An important statistic came out quietly at the TTC meeting this week:
This year, for the first time, more than half of all adult rides will be taken using the Metropass. Tickets, tokens and cash share the remainder.
Metropass usage is up almost 25% over 2006 thanks to its new transferability and tax deductibility. The pass now has broad appeal to regular transit users rather than only for the heavy users who make numerous personal trips in additional to regular work trips via TTC.
Advocates for a new unified “smart” farecard should take note: the Metropass is hugely popular as an “all you can eat” way of purchasing transit services. Any new fare structure that eliminates this option, or attempts to rebalance the pass pricing upward, will meet stiff opposition.
Moreover, elaborate fare schemes requiring detailed tracking of passengers and some form of fare-by-distance calculation are doomed on at least two counts. First, they will incur substantial additional cost to track rides and reconcile fares. Second, if the resultant charges don’t lie in the realm of current pass pricing, they will destroy the very incentive to transit use the Metropass represents — no marginal cost for any trip and no need to plan trips to minimize transfer or stopover charges.
The one downside to Metropass growth is that the average fare per trip is falling. This is not surprising, but the rate of shift to passes means that total revenue is at best level if not slightly down despite continued growth in demand. This will lead eventually to an important debate about how we “sell” transit service.
The historic model of one fare for each trip is meaningless, now, for a majority of rides. Transit will be a bulk service purchased the same way people pay for many utilities, paying for its availability, not for the amount consumed. Service and budget planning will also be affected, and we should return to the era when decisions about service quantity were based on demand, not on running as little as possible to get by.