGs), and large transit agencies have embraced transit smart cards as a means to encourage multi-agency collaboration and improve ease of transfers. However, little research or implementation work has been done on the wider potential of smart cards as a tool for integrated transportation and land use planning; in particular, the promotion of economic development and livability in priority development areas and transit-oriented developments. MPO/COGs (hereafter referred to as MPOs) in particular, have much to be gained from leveraging the substantial resources they have committed to developing transit smart card systems. San Francisco’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission is a prime example, which started its Clipper Card development project in the 90s as a way to help functionally integrate the 27 (at last count) transit agencies that serve the Bay Area. A recent UC Berkeley study (Howard & Wickland undated) found that the regional administrative costs for transit in the Bay Area were roughly 79 percent higher than peer regions in the U.S. on a cost per rider basis—a cost differential that is certainly due in part to the resources MTC has invested in coordinating these disparate, independent agencies through the development of the Clipper system. Nevertheless, these investments have been narrowly focused on the objective of increasing the ease of transit transfers and in doing so, the goal of increasing transit ridership in the bargain.

This research project will investigate the opportunities for MPOs to leverage the substantial smart card investments they have made over the past 20 years to encourage integrated transportation and land use planning in their regions. Using a combination of an in- depth literature review and targeted interviews, this project will set the stage for later research and possible implementation of a system of a transit rider rewards program that will encourage living, working, and shopping in PDAs/TODs while simultaneously increasing transit smart card use, transit ridership, pedestrian and bicycling activities, retail sales, retail development, affordable housing development, and a host of other equity benefits that will cumulatively enhance regional transportation and land use integration planning efforts. This study’s literature review efforts will focus on the following areas of investigation related to the prospects for the implementation of a transit rider rewards program: 1) the benefits of transit pass/smart card rewards programs as reported in the research literature; 2) the effects of membership and other rewards programs used by retail outlets on retail behavior; 3) challenges faced in TOD and PDA programs around the U.S., with particular attention to challenges posed by and to retail development within these planning areas; 4) the most effective economic development practices and outcomes for retail; and 5) possible funding sources for pilot and full implementation of a transit rider rewards program.

Together, this information will be evaluated with an eye towards developing a plan for future research and development of a pilot program for testing the potential for full implementation.


Mineta Consortium for Transportation Mobility
San José State University

Principal Investigator: 

Christopher E. Ferrell, Ph.D.

PI Contact Information: 

Mineta Transportation Institute
San José State University
210 N. 4th St., 4th Floor
San José, CA 95112 

Funding Source(s) and Amounts Provided (by each agency or organization): 

U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology – $24,995.50 

Total Project Cost: 


Agency ID or Contract Number: 



October 2017 to February 2020

Project Number: