Metropass Triumphs!

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.

23 thoughts on “Metropass Triumphs!

  1. The idea of a “smart card” for fare media should NEVER exclude the use of a monthly pass, or weekly or daily pass, for that matter. New technologies should be used to phase out tickets/tokens and provide a simpler way of paying fares when crossing zone boundaries, which should be made equitable and less costly (i.e.: it currently is not equitable as only riders on a TTC vehicle are required to pay two full fares when crossing a boundry; it also should not require a FULL second fare just because you passed one stop – a fare supplement for passing through a wide boundary is more, pardon the pun, fair).

    Zones also do not preclude passes. YRT, for instance, has fare zones with routes that start in one zone and end in another (the boundary is 2 km wide, so trips into the boundary from either zone does not cost extra). One may purchase a single zone monthly pass for $85, and if the occasional trip takes them into the second zone, they can pay the $1 supplement for the trip. If they regularly have to travel between the zones, the two-zone monthly pass is $130.


  2. The Smart card is beneficial for the commuters from outside the TTC though. This way the person in Ajax can purchase one card to pay for DRT -> GO -> TTC.

    I do not think the Smart Fare card should replace existing fare structures. The user of the Metropass is using one system for the most part I would assume.

    What happened to the GO TTC Twin Pass?

    Steve: The cost of this was originally shared between the TTC and GO, and then GO walked away from the agreement. It is not the TTC’s job to subdize commuters from the 905 when they cannot even afford to run adequate service within the 416.

    I still think it is not the total number of Fares that is the problem, it is the number of times someone must transfer to get to where they are going. Durham Transit should go into the City more to better serve Durham people wanting to get to places in Scarborough easier.

    The person in the City that may find their job moved to the 905 either North South or even East — may want the convenience of adding on the 905 portion of that trip if it is needed.


  3. Hi Steve:-

    A twin edged sword indeed. If in this day and age we haven’t realized that the TTC is supplying more than merely transit, but a social service, then we’ll never leave the business for profit mentality that the former private operators lived and went broke by. ‘Ain’t’ it awful that transit is a success in spite of itself.

    Anndd…, transit planning to serve a need, what a concept, eh!


  4. The next logical step would be to expand the time-based transfers that were experimented with on the 512 ST. CLAIR line and used on the OC Transpo system and other systems. This would greatly eliminate a number of fare disputes over walking-transfers, etc.


  5. OC Transpo’s timed transfers are a wonderful thing, because they enable you to make stop-and-start, to-and-fro journeys.

    Speaking of monthly passes and transit as a social service — Ottawa recently discovered something unexpected when they experimented with cheap bus passes for people on provincial disability income support: the people who now have access to this specially priced pass had previously been paying the $3.00 cash fare instead of using $1.90 tickets. Or so it seems, since farebox revenues are down more than expected.

    Steve: This does not surprise me. One major problem with low/no-income people is that they don’t want to buy bulk fares in advance and are hurt by being forced to pay at the high single-fare rate.


  6. One of the biggest remaining problems with the metropass is that it starts on the first of a calendar month rather than being valid for a certain amount of time – ie 30 days. The metropass should come in several demoninations – 1 day, 1 week, 2 weeks, 30 days. Buy them any time and they are activated the moment you start using them.


  7. If transit is viewed as a utility, to be enjoyed by all in it’s availability, why not price it like a utility? Provide all homes with a GTTAPass with a mandatory $50 per month on every household as part of the property tax – since that’s the only revenue raising power municipalities are allowed to have – and you’ve got a huge pulse of cash coming in. You’ve also increased your pool of potential tranist users, because every home will have at least one. Many people would then say it’s worthwhile giving it a ‘go’ (pun intended) and may make the switch. Spread the net wide enough, as the GTTA is idealistically ideal for and you can have a captive transit market from Hamilton to Oshawa.

    In 1991 -latest # I can find by google – the GTA had 1.65M households. Make that 2M today, times $600 per year, and the GTTA has a budget of $1,200,000,000 from this source alone.

    Of course, the GTTAPass would need to be cross-modal, cross-jursidictional, and ideally with no extra charge (except maybe for express services?). Add in daily, weekly, monthly passes for visitors and mutli-pass using homes, and everyone is served.

    Low-income homes pay less down to nothing as needed. Renters are told to expect (demand) their Pass from their landlord, who are charged for each rental unit.

    Heck, even the threat of doing this may cause the Feds to face such a large Transit Tax-rebate bill (15% of $1.2B is $180M) that they’ll cough up money to fund transit systems instead, as being the cheaper option.


  8. Toronto could do what Washington does: offer “short trips” passes, where passes cover trips up to a certain dollar amount, and a cash supplement must be paid. These passes are also valid for any trip at off peak times. For example, suppose that all trips in the GTA (including GO) cost between $1.00 and $8.00 depending on distance. Passes are available for trips costing up to $2.00, $4.00, $6.00 and $8.00. This could work for zoned fares or fare-by-distance; Washington uses the latter.

    Steve: This system works in Washington because the subway system is a completely separate fare zone from the surface bus network. It is utterly impractical to collect supplementary fares on the surface system.


  9. To reduce the burden on low-income users, Toronto could cap fares paid with smart cards at the daily, weekly, or monthly pass rate (whichever is applicable). London does this for daily, but not weekly or monthly passes with the Oyster card. This would allow low-income users to buy a monthly pass “as they go” instead of paying for it up front.

    Steve: I can understand why London does this only for daily cards. Passes are transferrable, and there would quickly be quite a market in passes “purchased” by people on social assistance and then resold to others. If we have to establish some sort of means test, it would have to be linked to some existing social benefit scheme so that the TTC didn’t have to get into the business of auditing who should get the discounted fares.


  10. Steve, I think you misunderstood Andrews’s comment – London caps fares fares paid on a daily basis for everyone – there is no means test. It’s just an automatic feature – when they your card is scanned, and they calculate the transaction – if you’ve already paid out the cost of a full day pass, then the charge is £0. And the card there is transferrable – like Toronto.

    You could do the same on a weekly or monthly basis. Once you’ve already nailed the cardholder for $99.50 in a single month, all additional trips get charged $0.

    The technology for such a system is already running in London. Presumably a newer system, in a smaller city, would have no problem doing something similiar!

    Steve: Sorry, my reading of the comment was that this was a special consideration applicable only to certain needy groups. Once that happens, administration of the fare system becomes a nightmare.


  11. A proof-of-payment system requires a paper trail. Smart cards might be the replacement for tickets & tokens (swipe your card, get a transfer, and your account is deducted) but it cannot be the instant entry method for every bus and streetcar in the city.


  12. luke wrote “Smart cards might be the replacement for tickets & tokens (swipe your card, get a transfer, and your account is deducted) but it cannot be the instant entry method for every bus and streetcar in the city.”. Why not – it is in London! Once you board your bus, you simply tap into a reader – which aren’t necessarily only at the entrance – you don’t receive a receipt or anything, just an indication on the display that the transaction was succesful.

    If the inspector comes along, he just scans your card, to see if you have paid, or if you have a valid pass already pre-purchased.

    It’s a terrific system – I can’t see why anyone whose used it, would ever argue that going back to a ticket/token or paper pass system would be good.

    People have already written on here about driving around the city, trying to find vendors who have passes for sale. With a card, you simply go the website, and purchase your pass – and it’s done – your card (presuming you’ve already got one in person once), knows about the pass.

    Steve: The key to making this system work is in keeping the fare system simple. If, in order to concoct some method of allocating bits and pieces of trips to different transit systems, or to figure out when you have doubled back and should pay another fare, we need a complex system to figure out the components of everyone’s trip, the systems technical complexity will be overwhelming.

    If, on the other hand, the scheme treats a “fare” as a limited time pass for travel wherever one goes, then validation is simple — either you registered your pass recently, or you didn’t.

    In either case, there are significant retrofit costs for the TTC because it has never had fare collection and inspection requirements for many of its large-volume transfer movements the way systems like London always did. Also, London had an old, worn out labour-intensive system that needed to be replaced. The same is not true here.

    Another issue in Toronto is that we must move to low floor vehicles and all-door loading to speed entry by people who have no need to interact with the operator.


  13. During my travels I spent 5 days in London and they call their smart card “Oyster” I believe. In order to track usage they have card readers all over the underground. If you don’t have your card read often enough they charge you the full cash fare; if you get it read then you get the greatly reduced fare. I saw people all over the place swipe their cards as they went by one of these readers. It gives you all sorts of riding information, origin destination, time of travel, transfers etc. which allow you to fit service to demand. Most of the passengers seemed to use these cards. I am not positive but I believe that the fare checkers on the trams had a card reader to make sure that you had swiped your card.

    Hong Kong used a similar card called Octopus but it was more like a bank card as you could use it for parking meters, convenience store purchases etc. They had machines all over the place where you could add value to your card in case you got to the end of the line and it had run out of money. Perhaps it is time for the TTC to enter the 21st century instead of still using 19th technology.

    Steve: I agree that we could improve fare collection in Toronto, but strongly dislike the remark about 19th century technology. After all, both the streetcar and the subway originated then, and they’re still going strong . My comments about Oyster are in other parts of this thread.


  14. Steve

    at present there are four ways to pay for an adult fare – cash/token/ticket/metropass. Is there any move to remove one of these options for economy of scale reasons – tickets would seem the most reasonable to me as adults don’t need to pass the collector to prove special status.


    Steve: In addition to adult tickets, don’t forget Seniors/Students and Children’s tickets. I’m not sure that getting rid of adult tickets will make a huge difference given that they represent a declining portion of the total adult fares collected.


  15. Here’s a radical idea that was implemented with YRT just before VIVA was launched: ALL cash fares are the same price. (The $1 zone-boundary crossing supplement still applies, and there is a 50 cent fare for travelling to/from a GO station).

    That’s right, no child/student/senior fares if you are paying cash: everyone now pays $2.75 for a cash fare. This makes the VIVA vending systems simpler as they only have to dispense a single type of cash fare.

    It also provides more incentive to purchase tickets or monthly passes.

    Steve: Obviously, this also assumes reasonable levels of inspection to verify that someone is not travelling on a child’s fare when they are not entitled to do so, or that Viva doesn’t care about revenue lost via this method.


  16. Adult tickets have one advantage. I can buy them at my corner store, along with my day passes. They won’t sell me tokens – so I have to take the bus, or drive, to a subway station to get them. Try explaining to the bus driver, that you’ll pay him at the end of the ride once you’ve bought a token :-)!

    Though if they did want to eliminate tickets, perhaps letting the ticket vendors sell tokens would be part of the solution, now that they appear to have dealt with the black-market in tokens.


  17. Steve wrote, “Obviously, this also assumes reasonable levels of inspection to verify that someone is not travelling on a child’s fare when they are not entitled to do so, or that Viva doesn’t care about revenue lost via this method.”

    VIVA already has random inspections to make sure one is holding a valid fare, and that includes the proper class of fare in addition other issues (i.e.: having non fare, having an expired fare, having a single zone fare from zone 1 while in zone 2).

    That aside, VIVA is part of the YRT system, and it is likely that one may need to transfer to a YRT route at some point. Since YRT uses a pay/show as your board system, one will not get very far if travelling on a child’s fare.

    The one loophole is when a child/senior/student boards a YRT vehicle and inserts their ticket and gets a transfer. Though the transfer is not supposed to be handed to someone else, there is little way to enforce this. Further, this type of fare evasion is possible on the TTC.

    Steve: This points out an issue if and when a system completely changes its fare collection and inspection scheme. Even without POP inspectors showing up regularly on the Queen car, riding without a fare is a viable strategy only if there is no intent to change to another line where you will need a transfer. Once some form of POP becomes universal, once all door-loading becomes commonplace with articulated low-floor vehicles, then inspection must also be increased to a level where cheating isn’t worth the risk.


  18. Steve wrote, “Once some form of POP becomes universal, once all door-loading becomes commonplace with articulated low-floor vehicles, then inspection must also be increased to a level where cheating isn’t worth the risk.”

    True, but is it necessary to have universal POP?

    All-door loading is a must for LRT and BRT, and likely for some major bus routes, but is it necessary for all routes?

    Many, if not most, feeder routes are not significantly slowed down by front-door loading, so I would argue that the cost of implementing POP on these routes to support all-door loading is not worth the benefits received.

    Steve: The point here is that once we have some form of POP on the major surface routes as well as the subway, the majority of transfers will occur at a location where nobody actually checks for a valid fare. The Rosedale bus may work fine with pay-as-you-enter, but not many people ride it, and they transfer in a free transfer area anyhow.


  19. At the risk of making this sound like an open one-on-one conversation, I must question this: “the majority of transfers will occur at a location where nobody actually checks for a valid fare”. We must step back and look at POP/time-expiry transfers as a full new system and not as add-ons and extras to what is there now.

    Two thing we have now would have to be eliminated at subway stations: free-access transfer machines and “paid areas”. Radical, but I am hard-pressed to think of another transit agency that does not do this for mixing a POP rapid-component with pay/show-upon-entry bus routes.

    Subway, LRT, BRT, and some heavily used bus and streetcar routes would all be time-expiry POP with a necessary level of fare inspection. All other bus and streetcar routes would be pay-at-the-door with time-expiry transfers. Pay/inspect-at-the-door would still apply at subway stations, so the need to have a valid fare to board one of these routes helps in enforcing the POP system used on other parts. For some bus routes that may be heavily used during rush hours, but would not warrant POP at other times, multi-door loading at a a subway station can be accomodated with a person on the platform (anyone remember boarding a Sheppard East bus before the Sheppard subway?).


  20. I went to the ttc site today, thinking about getting a metropass for my highschool-aged son. I was shocked to see that the price for senior/student metropasses are not discounted at the same rate as adult metropasses. An adult will spend less on a metropass than cash fare after 36 rides. A senior or student (highschool or senior public, not college or university) would have to ride 46 times. This disparity seems nearly immoral to me.

    Steve: Welcome to the world of TTC propping up its revenue streams by any means possible. When this was discussed at the TTC, the feeling was that seniors and students already get a discounted fare, and to give them an even bigger break with passes costed at a comparable multiple to the regular adult passes was not “acceptable” loss of revenue.

    We can have all the discounts we want provided someone is willing to fund them.


  21. After July 1st the 10 tickets would cost $25.00 dollars in Durham. Cash fare will be $2.75

    The GTA eek Pass would save the Durham rider $3.00 .

    Durham is the unlucky region not included and also has to pay a premium to just get to the Scarborough Town Centre.

    $2.50 is only within the Region.

    65 cents for GO co-fare while YRT has only 50 cents to pay to get to a Go station.

    Durham is growing and needs to renegotiate their agreements with GO transit.


  22. I really enjoy the metropass except for one thing: lining up to get the new one at the end of the month. While it could be argued that I should subscribe for the yearly plan, not everyone does this, as you can see from the line ups at the end of the month.

    Now to the main rant: Why does the TTC have so few automatic metropass dispensing machines? I live in Scarborough and it seems there is always a lineup for these machines. There are only 2 automatic dispensing machines at Finch, 1 at Scarborough Town, and 0 at Don Mills and Sheppard Station. Why can’t the TTC get more vending machines? It would certainly cost less than someone sitting at a booth for 3 to 4 hrs for 10 days of the month.

    Steve: There was a big debate about the TTC even buying the pass vending machines they have because, at the time, Smart Cards were going to be introduced “any day now”.


  23. Hi, I was wondering if there is an addon to the Metropass so I don’t have to give more change out every morning for any routes north of steeles. Is it possible? I would like to start my commute with YRT and then with the TTC and use just one pass.

    Steve: There is a weekly GTA pass, and on a recent TV show, Adam Giambrone was musing about the possibility of doing this on a monthly basis. This pass costs $47/week or $188 for a 4-week period. It is not available on subscription or at a discount the way the regular Metropass is, and the places where it is available routinely run out of them.

    If the TTC/GTA is going to move to a monthly pass, it needs to have a subscription option to ensure delivery, and be priced appropriately.


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