Fare Boundary Woes

I received the following comment from a student at Ryerson, and thought it would be a good jumping off point for a new thread.

This is more of a question rather than a comment.

I am an Engineering student at Ryerson University working on a report for my Technical Communications class.  I chose to write my report on: the inconvenience it is for students commuting from Brampton/Mississauga area, cost wise.

It is financially hard for students to pay for:

  • The local transit to get to the GO station.
  • The monthly GO pass and
  • The TTC fare from Union Station to Dundas.

And not to mention the time that is consumed commuting.  I was wondering if these issues have been discussed before with TTC and GO authorities.  Would anyone of you know the status of the situation?  Are there any documents or online resources that discuss this in detail?

If they have not been discussed before, what are your views on this topic?  Any help on your behalf is much appreciated.


There are a number of intertwined issues here.

Fare By Distance vs Flat Fares 

In another post (the one with the concluding remarks from the GTA Transit Summit), I raised the question of a flat GTA-wide fare.  Another writer pointed out that if the “premium services” like GO Rail continued to charge by distance, this would deter riders who needed to use those links every day.  Moreover, this would work against my proposal that GO Rail have an important role in getting people from the outer suburbs to downtown as an alternative to subway construction.

I still haven’t come down on one side or the other of that debate, but remain concerned that fare-by-distance, applied across the entire GTA, will discourage the very people we want to get on the transit system — the long-haul commuters. Conversely, if we don’t run good, well-connected local services within and between the many suburban nodes, the cheaper short-haul fares will be of little good to that potential market.

There’s also the question of whether a “local fare” on whatever system should count everywhere.  For example, if you start off on a local bus system to access GO, then the same fare (pass or whatever) should be valid on the TTC.  There is a precedent for this in the old days of zone fares in Toronto.  If your trip started on a zone 2 bus, connected with the subway, and then continued on a zone 2 bus, the original zone 2 transfer was valid for the third link of the trip. 

(As an example, take a bus to Islington Station [which was in zone 2], ride east to Royal York [also in zone 2] and use the Islington bus transfer on the Royal York bus.  If we substitute local buses for the two “zone 2” links, and GO Rail for the subway, the situation is identical.)

One hopeful sign on this issue is Mayor Miller’s embrace of the need for a University Student pass.  That’s a first step, but more is needed.  Much as I hate to sound curmudgeonly, there are a lot of people seeking cheaper fares who are not students.  Deciding who “deserves” to get cut rate transit fares and who doesn’t is a difficult political question.

Service Levels

In the trip described by “Mon” above, there are two legs — the local bus and the GO train — where service is typically infrequent and may, or may not, be well-coordinated depending on the nature of the trip and the time of day.

As I and others have written many, many times, service quality is the primary determinant of transit usage.  The greatest integrated fare structure in the world will not compensate for the sense that taking transit is a waste of time, unreliable, or both.

An important task for the new GTTA and anyone looking to drop megabucks on the region will be the provision of good and predictable service for a wide variety of trips.  If people have to wait 15 minutes for a bus, particularly if this comes from a bad transfer connection, that’s 15 minutes in which they could have been miles away by car.

I think I will end this post here and wait for comments to continue the thread.

22 thoughts on “Fare Boundary Woes

  1. The TTC has a current policy where a TTC-GO-TTC trip does not require a second TTC fare.  An example would be Browns Line (123) bus to Long Branch, GO to Union (Regular GO fare), then use Route 123 transfer to board the subway.

    In terms of competing routes, GO has frequent Brampton to York Mills service that takes about 1 hour and a premium fare.  Brampton Transit and YRT operate a joint bus (route 77) as a single fare from Bramalea City Center to Finch subway station.  It takes between 1 and 1.5 hours depending on the time of day and is operated as a standard bus route.  A second (TTC) fare is required to enter the subway.


  2. You touched on predictable service.  I find service in 905, Durham Region at least, to be far more predictive then the ttc.  DRT is far less frequent, but more predictive.

    From my house in Whitby, I can take the #4 Anderson bus to the GO station.  Posted on the DRT website are schedules for all buses in Durham Region.  This site reads that the #4 bus arrives at Anderson and Rossland at 7:10 every morning, and you can count on this.  It will take you to the GO station with a few minutes to stamp your 10 ride pass. 

    Also, buses wait at the GO station for in coming trains.  They wait a few minutes for passengers from the trains to board the buses, and then depart on their routes.  If the train is late, the buses wait.  This is reliable predictable service.  The bus service is comparable in time to driving times.

    I don’t understand why the ttc cannot implement an online schedule to inform riders of transit arrival times and trip length times.  This would drastically improve reliability and dependability of the ttc without needing system design changes.  I understand that this information depends largely on traffic, but I’m sure ttc drivers have regular slow downs due to traffic.  Since these slow downs are regular they can be included in the schedule, the same trip doesn’t take the same amount of time at different times of the day.  Nevertheless trip times are predcitable for ttc drivers, but this information is not made known to riders.

    Steve:  The TTC is so used to having many routes or periods of service where service is frequent enough that you don’t need a schedule, that they have never really concentrated on keeping infrequent services operating on convenient, predictable schedules.


  3. There are three points that come to mind.

    If a “second leg” transfer is not feasable due to separate carriers (Gordon reminds us that the TTC allows this when using GO), perhaps a GTA-wide policy of discount fares to connect with GO might be a workable alternative. YRT has a 50 cent fare for trips to and from a GO station with a valid GO fare.

    Ideally, I would like to a more symetrical treatment of fares when crossing a jurisdiction boundary, though there are some benefits to the current inequities. When the TTC runs outside of Toronto, they are operating under contract to the local service, and therefore must collect the local fare. For instance, when the Don Mills bus crosses north of Steeles, it becomes a YRT bus in TTC colours. You must pay the YRT fare (either in cash, with a YRT ticket, or as a convenience with a TTC ticket) but your transfer is good on a YRT vehicle (and should be traded for a YRT transfer that is good for 2 hours!). The opposite is not true. If you travel on a YRT Leslie South bus during rush hours, it crosses south of Steeles on Don Mills and you do not have to pay the TTC fare, but your transfer is not good to board the TTC. Travel between Don Mills/Sheppard and Leslie/Highway 7 requires one fare on YRT 90, but two fares on TTC 25D.

    My third point is about fare by distance. I am not totally against zone fares, but seeing how it is implemented by YRT and by Metlink in Melbourne Australia, it makes sense to have a WIDE zone boundary. With YRT, the boundary between zone 1 and zone 2 is about 2 km wide. Travel into the boundary from either zone requires a single fare, while travel through to the other zone requires a supplement (not a full second fare!).

    Translate this to the north of Toronto, instead of Steeles Avenue being the zone boundary, the boundary could be from Finch to 14th Ave/John St. Travel on either system into the boundary requires only one fare and full transfer privileges onto routes staying in the boundary or returning to the same zone would be possible. For a supplement of $1, you could travel through to the other zone and your transfer privileges would go with that. Of course, the issue of trip-based transfers (TTC) versus time-based transfers (YRT) is a whole other can of worms that would have to be dealt with.


  4. While it’s important to keep fares for long-distance commuters reasonable, remember that a flat fare structure discourages the short trips which are the most profitable. The higher the minimum travel cost, the more likely the TTC will lose the short trips and be stuck with the worst riders from a cost recovery standpoint.

    It’s bad enough that I pay the same to get to work (Wellesley to Union) as does someone coming in from Northern Etobicoke or Scarborough, especially since my marginal cost to the system is zero. If my fare went up to subsidize people coming in from Brampton I would be much more likely to stop using the TTC altogether and start walking. It’s fine if you want to cut fares across the board, but don’t force those of us who choose to live close to our destinations to subsidize those who don’t.


  5. On zoned fares, when I lived in Poland you could buy 10 minute, 30 minute, or two-hour tickets. Of course, this generally means using a proof-of-payment (or honor) system.


  6. I think fare by distance is equitable as long as it’s a reliable system.

    I think most people would understand a system where each journey had a (small) minimum charge so a 10km trip on three carriers is more expensive than a 10km trip on one carrier – if you got three taxi trips it costs more than one long one because they have a minimum charge.

    However, a 10km trip on one carrier should be the same price as any other 10km trip on the same carrier. In Ireland there is controversy where zone boundaries mean some trips on the same carrier are charged as cheap city routes and some as more expensive suburban despite being of similar length and equipment.


  7. The problem I see with fares by distance is that it will require people riding the longest/furthers to pay the most (duh), and on typical transit systems those are the people who have no other choice–for example, someone living on Dixon Rd riding TTC to Sheppard and Midland is probably a low-paid worker and not the business owner. The people who have to make these long trips are not the better-off who would buy a car.

    (GO trains have different usage demographics. I would argue that fare-by-distance works for GO Transit but not for TTC, because of these demographic differences.)

    If we cap the maximum fare by distance to keep it low enough to be affordable by the captive ridership, then keeping the overall revenue up would require a pretty high minimum fare, at which point why bother?

    Attracting more people for short trips based on a low minimum fare may not work for the TTC because a lot of the likely short-local-trip routes are already crowded; and may not work for suburban systems because there is insufficient density and frequency to make it practical.

    At some point, we have to face the fact that trying to commute long distances within a metropolitain area of four or five or six million people will be incovenient and expensive no matter what the mode. Certainly the greater Toronto area does not have the integrated system of, say, New York or London. As far as I know, New York has a flat fare over Manhattan and the boroughs, but it will still take a *long* time to go from the Bronx to Queens by the subway. London appears to have reasonable integration between buses, tube, and trains, but it’s not cheap.

    Commuting from Brampton to some place in Toronto away from a GO train station is painful and there is little that can be done to improve the situation, short of a *lot* of money being thrown at transit systems. In the case of post-secondary schooling, residence may be a more reasonable option than struggling daily over multiple transit modes.

    (It’s also easy enough to walk from Ryerson to Union Station–use PATH if the weather is bad–which would save the TTC fare anyway.)


  8. Jonathan Cooper Says: “I would be much more likely to stop using the TTC altogether and start walking.”

    That would a good thing. It would benefit the city, the environment and your health.

    While we should encourage taking transit instead of the car, should should encourage walking and cycling ahead of transit, where possible.


  9. I’m still unsure about how the regional fare system should work, but fare by distance would be disastrous from any point of view other than a very short-term financial one.

    At the moment the best option I can see is to adopt a zonal system like London’s for all public transport in the Greater Toronto Area. The City of Toronto would be zone 1, so it wouldn’t actually involve raising anyone’s fares (we already have de facto zone boundaries as people pay a second fare when they cross the city border).

    This would mean that the Mississauga-dwelling Ryerson student would buy a ticket for travel between zones 1 and 2, which would cover not only the GO trip but also the local transport to and from the railway stations, just as a London Travelcard covers all trains, buses, and trams within the zones indicated. (Actually, in London buses and trams have lower fares than trains, and so are treated differently by the Travelcard, but that probably wouldn’t be appropriate in the Toronto area.)

    This is exactly the sort of co-ordination that the GTTA should be considering for the Greater Toronto Area’s transport network if they are to be our Transport for London or Vancouver TransLink rather than an additonal level of meaningless bureaucracy.


  10. The above idea about 2 km wide zone “boundaries” seems brilliant to me.  It solves the problem that, wherever your boundary is — unless a body of water or something — you are going to have people paying two fares to cross that boundary.

    I recently spent a few months staying near Yonge and Clarke, half way between Steeles and Highway 7.  I would have had to pay an extra $2.50 for the extra 2 km north of Steeles, to get to the Finch subway.  I had high hopes for bicycling to Steeles to catch the bus or right to Finch subway but, most of the time I just ended up taking the car.


  11. In the old days, the Bloor subway was completely in ZONE 1, so I don’t quite get your Islington/Royal York example.  The passenger would still have to pay a Zone 1 fare to enter the Bloor subway at Islington.  Mind you, he doesn’t have to pay another Zone 2 fare to board the Royal York bus, but he’s still paying two fares.  Am I missing something?

    Steve:  The passenger is paying only one Zone 2 fare.  The analogy is this:  the same fare that gets you on Brampton Transit to get to the GO train should also get you into the TTC, just as someone could use their Islington bus transfer on Royal York.


  12. The last few times we were in London, England, we had the 6-zone travelcard.  This was usable on all underground, bus and local trains in the area.  If you went out of the area, (we went to Windsor) you could buy a rail ticket that went fromt “boundary Zone 6” to whereever.  (Some restrictions involving whether the train had a stop at the boundary — the Flying Scotsman was ineligible.)

    And I remember the Toronto zone fares.  When we moved to Thistletown in 1959, we were out near the zone 4 boundary – I think it was 3/4 but might have been 4/5!  A trip downttown would mean paying a fare on the Woodbridge bus; another at Weston road onto Wilson and another at Yonge Street.  But Zone tickets were available that cost less than single fares.

    I moved to the City a few months before they abolished Zone fares.


  13. This topic will inevitably bring up a lot debate since it involves money.  This is my take on the situation.  No matter who subsidizes the long haul rider, it will cost money.  If it is status quo, it means short haul riders are paying the subsidy.  If the government steps in and make a $3.25 fare to use any transit system between Oakville and Oshawa (just a thought), this will cost millions.  You bet this money will come [from] bus, trams and capital budgets.  Either way, it is not a win win situation.

    The slightly better way to this problem is to pay by distance and combine it with a RFID smart card.  This way the Mississauga dwelling Ryerson student can pay a small amount to use MT to go to the GO station since it is a short haul ride (maybe $0.50?).  When he gets on the GO, he will pay a long haul ride charge (maybe $6.00?).  After he reaches Union Station, he can pay a short haul fee to use the TTC to go to Dundas Station ($0.50?).  It will still be a lot of money, but it is cheaper than the status quo.  There should be a penalty for living so far away.  People who live close to transit and work should be rewarded for that choice.

    The RFID smart card would be beneficial.  It can speed up boarding since the passenger can preload the credits before boarding a transit vehicle.  Second, when he leaves the transit vehicle, the RFID chip can detect this and bill smart card by distance travelled.  Third, the RFID smart card can detect a sequence of boarding different transit vehicles.  For example, the TTC can setup a promotion where a person who takes a GO train and board a TTC vehicle will receive 20% off.  Finally, RFID chips can provide the TTC with accurate data with respect to ridership.  It can have real time data as oppose to a human counting boardings on a bus.

    Steve:  All of this technology is very nice, but until it is in place years from now, if ever, we need to deal with fare structures today.  The more complex the fare structure, the less likely it can be implemented without a full technological implementation.

    On the subject of subsidising long haul riders:  We build billion-dollar subways for them and then let them ride for the same basic fare as someone on a bus route.  The capital expense and the ongoing operating subsidy ($8-million or so annually for the Sheppard line) eat up money that could provide more vehicles and better service on the system as a whole.


  14. I know this is somewhat counter-intuitive.  If we look at encouraging ridership through fares, we must realize that the inner 416 has higher ridership than the outer 416.  Fare by distance doesn’t make sense when looking at ridership incentives.  Those in the outer 416, where ridership is relatively low, will pay more than those in the inner 416, where ridership is relatively high.  Increasing fares in the outer 416 will reduce ridership in the areas of the city already experiencing relatively low ridership.

    However, it does obviously cost more to transport people in the outer 416 than those in the inner 416.

    We need to determine how we analyze the fare system.  Should it be looked at from an incentive point of view, or from a cost recovery point of view?

    On another note, it is obvious that subways should be built in high-density areas. The Yonge line is effective because it links downtown with the high-density areas of Yonge-St.Clair, Yonge-Englinton, and Yonge-Sheppard.  Instead of running under-capacity trains on the Spadina and Sheppard lines, and encouraging high-density growth along the waterfront, shouldn’t the city be encouraging high-density development in areas such as Sheppard-Don Mills, or major intersections on the Spadina line?  A high-density growth centre at Sheppard-Don Mills would increase ridership on the Sheppard line, while justifying future expansion of the line to the Scarborough-Town Centre.  Encouraging high-density growth along subway lines would go a long way in helping the ttc’s budget woes, without requiring any capital expansion costs.

    Steve:  There is a myth that development at subway stations makes the lines self-sustaining.  In fact, the people who will live in the condos planned for Don Mills Station will not necessarily work downtown, and in any event there aren’t enough of them to feed the subway.  The Bloor and Yonge lines get huge numbers of riders from surface feeder buses without which they would be half-empty.

    Also, if we do go for development around stations, we get high-rise clusters with big gaps in between.  The Official Plan aims for medium density along transit routes and this implies surface operations with closer stop spacings than we get on subways. 


  15. If we reform the fare system, there are many inequities that exist. For example, GO’s fares are supposedly fare-by-distance, but a trip from Aurora to Union is cheaper than Brampton to Union, a closer distance in track miles as well as “the crow flies”. And when GO introduced the 407 service in 2000, the fare system did not work properly when doing suburb-to-suburb. Square One to York U is the same fare as Bramalea to York U (about half the distance), but Bramalea to Unionville via 407 is more expensive than Square One to Unionville!)

    Of course, there is the additional issue of where some transit systems have a free transfer (YRT to Brampton to Mississauga) but not to the TTC, and from Durham to the TTC, you have to pay a GO transit premium fare to get across the boundary, as there is no DRT/TTC connection yet.

    To address all of these fare issues (including some sort of regional rail integration) will take a lot of work. I am not confident that the GTTA/Smart Card will be a magic wand, even though the technology and the potential is there to do it right.


  16. Devil’s Advocate here:

    One idea I often see mentioned here is that long-haul commuters should use GO transit.  BUT, how cost effective is Go transit compared to subway in terms of peak hour capacity per infrastructure dollar?  The capacity of one subway train and one GO train are similar, but a subway can deliver a trainful of passengers every couple of minutes, which GO will never do.

    More and more I think the real problem is that people just need to get used to living near their prime destinations, or else get used to paying for the infrastructure to cover the commuting distance.  And this includes car commuters who get to ignore most of the real costs involved in accomodating their privilege.

    Steve:  The cost of infrastructure is not just the train, but the tracks, tunnels, stations, carhouses, etc.  Taking the average speed of a subway to be 30kmh, this means that one round trip kilometer takes 2 minutes, or just under one headway.  This means that for every kilometer of infrastructure we build at anywhere from $100-225-million (depending on who you believe), we will buy one train at a cost of somewhere around $18-million.  Suburban commuters don’t conveniently all travel in one corridor, and improved service on GO could provide more capacity into the core much more cheaply than subway construction.

    As for penalties against long-haul commuters, the growing problem in the suburbs is the car-poor commuter who is forced to take public transit over long distances because they cannot afford to live close to work, or several members of the same family have jobs in dispersed locations.  None of the great theories about jobs and housing being close to each other work in a region where long commutes are encouraged by the road system and the city has developed accordingly. 


  17. My personal preference is zone fares with wide boundaries along with time-based transfers.

    For those only familiar with the TTC, a time-based trasfer is one that must be obtained at the time fare is paid (that means no open access machines at subway stations!) but is good for a period of time (many range from 90 minutes to 2 hours). There is no identification on the transfer as to what route you obtained it from, just the date and an expiry time.

    One other alternative I have experienced is used in San Antonio. They actually charge you 15 cents for a transfer that must be surrendered when it is used to board a vehicle… that may seem like an atrocity for TTC users, but you must consider that the base fare is only 80 cents!

    If you need to travel on 3 routes to get to your destination, you must purchase 2 transfers when you pay your fare. Their transfers are also time-based, so they are good for travel within 90 minutes, so you can travel out and back for 95 cents.

    Steve:  Any fare system that requires this amount of small change transactions as passengers enter the vehicles is doomed in a large environment such as Toronto’s, especially if we move to all door loading.  In theory, something like this could be implemented with Smart Cards, but it would still be complex to keep track of it all.  ALso, I don’t like the idea of penalizing transfers in a system that is designed on the assumption that people will change vehicles at least once in their trip.

    Similarly, time-based transfers (in effect a limited time pass) are attractive, but the mechanics of issuing them would be a nightmare without Smart Cards for a busy subway system.


  18. I agree with those who are skeptical of flat fares.  I don’t think it’s necessarily a good idea to say that if people live a long way from their jobs that that’s something we should endorse by keeping fares low – it’s certainly not an environmentally friendly policy is it?

    Steve:  The assumption behind your argument is that people have the economic ability to live near their jobs.  We have build a region that assumes people can commute long distances, and we have a growing population that cannot afford to do this except on public transit.  Also, the environmental impact of someone riding a long way on transit is much, much less than travelling the same distance in a private car. 


  19. This situation comes up in LA in regards to LA Union Station being located several blocks away from the “proper” downtown. The city provides small “DASH” buses that go from Union Station to the rest of downtown on several high frequency routes. Buses are heavily patronized and heavily subsidized, and have a 25 cent fare.

    Because GO Commuters using Union Station in the rush hours would be going in the reverse direction, the best solution would be an arrangement between GO and the TTC to let people board the subway at Union Station with a GO ticket.

    I think a lot of these fare problems are caused by the TTC’s paranoia about losing any fare money.


  20. All the GTA transit agencies have an agreement with GO Transit allowing passengers to travel to and from their local GO Train station (problems arise with GO Bus terminals such as Square One, Bramalea City Centre, Downtown Oshawa and 407 Carpool lots) for a reduced rate (50 cents everywhere but Durham where it’s 65 cents) as long as they have a valid ticket or pass. In most cases there is an equivalent to a monthly GO-local transit pass usually capped at $20 in the event that the pass holder is a regular customer.

    If the TTC could work out a similar agreement with GO Transit, even if the reduced rate was higher, say $1 or $1.25 I’m sure that they would be able to attract more GTA riders who walk to work/school/entertainment. The trip to the GO station may be more problematic and may be banned for simplicity’s sake.

    Having this agreement between GO and the TTC would encourage more GO Transit passengers who would be able to offset the subsidies to the TTC. Hopefully the additional revenues from these passengers can be used to purchase additional vehicles to improve the ever-important issue of capacity.


  21. The TTC has their GO “Times Two” fare which allows a person riding a TTC bus or subway to a GO origin station to use the TTC transfer to reboard a TTC subway or streetcar or bus at their GO destination Station. It is explained in more detail here:


    It is a nice idea, but limited in application as GO is an inter-regional transit carrier with most of its traffic from 905 by train into Union station and vice-versa, rather than within Toronto via GO.


  22. GTA must eventually adopt a structure like that of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland of B.C.  In that system, TransLink owns and operates the entire network from downtown to suburbs.  A rider crossing any ‘zones boundaries’ – ie. by passing from one local district to another – must pay extra for the long distance.  The fare is allocated to the place it is used and each city in the network subsidizes by the rate of users.

    The main advantage is seamlessness.

    Steve:  But also, Vancouver has never had a single fare covering all of its equivalent of the 416 (and the Vancouver “905” is tiny by comparison).  TransLink didn’t have to implement zone fares because they were already there, one way or another.


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