Passes, Smart Cards, Fare Zones and the GTTA

I received the following note from Miroslav Glavic:

I am reading Metropass Triumphs! and I have a question or two, and a few more…

I personally think there should be ONE transit agency for the GTAH (up to Barrie, then east to Oshawa and west to Hamilton).

Smart cards are nice, I love my metropass, when I want to go to SQ1 (I live in Scarborough), I have to get out my metropass (which I love and have been getting for years now), then get out the change and pay.  One card would be nice, I go to Seneca College, Seneca@York campus, I can use my ONE CARD (ID card) in all of their campuses, take out book in all the campuses libraries and so forth.  Something like that for the GTAH would be nice.

Now to the non-universal fares…

Let’s say we go to the Toronto Zoo and after a day of visiting the animals (my favourite is the Gorillas, what’s yours?), I go to Fairview Mall, you go to the airport, we both put [in] $2.75.  Do you think it’s fair that it is the same fare?

In London, I went from Heathrow station to Charing Cross (via Picadilly Circus station), I went through most of their fare areas).

What if you went from Don Mills Station to Victoria Park Avenue/Sheppard?  Do you think it is fair to pay $2.75 to go 5 stops? (or 1 direct stop with the 190).  You can go from Don Mills Station to anywhere in the city for $2.75.

What if the TTC had fare zones? (yes it would get people a while to get adjusted), by the way London has a monthly pass as well.

Let’s go back to the example about the Zoo, what if to Fairview Mall it was $3.00 then to the airport was $6.00?.

The way it works in London is that you put the ticket/card (like a smaller metropass, made out of paper/cardboard material), and out it comes from the other side, imagine like the reader for metropasses, then when you get out from your end station you do the same, I guess it will deny you exit or something like that.  I am sure there is a way to implement this to use on buses and streetcars.

The TTC would have get a lot more money which it needs.

I am using cash fares for my examples, but there would still be one price for metropasses.

Steve:  I don’t go to the Zoo, but have dropped in on the Royal Winter Fair where my favourites are the swine.

The use of cash fares skews the argument badly.  One huge advantage of the Metropass is that people don’t pay individually for each trip they take.  Saying that it’s unfair that a ride two stops on the subway costs the same as a ride to the airport misses the point that with a pass, the fare is not charged for either trip, but for transit usage in general.  One big reason I posted Metropass Triumphs! is that we now have more than half of TTC rides taken by people who don’t have to think about reaching into their pocket for change or resenting the cost of individual trips.

Turning to Zone Fares, Toronto had them until 1972 when they were eliminated by the suburban members of Metro Council.  Their argument was that suburban taxes paid to support the TTC, and suburban riders should pay the same amount as their city counterparts.  Any attempt to re-introduce zones, at least within the 416, would meet with strong opposition and would, I feel, be counterproductive.  With a flat fare Metropass, we make the system appealing wherever one is travelling, and it is simple to administer.  Zones just complicate things and undo some of the benefits of the flat fare. 

The claim that the TTC would get much more revenue means that, one way or another, someone pays more for their trip.  On a zone basis, long trips are penalized, and yet it is these very trips that are the most difficult to attract to transit.  How would the good folks of Vaughan or the students at York U feel if we told them that their brand new subway was going to be in Zone 2 or 3, and that it would cost extra to come downtown?  “We spend billions to build this thing and now you want us to pay an extra fare?”

I am already on record as opposing zone fares even if we extend the fare structure to the entire GTA.  Yes, that will cost money, but it will save us a fortune on expensive fare collection technology and on endless squabbling about where the fare boundaries should be.  The option of a premium fare for GO Transit still remains because it is a fundamentally different class of service, but at least the same pass would be valid on local systems at both ends of the trip.

The current estimate of implementation costs for the TTC is in the range of $140-million, with an ongoing maintenance and support cost of $10-million or more for a the GTA Smart Card system.  Do we really need to spend this much money to replace a system that works today?

What, exactly, is the supposed benefit of a Smart Card?  If the purpose is to allow us to divvy up fare revenue among GTA agencies, isn’t that a bureaucratic exercise, a matter of turf protection, rather than of providing good transit service?  I am not advocating elimination of local transit operators, but must ask if there were already one big transit system, would concerns about revenue sharing and division even exist as a justification for Smart Cards?

36 thoughts on “Passes, Smart Cards, Fare Zones and the GTTA

  1. I agree with you about fare zones – they complicate operation. I’ve used public transit in Buffalo, NY, where there are fare zones, and the bus stops at the zone boundary, and everyone has to get up and put 50 cents in the farebox! Not fun.


  2. I think smart cards are a great way to attract people to transit.

    Many times I been with my friends and we have elected to not go a long distance (yonge to bathurst say) because they do not have the exact change fare.

    If the switch to some sort of card payment were made it would behave some what like a debit card, people would lose touch with the actual spending which is occurring and be more inclined to use the service.

    Steve: Yonge to Bathurst a long distance??? Frankly, if you are such infrequent users of the system, I don’t have much sympathy for you. Why should the TTC expend huge sums to save you from having a supply of tokens or some type of pass? This is almost as bad as building a subway line to the middle of a field, a line with an officially predicted peak demand on a par with the King Streetcar.


  3. Would there be an advantage to smart cards on LRT since it could possibly allow riders to enter from any door instead of only the front where they would pay the driver? If all the passengers load from one door, will that slow service?

    Also, can’t smart cards be used to track passenger travel patterns to better understand where and when transit service is needed the most?

    I don’t know if the cost would justify those advantages, if they are actually advantages for the TTC.

    Steve: Passengers can enter from any door if the fare system operates on the basis that you must prove you have a valid fare if you are checked. Transit systems have been doing this in various ways since long before Smart Cards were invented.

    As for knowing where passengers go, yes, that is interesting, but is it worth the cost? It’s amazing how much information you can get about loading questions just by watching the vehicles and talking to the drivers.

    As someone who has worked in Information Technology for over 30 years, I am always highly suspicious of someone who who wants to sell me something and concocts every possible reason I would want to buy it without addressing two basic questions: does their product provide what I need at a competitive cost (including ongoing support) and are the “extras” really worth buying. Queen’s Park doesn’t seem to care about this issue and just wants to spend a lot of money.


  4. There *IS* a weekly GTA pass available. My boyfriend uses it to get to work in York Region (he lives in the 416). His complaints are that they sell out very quickly (Don Mills, for example, only carries 40 passes each week and they do not have an Interac machine. Sometimes, he has to go up to Finch to buy them if it is sold out. Good thing about Finch is that they take debit.), aren’t available everywhere, and are weekly.


  5. Steve, Smart Card is just a technology that enables automatic fare collection under more complex fare schemes (such as the one employed by TTC). While it is often used to implement distance-based fare schemes, it is by no means tied to it. I would argue that even our present fare collection scheme can be better implemented with Smart Card.

    I think most people would agree that salaries and benefits occupy the largest chunk of any organization’s operating cost. You quoted a maintenance cost of 10 million for a Smart Card system, which can at most fund 100 fare collectors and related personals. There are certainly more than 100 such positions in the GTA region, thus Smart Card should result in cost savings. In addition, Smart Card will eliminate the majority of fare disputes, which should result in additional cost savings.

    More importantly, Smart Card enable the TTC to offer better services. Touchless Smart Cards are much easier to use compared to tiny tokens or even plastic cards, since riders don’t have to take them out to enter. In addition, a greater variety of passes and discounts can be applied. For example, TTC can offer automatic discounts for heavy users. Another example would be customizable monthly passes that allows unlimited rides on days of your choice. All doors boarding on buses and streets cars would also be possible with no losses due to fare evasion.

    Personally, I believe Smart Card certainly has the potential to improve TTC’s service and offer cost savings. It just depends on how they plan to utilize the technology.

    Steve: You seem to have missed by point here. I am not claiming that Smart Cards won’t work or are not applicable to the TTC, simply that there is no overwhelming financial reason to implement them. We don’t have a worn out system the way many other cities did or a complex fare structure in need of simplification.

    The figure cited for system maintenance is the extra cost to maintain the new technology (and it’s the TTC’s estimate, not mine). Having said that, I have to question just how the TTC plans to implement this scheme and whether a mammoth back-end system is needed. The example you give of charging based on usage means that we have to track the use of every card on an ongoing basis, and that system requires infrastructure that has to be maintained.

    As for fare evasion, the problem with all-door loading is that there is no inspection today. The same would be true for a Smart Card based system — if nobody checks that your card is valid, then there is nothing to prevent people from cheating whether it’s with an old transfer, last month’s Metropass, or a Smart Card that doesn’t have a valid fare on it.


  6. I think zone fares would be great. You’re saying that if we implemented zone fares, that the long haul travellers would have to pay extra when were trying to attract them to use the system. Right now, they pay 2.75 cash fare, to say travel from Downsview to Union. On the other hand, what about the many more riders who would begin to use the system as a result of lower fares for short haul rides. I for one, would never pay 2.75 to take the bus 2 major intersections because after I factor in the time to wait for the bus + cost, I would be much better off to drive there instead. Has there been any analysis done on how many more people would take transit if fares were lowered for short haul trips?

    Instead of charging more for longhaul, couldn’t we just cap the zone fare price at 2.75 meaning that those riders dont have to pay more, while lowering the fares for short haul rides to capture a greater number of riders to offset the loss from the initial lowering of fares to begin with?

    Steve: The availability of a flat fare pass has the same effect without the need to calculate the fare for any trip. We can reasonably assume that most people won’t spend all their time just trying to max out their usage of the TTC, and they will get a mixture of long and short trips that suits their needs for one standard payment. Eliminating the marginal cost makes the system attractive for any trip, not just the short hops.

    As for the smart card. I’ve been on the subway far too many times where people have to line up to buy bus tickets/get change/pay their cash fare while holding up everyone behind them. I’ve also been on buses where people struggle to find the right change or metro pass to show the driver holding the line back and at the same the bus, when with a smart card people would just breeze by by easily swiping there bag on the sensor (since the smart card is in the bag).

    Steve: Sorry, but pass holders just swipe their pass in the turnstile and bypass the queue of ticket buyers. If anything, the queue at the booth should encourage more people to buy a pass. All door loading will also eliminate the queue at the driver.

    There is a fundamental assumption in your statement about people breezing by with their smart card in their bag. You presume that anyone who boards a bus with a card does not have to actually produce it for the driver and that fare checks will only be by roving inspectors. I happen to agree with that scheme, but your comment runs aground by assuming that I would keep the existing single fare media. My aim is to convert the vast majority of riders to some form of prepaid, flat fare medium like the Metropass, and get rid of transfers. Fare disputes could not occur because either someone has a pass or they don’t.

    The smart card won’t make the TTC the new HK MTR overnight when it comes to efficiency but is a good first step.

    Yes, I know the TTC is in a cash crunch, and it looks like it may be this way for awhile, but doing the status quo won’t solve the problem. It takes a bit of innovation to make the TTC sustainable and the only way to do that without cutting services is to increase ridership.

    Steve: The way to get more ridership is to run more service so that people can actually get on the system when they want to ride it, and to run reliable service so that it shows up vaguely on time almost all of the time. I am getting tired of politicians proposing everything except actually running better service as a panacea for transit, and Smart Cards, alas, fall into that category.


  7. I lived in Shanghai for 12 months between 2005-2006 and they use a Smart Card system with Zone fares. Their system is cheap enough ($0.45 – $1) per ride that I didn’t care too much about the zones, although locals probably did. While zones may not be suitable for Toronto, based on your above arguments, I must say I found the Smart Card to be extremely convenient. I find that like many people of my age (mid-20s) I hate carrying cash around and use debit or credit for all of my purchases. I don’t use transit enough to justify the cost of a metropass. So a reloadable card is perfect for someone in my circumstances.

    Another great thing about the Smart Card system in Shanghai is that you could use it to pay for taxis. I think Toronto could follow Shanghai’s lead and do a much better job of integrating taxis into its public transit system. For instance, coming home late at night, it can take anywhere from 20-35 minutes to get to my house from Main Station, due to waiting for the bus (0-15 minutes), riding it to Queen St (10 minutes), and then walking to my door (10 minutes). I am less than a $5 cab ride Main Station. If a person could use a Smart Card to pay for a cab ride from the station (and perhaps get $1 off the fare having just come out of the station) I think we would see a lot more people using transit.

    So, while $140 million is a lot of money, and it may be more needed elsewhere, I think Smart Cards could do a lot to make transit use more convenient.


  8. I did use the Weekly GTA pass for when I had to use two transit systems to get to work – YRT and TTC.
    The trouble was, I never used Mississauga and Brampton Transit, so why was I paying for them?
    If they could produce a weekly or monthly pass for the TTC that you could then purchase options so it can be used on YRT, DRT, MT, BT, and even GO.


  9. The TTC has one POP route – The Queen Car between 7 and 7 each day. Even with the current CLRV and ALRV fleet, streetcar operation could be a lot more efficient with POP. In addition to loading faster, it would also allow potential “left behinds” to utilise the empty space that is usually available behind the rear doors – where people don’t go – despite repeated requests to “Move Back”.

    In particular, on the Spadina Car, POP would be a boon to service efficiency. I don’t believe the Globe and Mail’s assertion that the Spadina Car on a ROW carries no more people and is no faster than the old mixed traffic Spadina Bus. (The Globe claims they did their analysis with the TTC’s numbers, but maybe given the large number of MetroPass customers the TTC’s numbers are not completely accurate.) In any case, that is a change that could be made nearly for free and would improve service immensely. Then the TTC could address the twin issues of stoplight priority and far side platforms on ROWs….


  10. Fare integration has no implications towards local operator elimination. The various local operators in the 905 area accept each others transfers and their bus routes penetrate adjoining jurisdications when it makes sense to do so (or even pool service like Brampton-YRT 77 route). The odd man out is TTC with no transfer allowed across the Toronto boundary and restrictions when regional buses cross the boundary.
    When the time came to eliminate the zones in Toronto there was a lot of concern about loss of revenue. If it could be done it would be interesting to track before and after effect on revenue of the zone consolidation . I suspect there might have been a dip in revenue but not for long as the greater accessibility attracted more revenue passengers. Certainly at this time there are several very heavy routes that cross the old boundaries.


  11. If a person boards a vehicle without his touchless fare card, how does the system react? There must be some form of loading that ensures single file boarding so individuals can be identified. There must also be an alarm to identify cheaters (or absent minded people who forgot their wallet). Who would respond to the alarm, particularly if the door in not near the driver. Chicago uses floor to ceiling turnstiles for admission to the platform level that lock until a satisfactory fare is presented. This does not appear to be too practical for LRT or buses.


  12. “The option of a premium fare for GO Transit still remains because it is a fundamentally different class of service”

    Steve can you expand on this a bit? Why should something like the Lakeshore Go Train connecting the suburbs to the city be a seperate premium service?

    Steve: This statement was made in the context of a “local service” GTTA pass that would be good on all routes except the GO trains which would be treated as an express, premium fare service. The idea is to eliminate the boundaries between the various regional operations while preserving a separate fare “zone” possibly with fare-by-distance charging for the GO trains.

    There are many ways to structure a fare system all the way from completely flat fares through all manner of complexities in zone and time of day structures. It doesn’t matter which one we pick, it will make some trips more expensive and some cheaper for existing riders, and it will also induce a shift in riding habits as people optimize their routes based on the combination of cost and speed.

    My personal position is that we should charge a flat rate for travel on local services regardless of who operates them and that this is easily accomplished by a GTTA-wide “Metropass” (regardless of the technology). We have to stop trying to link a specific trip to a specific fare.

    Having said that, we also need to decide whether GO is a “local” service or part of a network. Just as we let people ride the subway across town at the same fee as we would charge if they rode the Queen car, should we do the same with the GO trains? What would this do to demand on GO?

    None of these questions is easy to answer.

    However, we seem to be spending a lot of time talking about implementing new technology without addressing how we are actually going to use it.


  13. If anything, I think it’s a bit slower now than 10 years ago. A total failure as far as light rail goes. They could have done much better. I would have made stops at just Harbord, College, Dundas, Queen, and King, with ALRVs and all door loading / POP … or maybe a southward extension of the Spadina Subway (with half of the trains going down Spadina, and the other half going down University). The would have given the core the extra capacity it needed.

    This is why the regular public thinks LRT is junk. Light rail isn’t junk, but it is when the TTC implements it.

    Steve: The big debate on Spadina always turned on whether it was a local service for the University and Chinatown shopping district, or a quasi-rapid transit line to take people downtown. A few stops were added such as Willcocks and Sullivan Streets, but they are not the primary source of the delay.

    The two biggest problems are the lack of all-door loading and the traffic signals that are not, by any stretch of the imagination, giving priority to transit.

    Oh yes — the ALRVs cannot operate into Union Station Loop because they are too heavy for another car to push them out if they break down.


  14. With regard to cheating on fares, if everyone used a smart card (big assumption, but stick with me here) there would obviously be technology on vehicles or in stations to read the card through however number of layers it is buried on its holder. Since said technology would be in place to read the card, there is no reason why said technology couldn’t emit some kind of pleasant sounding beep or whatever to indicate that the person had been scanned and the card had been read and found to be valid. In the same vein there would thus be no reason why said technology couldn’t also emit a rather loud and embarrassing sound to indicate it hadn’t been able to read a card or that no card was carried (how about a nice raspberry ??) and that someone was trying to ride with no fare being paid.

    There will always be riders needing to acquire a fare, smart cards or not – tourists, for example. Those riders would still need to enter by the driver, or collector, and pay up. The “raspberries” can either get off or go see the driver and pay.

    Steve: The problem lies with crowds. If five people pass through a portal, how do you detect that only four have valid fare media? Another problem exists for group fare media where one card entitles two or more people to ride as a group (think of our existing family pass). This is a valid case where five people could enter a vehicle or station with only one farecard.

    The bottom line is that you need to have regular enough fare inspection by a real person who can deal with situations like this, and fines large enough to deter cheaters.
    Dream world? Perhaps, but if technology is in place there’s no reason why it can’t detect a cheater. If we’re going to have to pay for technology maintenance, build it in – its just a software download.


  15. I have always liked Hong Kong’s system of Fido-like pay as you go cards. You buy them at machines in whatever denomination you want. The more money you put on your card at once the greater the discount. If you have less money than a fare is worth left on your card the system still lets you on and you get a bit of a ‘freebie’ … but there is less cost in policing and less stress for riders … and reducing stress should be a priority as we redesign our transit systems and introduce new technology. While efficiency is important it’s not everything. Unnecessary line ups at ticket booths, congestion at turnstiles etc. cause stress that ripples out into the community.


  16. Yes, but would it not cost more in the short term to re-install all the zones? I mean stations such as main station had all their collector booths moved to another part of the station in order to facilitate the fare system we have now.

    Steve: The premise in all this is that Smart Cards eliminate the need for barriers and fare inspection. However, they will also require that we know where people get off of vehicles, not just where they boarded. This adds a whole new level of complexity to the monitoring of trips and calculation of fares.


  17. If fare zones are implemented on the TTC or GTA-wide, it must be emphasized that they should be revenue-neutral. In other words, the total revenue for the TTC (and other GTA transit agencies) should be equal before and after the switch. For this to be true, the mean fare would have to be $2.75 (cash) or $2.10 (10 fares bought at once) for trips with a portion taken on the TTC. They would also require the use of smart (or magnetic) cards – otherwise, enforcement would be difficult. Their main purpose would be to encourage short trips, and if implemented GTA-wide, to ensure that similar length trips which cross and which do not cross zone boundaries are charged similarly (e.g. a trip from Kipling to the Zoo should not be much cheaper than a trip from Union to Newmarket; a trip from Clark Ave to Sheppard-Yonge should not be more expensive than a trip from Union to Eglinton.

    Here’s an example of how this could work, assuming that subway, streetcar and bus riders are required to validate their cards when entering and when exiting the system. The City of Toronto is divided into a large number of fairly small zones, each with an area of approximately 4 km x 4 km with boundaries along major arterials. Fares would be based on the number of zones passed through in a 2 hour period. Possible fares are as follows (assume multi-use ticket price):

    1-2 zones: $1.25 (e.g. Union to Eglinton)
    3 zones: $1.75 (e.g. Union to York Mills)
    4 zones: $2.25 (e.g. Union to Finch)
    5 zones: $2.75 (e.g. Union to Scarborough Centre)
    6-7 zones: $3.25 (e.g. Union to the Zoo, Union to Finch + long ride on Finch bus)
    8+ zones: $3.75 (e.g. Kipling to the Zoo)

    Passes would be not be exempt from the zone system, but the cheapest passes would be usable in a fairly large number of zones – for example, passes could be available for 4, 6 and unlimited zones.

    Once a smart card system is implemented in Toronto, the marginal cost of tracking rides in detail is low, since it can be done by computer. The main cost is implementing the smart cards themselves. Due to the advantages (convenience, reduction/elimination of collectors, detailed tracking of passengers, support for POP on any route, support for complex fare schemes) I think that implementing smart cards is worthwhile.

    Steve: Why stop at eight zones? Our correspondent who wants to go out to Mississauga Square 1 would likely pay about $5 for the privilege if we extended this scheme. What you are talking about is fare-by-distance — the further you go the more you pay — and this is the complete opposite of what we are trying to do in attracting people to the transit system. The further someone wants to travel, the more attractive, relatively speaking, their car will be even though it costs more.

    As I said before, I want to sit back in the public meeting where you tell suburban commuters that their fares just went up so that all of the short trips I make downtown will cost me half as much as today. I particularly want to hear to tell that to people who will ride the York/VCC subway. We could probably raise a lot of money to cut the TTC’s deficit by selling tickets to this event!


  18. The above was just an example, and the fares I suggested would only really work within Toronto only. There are many variations on zoned/fare-by-distance schemes. Basically, the main reason that I think that zoned fares of some sort would make sense is so that a trip across a municipal boundary costs the same as a similar distance trip which does not cross a boundary. In addition, I think that GO Transit should be integrated in the same fare system as local transit to encourage its use. As I have said before, a trip from Kipling subway to Toronto Zoo costs much less on local transit ($2.75 cash fare on TTC) than a similar distance trip from Union to Newmarket ($6.50 TTC+Viva). Note that the former trip costs more on GO+TTC ($8.90-8.95) than the latter on GO only ($6.65). The former trip is not very common, but it does show that similar trips can have a widely varying cost. Furthermore, I do not think that fares have a significant impact on transit ridership among car owners, since just the visible costs of driving (gas and parking) are significantly higher than any transit trip. To increase transit ridership and reduce car usage, improve service.

    Steve: On your last point I do agree with you, but if service were the key, then all of the supposed marketing advantage of variable fares isn’t going to make a difference in riding. Why spend all that money on something that, by your statement, won’t have any effect?


  19. While the metropass is a great idea, it really is only for people who ride the subway more than just to work (twice a day during weekdays). For everyone else, it’s a waste of money.

    It is actually cheaper to buy tokens if you are only taking the TTC to work. Or for students, it is much cheaper to buy tokens because students don’t have class every day, and even their weekend usage won’t offset this.

    Steve: You are wrong on that. The Metropass bought on the monthly discount plan costs $91.50. After the tax credit of about $13.70, this nets out to $77.80 or about 37 fares at token rate. As for students, at a growing number of institutions they can get the pass at a discounted price even lower than the MDP, and they still get the tax credit.

    A smart card system benefits casual users of the TTC. For casual users, they will never use enough to justify a metropass, and instead will horde mountains of tokens at home. But it’s very very easy to lose tokens or forget them (meaning you’re forced to pay full fare, or get another 10 tokens if you want value). The smart card is something that can easily fit into a wallet, and you could theoretically recharge it with any denomination that you would like. It removes a large psychological barrier to using transit for casual users as they don’t have to buy in bulk anymore, and it also creates a situation that is just easier for most people (instead of remembering to buy new tokens every so often and not losing any with your change and so on).

    As well, for transfers between the TTC and the 905 systems which do have a different fare structure, it eliminates the need to buy various combination of tickets. If you really want more 905ers to use transit instead of driving downtown you should really try and make it much easier to switch between the systems rather than having them buy tickets/tokens for two different systems!

    The great thing about a smart card is that it can also be expanded. Hong Kong has shown us the way. If the transit authorities that run this, could license the technology to convenience stores, Tim Hortins and whoever else, they could make a ton of money as consumers will surely love the convenience of it all.

    Steve: I am not disputing that Smart Cards may be simpler for some people than tokens or separate fare media for each system, but am simply asking whether this attractiveness is worth the cost to implement and operate the system. Occasional users will be even more turned off by unreliable, overcrowded service, and that’s where our investments should go.


  20. The further someone wants to travel, the more attractive, relatively speaking, their car will be even though it costs more.

    This is why I changed my mind about zone fares. I’d rather have to share the road with the small number of people who will drive two blocks instead of taking the $2.75 streetcar than the large number of people who will drive ten kilometers instead of taking the $6.00 subway.


  21. Steve said:

    I agree. GO’s assertion that GO Train’s are a premium express service doesn’t ring true to me within 416, unless you happen to live within walking distance to a suburban GO Train station eg Long Branch, Scarborough, Oriole, and work within walking distance from another station (likely Exhibition or Union). Otherwise, you need a car and scarce and inconvenient parking at the GO station, or take the TTC at one or both ends of your trip. So the premium express logic only applies to very few, and the rest have to transfer to/from the TTC, largely negating the premium express advantage.

    For instance, i live at Kipling and Lakeshore. When I go downtown, I can take the 501 Queen car (about 1 hour to Yonge), the 44 Kipling South bus to the BD subway, to the Yonge line (about 45 mins), or the 501 car west to Long Branch, wait x minutes for the hourly off peak or half-hourly peak GO Train, thence to Union, and the subway up Yonge (45+ mins). No real advantage to taking GO, unless I want to avoid Queen and traffic, at over double the fare.

    The goal is to move passengers as efficiently as possible. Ignoring the current overcapacity on rush hour TTC and GO train routes, what’s really needed is, as Steve said, a true transit network independent of the mode.

    Off-peak free GO-TTC transfers would go a long way to filling the spare capacity on both systems’ vehicles, and be a great incentive to car drivers, not having to pay two fares.

    Furthermore, why have two main GTA transit agencies, TTC and GO, with duplication of effort and inefficiencies of headquarters, administration, beaurocracy, separate visions, when both’s goals are to move people, one just a little further out from the other? These 2 agencies often have different names for connecting stations, different maps, different implementations, all of which serve mainly to frustrate users and especially potential users.


  22. Why oh why is everyone so fixated on Smart Cards? If you’re looking to use them to avoid free-riders, you need to install a turnstile at each door of each bus that you let people on. And for those that like the idea of paying for ‘extras’ at terminals like that gum or coffee on the go, well, we have many cashless systems already like credit and debit – why reinvent the wheel? For those systems where it is working – London, HK – it’s because its a new and unique payment system, not a replacement for an existing and better system (no need to top-up a debit card).

    As for convenience? Why is it easier to have to remember how much is on your card, rather than know you can travel without worry because it’s already paid for when you bought it? And who’s going to provide the top-up machines? Where are they to go? Every bus stop, or just the subway stations? The first is ridiculous, the second doesn’t help those that don’t live near the subway and travel by bus all the time.

    Frankly, one of the reasons I switched from tokens to Metropass was because I didn’t need to worry about when I was going to run out anymore. The other was the convenience of step-off-and-on travel without paying many times.

    For the question of fares, as has been said on this site before, the assumption that all travel is from the periphery to the core is a fallacy. If a zone boundary is the Steeles, then why is it more equitable that travelling from Finch to Union costs less (one fare) than from John to Finch on Yonge (two fares)? Most travel is short haul point-to-point in the larger urban environment, and there will always be people that have to cross a boundary if zones are introduced and therefore are penalized by two or more fares. Why isn’t the idea of everyone paying the same regardelss of travel distance just as fair?

    Down with Smartcards, up with MetroPass, and long live the single fare-zone.

    Steve: Turnstiles per se are not needed for contactless Smart Cards, but riders do need to present their cards nearby some sort of reader. This could either be at an entryway, or onboard, depending on how honest you expect people to be.

    From a security point of view, although the card does not have to make intimate contact with a reader the way a Metropass does on a turnstile, the distance between reader and card needs to be kept short. This avoids the problem of interactions between crowds of cards and the reader and also of a passerby having equipment that could interact with your card itself. If a Smart Card is a general purpose “cash” card, and no physical handover of the card is needed to actually enter into a transaction, skimming of the stored value can occur.


  23. The question of the GTTA running ALL public transit in 416/905 is an intriguing one. But it is also ridiculous. There still needs to be planning and management at the local level from every neighbourhood within each city. Local travel and regional travel are very different beasts.

    If the GTTA takes over the whole thing, (presumably with a budget) we’ll soon be taking the subway from Pickering to Hamilton, and from Union Station to Wasaga Beach — at the expense of good local service outside of rush hour through your part of town.

    On the smart cards:
    If we’re proposing using our transit pass to buy donuts and cigarettes, why don’t why just use our Interac cards to board the subway? (Is there an emoticon for “this is me being way over the top sarcastic?”) It’s easy to get caught up in technology, but just because we can do something doesn’t mean it’s the most sensible thing to do.

    I’m also not sure how a smart card would remove any “psychological barrier,” the argument was made, because people don’t have to buy in bulk anymore. Every time you recharge your card you’re making, in effect, a bulk purchase.

    The most valuable thing, I think, that could come out of a really smart smart card system would be the travel patterns data that could be collected from passengers. But I gotta tellya, as somebody who lives on the comfortable side of paranoia, I’m not sure how comfortable I would feel with my movements being tracked. (On the other hand, knocking a few bucks off the price would go a long way to quelling my anxiety.)

    It just feels like people are getting excited over a technology that doesn’t do anything to improve the actual service.


  24. I have to agree with Steve on the point that smart cards could be a good idea if there was a significant benefit for the cost. They certainly are not the answer for all situations, and should never replace monthly, weekly, or daily passes.

    Some points mentioned in the various posts:

    The idea that short distance travel costing the same as much longer distance has always bugged me, but I don’t see the reintroduction of zones within Toronto as a possibility. The solution to this is time-based fares and transfers (smart cards would eliminate the paper involved). Effectively a 90-150 minute pass, this allows an out-and-back trip for those on short journeys with short a stop over, while providing a single longer journey for the same price.

    I know that the TTC has always looked at this as a loss of revenue, but think about the reality of it: a major part of their revenue are from commuters who have to travel to and from work, where they stay there for several hours. There are some who take the TTC five stops to go shopping and pay a second fare to return, but this is a small loss. I would argue that for every one of these losses, there is a person who says, “I’m not paying the TTC to take me 5 stops, and paying them again to come back, so I’ll walk”. This type of person may take the TTC if the single fare got them there and back.

    We have to stop thinking of transit as a business and think of it as a necessary service that has specific social benefits (including the reduction of car traffic). I live and work in York region and we have time-expiry transfers. A couple of times a month, I need to run an errand after work that I can do by taking transit to the location from work, do my business, then re-board to go home. If this were the TTC, I would head directly home on transit, then get in my car to go run the errand.

    I should also add, a number of transit agencies also offer a 6-hour pass in addition to a day pass.

    Unlike Steve, I am in favour of retaining zone boundaries between 416/905 and between various 905 agencies. However, I am against paying a full additional fare when crossing the boundary, AND I am against a “line in the sand” boundary. A wide boundary (for example, from Finch to Centre Street going up Yonge) would mean that you only pay the supplement when crossing all the way through. Riders coming from south of Finch would not pay extra, nor would riders coming from north of Centre. The supplement might be $1, instead of an entire extra fare.

    Now, smart cards would be very useful for this, but given that this is not currently in use between zones of different operators, it is not an added benefit of smart cards. Passes are not at risk for this, as one could purchase a 2-zone pass for regular travel through the boundary, or just use a 1-zone pass and pay the fare supplement for occasional travel through the boundary.

    On one other note, Keung said, “I’ve been on the subway far too many times where people have to line up to buy bus tickets/get change/pay their cash fare while holding up everyone behind them.” While this should be a good incentive to purchase a pass so that it may be used in a turnstile, it is also one of those Canadianisms where people are just too polite. I occasionally have to use the TTC and make sure I always purchase tickets or tokens when it is convenient. Since I have handed my money over to the TTC in advance, there is no way I am standing in a line behind those who are just paying now. I will go to the front of the line and politely say, “Excuse me” to the person making a person as I squeeze by to drop by ticket in and enter.


  25. Maybe we could start with stored value cards like the MTA in NYC uses (and has done for 10 years). This would mean getting x number of rides stored on cards that could be reloaded and scanned in existing Metropass scanners. Tickets and tokens are a hassle and because I can walk to work, I don’t use transit enough to justify a Metropass (although tax deductability makes it a bit more tempting).

    Steve: An issue with stored value cards is that the system that reads them needs to be smart enough to figure out when entering a new vehicle or station is a free transfer, and when to charge another fare. Another good argument for one fare constituting a time-limited pass regardless of where you are going as it is so much easier to administer. New York offers two forms of its card. One gives unlimited riding (like the Metropass), while the other operates with a two-hour fare window.


  26. A lot of people are rather arrogantly assuming that the mere convenience of a flat-rate unlimited card is enough to make everyone buy it, as though everyone in the city rides the TTC every day. Among other assumptions, you are assuming that

    a) people need to take the TTC every day, and if they don’t already they would now be inspired to – hogwash. Does someone really sit at home saying, “Gee, I have this pass in my pocket, I better find somewhere to go today that allows me to use it.”

    b) related to this, that a Metropass is a better deal than tokens or tickets – not neccesarily, for reason a. Use it four days a week, for instance.

    c) that at the end/beginning of the month, every citizen that takes the TTC has a lump $100 to spend on their pass – even assuming that it would represent a potential savings for some, this city is expensive enough as it is, and there are many on the fringes who simply can’t lay out that much at once for a monthly pass. (Similarly, there are even more that can not in advance commit to paying the bulk rate of a year’s worth.)

    Should they be prohibited from an alternate fare payment method that reflects usage with rewards? We are creating a class system of sorts, one that says that the wealthiest swipe their Metropass and go through first, the rest of the huddled masses have to line up at the booth.

    I’m being a bit extreme in this point, I know, but seriously, when you think about it…

    The other obvious point is that tickets and tokens remain outdated and still easily conterfeitable. A consistent fare collection medium would make sense from that point of view.

    If you really wanted to, I suppose putting swipe terminals on all bus and streetcar doors would work (if someone was there to police them) but what is wrong with maintaining the one farebox at the front and upgrading it? Some of the arguments I have read here make it sound like the world would end if we all had to swipe through a reader – I’ve used the one New York installed on their buses and they don’t add any time at all. Plus, for those people who can’t, and won’t use smart cards, those same fareboxes allow for bulk change, and count it, so you can’t throw in your nickels and pass them off as quarters.

    In the grand scheme of things, I agree that the TTC has bigger issues at hand in the short term, but if you’re going to have this argument anyway, may as well throw in my two cents’ worth.

    Steve: I would not use the term “arrogant” to describe my position, although I am perfectly capable of sticking my nose high in the air with the best of them. It is totally invalid to argue that we should organize our fare system around those who are unable to buy a Metropass. The same argument has been used to argue against any form of pre-paid media including tokens on the grounds that this subsidizes people who can afford to shell out $21 at a time (current prices).

    Inevitably, any fare system, regardless of how you actually make the payment, will reward those who ride a lot and penalize those who ride a little. That’s basic to every transit system and to most businesses — reward people for using your product more.

    One big problem poor people have is obtaining bank accounts and maintaining reasonable balances that can be used to pay bulk expenses like a Metropass. This plays havoc with their ability to use debit cards. Should we get rid of that technology?

    The technology argument is completely separate from the question of how we will charge for fares.

    As for people sitting at home with nothing to do but use their Metropass, your argument is hogwash. The issue is that if this person decides to make a journey, they don’t have to think about getting tickets or tokens or change, they just ride. Moreover, they can stop off anywhere without figuring out how to cheat on their transfer to avoid paying another fare.

    If you ride four days a week for only two fares a day, that’s 32 fares in one month, about 5 fares below the break-even level when all discounts are included. (Of course, the poor don’t pay income tax, and maybe we should get rid of the tax break for pass buyers because only those with income can get the tax credit.) The assumption about Metropasses is that even a four-day-a-week commuter will quickly discover one or two more trips that need to be taken, or stop offs that would otherwise cost an extra fare. This is called marketing, and given the takeup of the Metropass by riders in general, it is working despite the relatively poor service offered to many riders.


  27. Exactly. We have a fare collection method which, while perhaps outdated compared to other cities, still works. In fact, it works quite well. Let’s not try to fix something that isn’t broken. We can consider moving to smart cards once the existing token and metropass infrastructure needs to be replaced, which I’m sure is many years away. For now, let’s invest any available money into improving transit by adding more service and keeping the vehicles and stations clean.


  28. Steve, all this talk about smartcards and fare collection is to me a big headach. The current fare collection system to me is fine for our needs, but the paper transfer system needs to be improved. Two hour time based transfers should be put into use, and on contracted routes going out of the city limits we need a special transfer to travel across the boundry. These two elements will make an insentive for people to do their “milk runs” on transit.

    Of course down the road when or if ever the Transit City plan did came together we should have POP all door loading, Ticket Vending Machenes, random and regular pop enforcements, and harsh fines for those who cheat the system. ($1500 for the first fine and gets progressive for each new offence.) VIVA to me is the best example of surface rapid transit fare collection in the GTA and that should be the model if down the road the transit city plan gets realized. And in regards to the random and regular pop enforcement with the $1500 fine if they wrote up one cheat the costs of the pop enforcement is paid for and the bean counters can keep quiet.


  29. I think what everyone needs to understand is that public transit does not exist for the sole purpose of collecting fares. Implementing complicated and costly smart cards and numerous fare zones will do nothing at the end of the day to accomplish transit’s primary objective; and that is to move passengers to their desired destination.

    I believe that the best thing to consider is to have one fare zone for all local service in the entire GTA, if someone wants to spend 3-4 hours on local service to travel from west end Peel region to east end Durham then I don’t see any problem with charging only $2.75(or less). There would be premium express routes (go transit, etc) that could charge by distance, and the local fare would count towards its fare.
    There would be many more details to work out in a scenario such as this, but the benefits to the whole region would be numerous.

    Ideally, I would prefer to have no fares at all, and therefore saving even more time and money on fare collection; but heaven forbid having to pay for a public service entirely through taxes.


  30. If our goal is to encourage transit use while not overburdening the downtown subway, a good option is a 416 only GO/TTC hybrid pass.

    I suspect it is rare that people who live near the 416 GO stations are buying both a TTC and GO pass each month. The extra cost is hard to justify, especially if you own a car. So they probably just pick the one they get the most benefit from.
    If a GO/TTC pass were discounted just right, it would be really popular, and not a financial loss to either system.

    People who normally buy the GO pass to get to/from work downtown would take more TTC trips off peak, reducing their car use. They would also be able to ride the TTC to/from the GO station instead of driving in.

    People who now opt for the Metropass would switch to GO for their peak period trips to/from work, reducing the load on the subway. They would also have the benefit of access to off peak travel on GO, if they are on the Lakeshore line.

    The infrastructure to handle more off-peak trips on the TTC is there, though GO might have trouble handling more peak period passengers until the Union Station upgrade is complete.


  31. The smart card i’m weary of, it seems like spending money just so that it works like a collecting device, taking $2.10 everytime I board a bus, and taking more when I cross a fare boundary. I doubt it will interegate the fares at all, just a deducting value card, and the current tokens and tickets work well enough. The idea of wide boundarys and supplements, not extra fares like seen on the VIVA should be the way to go, but the fare zones should only be established outside/near the edge of the 416, to avoiud penalizing local riders.

    (As an aside, the transfers aboard the suburban systems works quite well, even though it loses money, it is slow. I’ve tried, taking local buses from Hamilton to Markham and paying 1 fare, but it took 5 hours. [The drivers on the 2nd system give you a transfer of their system in exchange for the old one even.])


  32. Why not just accept TTC fares in the City of Toronto on GO, at least at off-peak? This would encourage the usage of GO, which has plenty of capacity off-peak.


  33. Andrew said …

    “Why not just accept TTC fares in the City of Toronto on GO, at least at off-peak? This would encourage the usage of GO, which has plenty of capacity off-peak”.

    I see two problems with this.

    1 One is the old political problem of why should we haul their passengers for free and how do you insure they have paid a TTC fare if they do not have a pass or transfer. Based on the 10 trip ticket GO would lose $3.35 per trip from Long Branch to Union, $3.40 from Etobicoke North or $4.22 from Rouge Hill. GO is a premium priced service because of its speed. The TTC charges a premium for its downtown express buses. This idea would either cost GO revenue with out making a significant change in the number of people riding it or:

    2 If a significant number of new people rode the service then GO would have to either increase off peak service (Probably a good idea) or add more equipment to existing trains. Both of these would increase GO’s costs without increasing its revenue. As it takes 5 trains to run the current Lakeshore Service resulting in station dwell times of 36 minutes at Burlington and 33 minutes at Oshawa it is possible to double the service by adding only four trains and decreasing the dwell times at the termini. It would also be a good idea to adjust the departure times at Oakville and Pickering instead of staying fixed on the hour and the half hour as now is the case. This would, I believe, increase usage in the off peak without creating a significant increase in operating costs, especially if GO went to 2 person crews instead of the current 3. They dropped down from 4 in the new year.


    Would this include GO buses.


  34. There is already a premium TTC pass – the Express sticker. As Steve points out, GO-in-416 is an express service, not a local one – not completely unlike the service provided by the 140 series bus routes.

    A TTC rider could swipe their pass through a platform validator and receive a special transfer to show as a ticket in conjunction with the pass, providing GO with a record of the number of uses which TTC could refund at a rate of about $3-$3.50 a ride (single 416 zone but transfers at Union could be classed as separate trips if necessary) and cover the cost of the validators which essentially would be a mashup of a TTC turnstile slaved to a transfer printing machine.

    A few extra suggestions:
    Limit initial usage to GO routes with spare capacity (if such a thing exists)
    Allow TTC “standard” pass holders to travel off-peak on routes with spare capacity in order to boost the rationale for full day GO service.


  35. Mark Dowling said:

    “There is already a premium TTC pass – the Express sticker. As Steve points out, GO-in-416 is an express service, not a local one – not completely unlike the service provided by the 140 series bus routes.
    “A TTC rider could swipe their pass through a platform validator and receive a special transfer to show as a ticket in conjunction with the pass, providing GO with a record of the number of uses which TTC could refund at a rate of about $3-$3.50 a ride (single 416 zone but transfers at Union could be classed as separate trips if necessary) and cover the cost of the validators which essentially would be a mashup of a TTC turnstile slaved to a transfer printing machine.
    “A few extra suggestions:
    Limit initial usage to GO routes with spare capacity (if such a thing exists.) Allow TTC “standard” pass holders to travel off-peak on routes with spare capacity in order to boost the rationale for full day GO service.”

    I think that in the rush hour there is very little spare capacity which is why GO wants to run 12 car trains on first Milton then Lakeshore West to increase capacity by 20% with out being forced to run more trains. When I have taken the Georgetown train in it seems to be operating at near capacity also. During the off peak right now there is only regular service on the lakeshore with about 4 or 5 trains on Georgetown as far as Bramalea.

    How would you define “OFF PEAK”? When there is something at the Ex or a certain conventions, ball games, or other activities I have seen the Lakeshore trains full in the “OFF PEAK”. In 2008 GO will start hourly service on the Georgetown line to Mt. Pleasant (Brampton West). This will take 2 trains with a 48 minute one way time. If they run 10 car trains on this then perhaps there will be spare capacity to try this.

    I still believe that the best thing to run in the Weston Corridor in the 416 and airport area is a standard gauge electric line with GO style self propelled electric cars running off catenary. I know that some one keeps saying that you cannot mix high level cars and overhead but there are electric line in the US, specifically the North East Corridor and the IC and South Shore in Chicago, and I find it hard to believe that they never have high cars operating on or across them. These MU cars with their better acceleration could operate to the airport with a transfer connection in Malton to the diesel hauled coaches to Georgetown which could operate express to Union. They could also have more stops to provide a service between subway and current GO operations.

    I don’t believe that this corridor lends itself to LRT or HRT easily but I believe that the electrified GO service would succeed. Electrification should be at 1500 to 3000 VDC to reduce overhead clearances required as CN will never run 25 000 VAC on this line. I think that you have to keep the low platform loading of the GO coaches so that stations could be used by either service. As this is more of a suburban service than a local one you should have a higher seating to standing ratio than the TTC has on LRT or HRT. I don’t care if you paint them green or red; the operator is irrelevant, as long as the service is provided. By running GO style equipment you would cut down on the spare part inventory required. Electrify one line to Willowbrook and the heavy maintenance could be handled there or you could haul the coaches behind a locomotive.

    I feel like I am fighting a one person crusade here but having ridden the suburban rail systems in Sydney Australia (City Rail) and in Melbourne I believe that there is another option that we are missing. Since GO owns the Newmarket Sub maybe this would be the thing to do. You could probably electrify the entire line and run a decent headway all day to the 407 for less money than will be spent on the subway extension. It would also provide a faster downtown connection to North York. Sorry York U but I am sure that an LRT line could be included for little more than the subway extention.


  36. Like Steve I also work in the world of IT. I’ve also suffered with the zoned fare structure of GO Transit. I lived and worked in locations where I required the service of multiple transit modes and operators. Sure an integrated fare would’ve made my life easier.

    But as Steve keeps repeating what I really wanted was predictable, reliable, efficient service that got me to my destination with a minimum of hassle. You only have to wait for a GO Bus at 5 am in the middle of winter on Yonge Street to know what I mean. Those minutes felt like hours when the bus was running late.

    The TTC’s “quaint” fare system is a problem that doesn’t need to be fixed.

    For those that love technology and zoned fares I suggest you look at the DEXIT system that was supposed revolutionize buying coffee or lunch. It seems to be disappearing as fast as it arrived.


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