Gas Shortages and the TTC

I received the following comment from Karem Allen who runs the transit_nightmares page on Durham Transit at:

Here is something that never can be studied and is never accounted for:

GAS extreme situations.

My friend and fellow coalition member just called me with the following story.

  • More people were on the GO train then normal- line ups to buy tickets were long as these were brand new riders with no passes or long term tickets. They chose to use transit because perhaps they had not gas or wanted to conserve it. 
  • Upon arrival at Union station they were greeted with broken TTC token machines and out of service lights.

Question– were they down on purpose to force them to pay the cash fare?

Neither systems seem to be prepared to greet the number of people that actually are getting out of the cars.

We will be bringing this incident at the transit forum tonight. People were really mad that they could not buy tokens once they arrived at Union Station.

This is the time to woo the discretionary transit user not drive them away with broken stuff.

Solution could be – more ticket people on hand to cover the increased customer load at both GO and TTC.

Steve:  One thing I have learned in years of looking at large organizations like the TTC is that you should never look for a conspiracy when indifference, bad planning or bad luck can explain a problem.  The real question here is how long the token machines have been down and why.  Can any regular user of Union Station let us know?

I agree that GO and the TTC really need to make an extra effort at times like this, but both organizations have a mindset that they have no spare staff or budget to do anything.  This is dangerous because it can become a strongly entrenched excuse for never even trying.  If the TTC ever reached a point where it had enough funding, enough operators, enough vehicles and no traffic congestion, I am sure they would invent some new reason to explain why the service on Queen Street was still so undependable.

13 thoughts on “Gas Shortages and the TTC

  1. In my experience, your more likely to find a token machine broken, than functioning. It’s especially annoying when you arrive at a token-only entrance.

    Not sure why the state of repair of such devices is so poor. Perhaps now that they have ended the counterfeiting of tokens, they could start supplying tokens to the privately-owned ticket agents – I’d grab mine there, as it’s much more convenient, but all I ever grab are day passes (no point with tickets, as the automatic gates don’t accept them yet, as far as I understand).


  2. On the topic of token machines, some in heavy-use non-subway terminal points like the airport and York University would be helpful.


  3. They can’t even fix doors. Why should they care about token machines?

    The main sliding doors at Scarborough Centre’s main entrance have been broken and blocked off for a month now.


  4. I did not have a chance to bring up this issue as the forum was very active.

    I always keep spare tokens for when I need to go to York Mills from North York if I miss the Oshawa Express bus.

    Do agents make a commission of tokens? I should ask Bill Jenkins of GO why the GO terminals can not be agents and sell the tokens for those that want them. I know the single fare card is coming but in the meantime it would make it easier to get them when you get home or in the morning.

    An email will be sent !

    Steve: Ticket agencies (eg convenience stores) get a small commission on the sale of TTC fare media. It’s not much, and the assumption that this is a way to draw people into the store where they will buy other stuff with a higher markup.

    I am not sure whether GO agents (for example the one at Scarborough Town Centre Station) are actually GO employees, or if they are independent, and what sort of remuneration they get for selling GO fare media. The situation may differ between kiosks like the one at STC and dedicated GO stations. If anyone knows what the arrangements are, please pass this info on via a comment here.

    I can see the TTC paying a commission to a private operator of a store or newsstand, but not to a GO employee.


  5. There have been machines in Union covered in red tarp since January. I originally thought they were connected with the new tokens, but they are still covered up.


  6. I seem to recall reading somewhere (maybe it was even on this website) that the TTC was phasing out the automatic token machines either due to lack of replacement parts or the inability to upgrade them.


  7. I would think this is just another example of the poor infrastructure that the TTC has in place and can hardly manage to maintain, much less upgrade or supplement with employees. The current poor state of good repairs across the system aside, the method of payment system is horrendous (take a look at the huge line ups for people choosing to pay monthy for a Metropass with a Credit Card at one of the specific stations with POS credit card machines.) I guess we’ll have to wait for a system wide GTA fare card until we can pay for our fares with relative ease at the stations, maybe even online like some of the worlds modern transit systems can.


  8. Taking a look at VIVA in York Region it would seem that automated token/ticket machines are the future. The problem is that the TTC’s machines are so old. We should be able to buy our monthly passes online, and our 1 ride, or tickets/tokens without human contact if we wished in a way that was efficient and convenient. I hate to say it but I’m sure there are a number of companies that would be willing to administer these new machines in return for selling ad space on the machines (while they are in screensaver mode). However it seems that this upgrade is another one of those things that will happen “when we have the money”.

    Steve: Advertising revenue is not the panacea it is made out to be as the solution to every problem. The TTC’s total take from advertising today is about $20-million per year. Unless there are going to be zillions of fare vending machines, the number of additional exposures of advertising relative to what is already in place will be low. Moreover, a small video screen doesn’t capture much audience attention if they are not waiting where the machine is located. Typically this is near the collector’s booth where people pass by but do not linger.

    If we want fare vending machines, we have to bite the bullet and pay to install them. If the future of fare media in the GTA is some form of stored fare card, we can’t settle on fare machines until we know what the card technology will be.

    There was actually some discussion at the TTC about the wisdom of developing a Metropass vending machine given that the GTA card was “coming soon”. The reponse was that (a) people want to be able to buy passes now, (b) the machines avoid the cost of an extra collector at peak pass sale times and (c) passes will probably remain in common use after the GTA card comes in and so the machines will still be needed.

    The question of fare structure will be a big debate as part of the GTA card rollout. With the Metropass (and existing GO monthly passes) people get an “all you can eat”, fixed price transit purchase. Implementation of fare-by-distance, fare zone boundaries, time-of-day pricing or usage-based discounts requires a much more complex back-end system to keep track of entry to and exit from the transit system, including surface vehicles.

    Bluntly, I do not believe that such an investment in fare collection technology can possibly be cost-effective compared with much simpler changes to permit interagency revenue sharing and cross-border travel. This should be a project to improve transit’s usability, not a project to keep technology professionals and vendors in work for the next three years.


  9. I’ve had issues with GO’s machines recently, particularly trying to pay with cash or debit.

    My very rare experiences with Viva’s machines were not stellar — my change was shorted six dollars the first time. I note they no longer accept credit cards.

    I believe the machines covered with red tarps at Union subway are pass-vending machines. As for token machines, there has been a shortage of the devices, resulting in reassignment across the system. Not sure of the exact problems.

    By comparison, I rarely have a problem with the Toronto Parking Authority’s “pay and display” meters, which do take credit cards.

    That said, I appreciate the gradual improvements in automatic fare vending on GTA transit (of course I am a Metropass subscriber and am free from lining up for tokens, etc.). However, the technology does not seem to be sufficiently durable.

    -Ed Drass


  10. This discussion has turned into that of fare collection and vending, so I thought I would mention some of the methods I’ve experienced in other cities…

    I tend to agree with Steve on going with a fixed price fare rather than a pay-per-distance system, but BART in the San Francisco/Oakland area does a pretty good job of selling cards that you can put what you want on it and you insert it in the turnstile upon entry and again upon exit. You can add additional value to the card, probably with limits that I never managed to reach. The machines at exit do keep the card if all the value is used up, so if you want to keep it for later use or for collecting make sure you have at least five cents more value than your trip requires on it.

    The only other fare-per-distance (well, sort of) that I will mention is in San Antonio. They charge 15 cents for a transfer that is good for two hours but must be surrendered when used. Their fare is 80 cents, so if your trip needs two routes, you pay 95 cents. If it needs three routes, you pay $1.10. It’s not exactly a fare-per-distance system since one could have a longer commute on a single bus while someone else has a shorter distance using two routes. You can make an out-and-back shopping trip for only 95 cents using a single bus route.

    DART in Dallas has a one-price fare with a time expiry on it that is purchased from off-board machines. My complaint is that they provide all change in coins, so when I only had a $20 bill for a $4.50 all-day pass, I got 10 quarters and thirteen dollar coins! The nice thing with their fare (I purchased the pass that was valid in the Fort Worth zone as well) was that it was also valid on Trinity Rail Express (the GO-like system that connects Dallas with Fort Worth).

    The fare in Calgary is similar to Dallas, but I never got to test the $20 issue there to see how it gave change.

    The subway system in Rome uses cards that are purchased at vending machines or a collectors booth (if it is open), but there are a large number of the vending machines at the stations. I did find the machines a little picky about the condition of paper money. Fare is a one-price structure but may be purchased for a single entry to the subway system (the card is used at the turnstile to enter) but has a two-hour limit for use on busses. A day pass card is also available.

    In Buenos Aires, the subway fare is only 0.70 pesos, which is about 26 cents to us. No transfers to busses as each bus route is operated by a different company. I would be happy to forego transfers when the bus fare is 20 cents and the subway 26. For their subway, they use fare cards that are inserted in the turnstyle upon entry, and come in single, dual, five, and ten fare denominations. Larger stations have booths to purchase cards from, but all stations have vending machines. One station that I often used had only a single machine at the entrance I used and it only took coins, but there was a news/candy vendor at that entrance. The one time I didn’t have coins, I thought I would buy some candy to get change, but it turned out that the vendor also sold fare cards (though, it could have been signed). That is an idea that might be considered for the TTC: have fare media available for sale from a vendor in a station – this could reduce lines at busy stations as well as provide a new option at fully automated stations.

    I think of all the cities I have used transit in, Melbourne is the most interesting. The busses, trams, and trains are each operated by different companies but they have a single fare system using fare cards. A flat rate price for either two hours or all day involve cancelling your card when you board a bus or tram or when you enter the train station (turnstile cancels the card and lets you in, if your card has already been cancelled and you still have valid time it just lets you in). Cards can be purchased at train stations and there are many shops (I couldn’t find a convenience store that didn’t sell them!) as well as corner newsstands that sold them. The really interesting thing was there was a ticket vending machine on each tram, so it is possible to have all-door loading and unloading of a streetcar system without the need to install VIVA-like machines at each stop.

    I think there needs to be a real in-depth discussion on fare collection, especially if we move to a GTA-wide system for fares. I am more in favour of a fixed-price, time-expiry system, though for a wider region there should be a zone system.

    The current zone system with at the Toronto border is NOT a system that encourages the use of public transit. It involves a narrow border where a full additional fare is paid. YRT/VIVA use a wide border with a fare supplement. The border between zones 1 and 2 is 2 km wide so passengers travelling between either zone and the border region only pay the single-zone fare while those crossing through to the other zone pay a $1 supplement on top of the single-zone fare.


  11. Answers, answers, answers!

    The Agent commission for selling TTC fares is incredibly low… ≈1% for the TTC’s ≈12,000 Agents, so as Steve says it is a loss leader for them to drive traffic into their stores.

    Of all the City of Toronto ABC’s the TPA or GreenP is the most enlightened with respect to revenue collection as Ed Drass notes with their “Pay ‘n Display” machines. The TPA (a self-sustaining corporation that generates a profit for the City) wants to make it as easy as possible for people to pay for parking (including Courtesy Envelopes rather than a $30 ticket if you “forget” to pay) while the TTC makes it as difficult as possible to buy Metropasses electronically, insisting on cash at most stations as they “…don’t want to pay the cc commission” (an exact quote from Senior TTC Financial Official in response to TTC Commissioner’s inquiry as to why more credit/debit card readers weren’t available at more Collector Booths).

    YRT’s Revenue/Cost (R/C) ratio is budgeted at 35% for 2006*: that’s how they can afford all the (often less than full) ViVA bus service with the convenient GPS vehicle location displays (on board) and at terminals (with convenient electronic single or multi-fare payment) at each ViVA stop.

    *Source p.35 York Region Operating Details

    This is a legacy of the Mike Harris years where the Tories poured subsidy dollars into their vote-rich 905 “Ring” around Toronto at the expense of the TTC, as Toronto voters elected fewer Tory and more Liberal and NDP politicians than in the 905!

    The YRT website notes credit cards are not being accepted right now due to technical concerns (i.e. c.c. fraud!):

    No Credit Cards at multiRide Machines.

    Due to ongoing technical issues, multiRide machines on Viva routes across York Region will no longer accept credit cards.

    Cash or debit will still be accepted. Check your local ticket agent listing for additional purchase locations and payment methods.

    Source: YRT Notice re Credit Cards

    GO’s R/C Ratio is around 88% as its fare-by-distance system recaptures more of it operating costs which are directly proportional to distance travelled (operator hours and diesel fuel). GO essentially runs an at-capacity inter-regional peak service with no excess “off-peak” capacity like local transit (increasingly a moot point in Toronto with TTC’s transferable Metropass which is adding off-peak rides and evening out the demand curve from Rocky Mountain-like twin AM/PM peaks to a time/demand graph more reminiscent of gently rolling hills.)

    The TTC’s ≈78.5% R/C means they are running a very efficient local transit system (with lots of jammed over-loading standard “sardine” loads in twin peaks). With so much of the budget going to supplying “bare bones” service as a first priority… maintaining Token/Pass vending machines is not a priority… even though broken machines hinder easy access to fares and therefore transit. I can’t imagine a business staying in business by restricting payment to cash-only and allowing it’s cc/debit readers to be out of service for months.

    In the past when Toronto went from one fare zone (1940) to 5 fare zones (1952) TTC rides declined for 10 years (despite opening of the Union-Eglinton subway in 1954) and only grew upon reverting to 2 fare zones in 1962 and 1 fare zone in 1973, where it stands today.

    Steve: I believe that these changes in ridership had more to do with (a) post war growth of car ownership in the 50’s and (b) suburban subway and bus service growth in the 70s. After all, zone 3 was outside of Metro Toronto and the vast majority of riders were inside.

    To be successful the GTTA e-farecard will have to provide better value for cross 416/905 transit travel, not just debit two transit fares (e.g. $2,10-TTC + $2.30-YRT=$4.40 one-way or $8.80 round trip with YRT/TTC trip).

    Presently the $43 GTA Pass works out to $186/month ($43×52÷12=$186.33/month) while combined Adult TTC/YRT monthly passes are $99.75+$85= $184… so… as Clara Peller said in the iconic Wendy’s commercial… “Where’s the Beef?”

    The TTC needs a cultural change… away from its dominant “low-cost operations” mentality and ingrained culture to one of slavish attention to customers…with the operating budget to allow them to make transit faster, cheaper and more convenient than the car, including effortless access to electronic fares.. anyway the rider wants to pay for them!

    As Steve recently noted, senior TTC Staff have long played the Operating Subsidy Budgeting game… low-balling ridership growth, leading to planned service below demand (e.g. 433M vs 445M in 2006; 420M vs 431M in 2005, etc.) leading to crush peak loading.


  12. John Barber wrote about the subway extension in Saturday’s Globe. To him, the subway to the Idomo store, once past York University, becomes the Wal-Mart Express.

    David Gunn once explained his philosophy about building subways this way. “You keep adding buses until the road has no more room for any more. Then you build the subway.” (not a direct quote)

    Allegedly, this is exactly how Boston got its subway (first in the U.S.)

    Steve: Yes, there are pictures of central Boston with traffic jams of streetcars near the Boston Common. The streetcar subway opened in 1892 and has been a mainstay (the Green Line) of Boston’s transit system ever since. It was expanded with a new branch along an abandoned railway right-of-way in the 1950’s, and this is a perfect model for what we could have had in Scarborough. Indeed, a 3-car train of CLRVs ran on test on that line, and it was fun riding at 80kph, the fastest the MBTA would let them go.


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