Say “Presto!” and All Your Cares Will Vanish

Lately, with one announcement after another out of Queen’s Park (or is it Liberal Headquarters), I’m having a hard time deciding just what Rob MacIsaac’s job at the GTTA really is.

The push is on to make announcements now, to have photo ops now, to show caring Liberals fixing transit, environmental and traffic problems now!

Alas, the real world is not that simple.

The latest event was the unveiling of the Presto Smart Card out in Mississauga.  I am not going to duplicate a lot of good comments made by several writers on the thread at spacing wire, but the core of this debate lies the following issues:

  • The cost to implement Presto on the TTC is very large and has grown from $150- to $250-million in the past few years.  A detailed report was prepared by consultants for the TTC covering many of the issues.  The projected cost for the TTC implementation was actually cheaper, relatively speaking, than similar projects on other large transit systems.
  • The alleged reason for Presto is to allow seamless movement between many transit systems.  However, there are much more basic impediments to such movement notably the service quality (or lack of it) at boundaries, and the existence of multiple separate fares in each system.  Any fare integration that reduces costs to riders will require higher fares overall or improved operating subsidies.

The implementation to date between Missisauga, GO and TTC at selected locations is miniscule and has a tiny fraction of the technical requirements of a GTA-wide scheme.  A great photo op, but not nirvana.

Absolutely essential to any farecard implementation will be a unified fare structure.  Should we charge by distance?  Should we charge by time of day?  Should we treat one fare as a limited time pass eliminating the concept of a transfer per se?  Presto can make any of these possible, but we need to know what we want to accomplish and the potential effect on future and present riders.

The TTC has no pressing need to replace its fare collection system and is moving increasingly, for frequent users, to flat-price passes rather than charging for each trip.  Should we invest a fortune in a system to track details of passenger movements and calculate fares if a pass system (electronic or otherwise) will handle the majority of the transactions?

Some cities have used Smart Cards to replicate and expand byzantine fare structures already in place.  If anything, the GTTA is all about simplification and flattening of our fare structure.  Presto can help with this, but the important policy choices must come first.

This project has been around for quite some time as a technology looking for a problem and using the sham argument that fare collection technology is the answer to interregional transit.  This is total nonsense.  Better service, better fare structures and better subsidies (all of which are inextricably linked) come first.  How you collect the fare is a distant second.

After all, we already have the GTA pass, and that didn’t require any technology at all.  What it’s missing is the network and the service levels to make it widely attractive.

Queen’s Park may have scored a hit with MoveOntario, but Presto will do little to improve transit in the GTTA for years to come.

35 thoughts on “Say “Presto!” and All Your Cares Will Vanish

  1. Scenario for what might happen once Presto is rolled out througout the 905 regions and the five TTC subway stations:

    Someone boards TTC at Finch. Pays w/ Presto. Gets off at Dundas to go to the Eaton Centre for some shopping. Once he/she is finished, he/she must use either tokens, tickets, cash or a Metropass to get back on, unless he/she walks down to Union. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Sorry, makes us less sophisticated. One thing I *DON’T* like about this city.

    Steve: Here’s another scenario. Annual operating cost of Presto for the TTC raises fares or causes service cuts. More people walk because they can’t get on packed vehicles. As things stand, Presto is a great deal for people living in the 905 because it will eventually consolidate fare structures, probably at Toronto’s expense, and make their travel cheaper.

    Having said that, I believe that something close to a flat fare is the way we should be charging for transit in the GTTA with some possible exceptions. However, GTTA taxpayers need to be prepared to pay more to subsidize transit operations.

    If we add costs to transit and cut total revenue, but hear the call of “no new taxes” limiting subsidies, that will take us right back to the dark days of service cuts and lost riding.


  2. Steve:

    You have hit the nail on the head. I used transit to vist a friend in Southdown Road from my home in Toronto. The service on Erin Mills/Southdown is every half hour – even in rush hour. This is not a service deficiency that is fare related – only a truly desperate old/student/poor customer would tolerate this service – and then only until they could get a car to replace the trip. There is of course a fourth category – transit nuts like me. (I had a car that I could have taken.) However, even this transit nut didn’t take this inefficient system home. I took the GO train from Clarkson to Exhibition where I can walk home. If we are to truly add transit to the suburban commuting mix (apart from GO) the service levels have to increase dramatically. With the exception of the Dundas Bus in Mississauga, there are no routes that really offer support for a transit lifestyle. Cars rule by default.


  3. What I do not understand is how a single card can know what fare you qualify for. I work with this type of payment with my day job.

    Testers will be selected to be monthly riders then the “lowest” fare is deducted. 50 cents on the GO shuttle then the ride cost from a month level and same with TTC at Union then. I read there is a ride criteria.

    When this expands if I am correct they will have to move to a Tap off also because how will the card reader know if your going to the GO or going just to Square One? You will probably have to pay an initial fee — deposit then Tap off and the actual fare is then calculated. Distance or just regular or Co-Fare will be determined. Like using a pay at the pump for gas– a set amount is authorised then when the sale is complete the actual amount is charged to your card.

    For quite some time I was wondering what GO was going to do with their Datacard readers– for years we have been dealing with the day we have to replace POS terminals made by them, support has ended quite some time ago. I regularly have to have the GO driver use his black marker on my 10 ride ticket or I am lucky to get that extra ride– the ones that print over an existing ride then you get a free one or two if spaces are on your ticket still. Not something I regularly do but it happens when I forget to count my rides.

    It will be interesting to see how the pilot goes.

    At least the card is reloadable and not like a giftcard as when you leave funds on them and do not empty them off, all those pennies and a few bucks not spent is called breakage and lots of money is made from that.

    Plus the card is tapped and not at the mercy of a mag stripe reader not working at that particular time.

    Canadians love technology! We are one of the highest debit card users in world, we use debit more then the U.S. even. People will flock to this Presto just because of the “neat factor” I mean average riders not a bunch of Transit enthusiasts. 🙂

    I do agree with you on fare structure and still — it is not the number of fares one must pay but the number of times someone may have to transfer to just get to where they are going.


  4. I use the IC card technology on my cell-phone. I find the cell-phone being my train pass marvelously convenient (but I find myself watching battery life more closely than before. I have not yet been caught with my battery dieing while in transit, but I have been caught turning off my phone until I hit the fare gate). I hope they are making this happen in the GTA as well, I’ve heard they are looking at it.

    One thing that I would LOVE for them to use this card for is for recording linked-trip data. This card presents the first real opportunity to track such data accurately. Almost all ridership data out there is for unlinked trips.

    Also, this card opens up the potential for the various transit agencies to broaden their horizons for more sources of revenue through diversification. Hopefully they are not too used to living off subsidies to be blind to that. Nothing would happen overnight, but this card could be used as a start towards making transit profitable again (as we all know that the TTC generated a profit upto 1970, we know it can happen (political damage makes it difficult, but it might yet happen if they’re smart/creative)).

    Steve: Having riders “tap out” when they leave a vehicle or station would be a huge imposition on clear passenger flows, would require considerable additional data collection and processing capability, all in the name of additional management data.

    I am fed up with people who forget that this is the real world of transit where hundreds of thousand of people flow around the system every hour. Collecting linked trip data may be a handy thing if you already have a system that requires and has the capacity for people to “tap out” as part of a fare by distance structure, but the basic question of “is the bus full” doesn’t need this level of intrusive technology.

    If there is a heavy transfer movement between routes (or complaints about difficulty of making connections), you don’t need all that technology to figure it out.

    I am sure that at great expense we could outfit every car in Ontario with a transponder and track their movements around the GTA. Aside from privacy issues, would this make the highways any better?

    We should not implement a technology, distort our fare structures and complicate passenger movements around the system just to suit the technology’s advocates. Technology serves us, not the other way around.


  5. What about all the advantages to Presto that TTC and Torontonians gain, completely ignoring cross-boundary stuff. i.e. for the majority of us who travel 99% of the time within the city boundaries (would a town like Guelph be doing this if the only benefits are cross-boundary commuting?)

    – No more having to stock up on tokens, change, day passes (yeah, I know that TTC is pushing the everyone should have a pass thing – but for many commuters this is not an option – personally I have to travel outside of the GTA a couple of times a week, and have to lug around equipment on other days, resulting in passes never paying for themselves. I see a lot of people using tokens – so I’m not alone!).

    – A reduction in farebox disputes, pass disputes, transfer disputes, cash being carried on vehicles, etc. This should go a long way to making life easier for drivers.

    – Quicker loading onto vehicles – the speed that those things process transactions is amazing

    – Easier implementation of POP. Inspectors simply scan your card to check for compliance, or confirm you have a valid media (which would mean taking some kind of transfer or something for the minority that pay cash).

    – Back door loading on all vehicles (because you can place a card reader both at the front of the vehicle, and at the back doors

    – less queues at subway ticket counters. Most transactions can now be done at machines. Cards can be filled up, or monthly passes purchased over the Internet. Far less cash would be sitting in subway cash boxes.

    – less issues with token only entrances. (there’s nothing more frustrating than landing at a token-only entrance with a transfer or a day pass).

    – it’s a lot simpler for users. This should increase transit usage by passengers who have other alternatives. For example on Tuesday I ended up using a day pass – but I had to guess at the beginning of the day that none of my meetings would be cancelled, etc., to see if it was worthwhile. With a card, it can be set up so that you would simply charge the day-pass amount ($8.50) as the daily maximum. (you could also get into some innovative pricing schemes – the first ride and perhaps even the second would cost $2.10, but for a third (non-transfer) ride it might drop to 90¢ or so, to encourage people not to drive in the evening.

    – eliminating problems with lost and stolen cards. If your card – with your monthly pass, get’s stolen, you simply report it stolen, it get’s cancelled, and you can pick up a replacement card.

    Sure there are implementation costs. But I think the operational costs at least can be made up by savings in many areas. Perhaps the province can be convinced to pick up much of the implementation costs.

    I assume you’ve used this technology personally in other cities? What do you think about it there?

    Perhaps Toronto could sell the naming rights for the TTC version. Everyone could carry a Rogers card instead of a Presto Card. How much would that sell for – should pay for the operating costs … and everytime you log into to load more cash onto your card, they can advertise to you.

    Steve: You talk about many advantages of a Smart Card fare collection system, but you don’t mention the most important part — the fare structure. If we move to a time-based fare where one “fare” buys you, say, two hours of system access, then the supporting infrastructure for the system becomes vastly simpler. You don’t have to track where someone goes, whether their journey constitutes a new fare or not, whether a transfer is valid. It does not have to deal with emergencies where vehicles are off route and follow convoluted paths that the central tracking system cannot understand.

    As more and more riding move to flat monthly or weekly fare media, we will be installing all of this technology for a dwindling minority of riders.

    All door loading with low floor vehicles will bring on the need for much better POP inspection and enforcement. It doesn’t matter whether you have a low tech transfer, a Metropass or a Smart Card, someone has to look at it to see if it is valid. The TTC needs to figure out how to do this without a bunch of pushy, arrogant, burly transit cops harrassing the likely scofflaws.

    People should not have to “tap in” if they know they have a valid fare card. Today, we get on at the rear doors at POP stops with nobody to inspect whatever fare we might have. We’re on our honour to be well-behaved subject to the rare arrival of the fare inspectors. The biggest delay to boarding is the high floor, not fare collection.

    Similarly, without fare inspection, there is no way to know if I have entered at an automatic gate using a discount (senior, student, child) card.

    Each capability has its cost, and we need to make the policy decisions to know whether the cost is worthwhile.


  6. I hear what you’re saying, that this technology is a bit of overkill but smart card technology seems to be the way that many large transit systems are going (apparently Hong Kong has a system that allows you to load dollars onto it that can be used in the transit system for rides or shopping, pay phones, food etc). Also, flat fares are good and well for daily commuters but increasingly for people like me, who live and work downtown (and can walk to work) a flat monthly pass isn’t a good deal because I just don’t use the system enough. Even plain jane stored value cards would be an improvement on this, but the TTC doesn’t seem willing to consider even this. While this investment is a lot of money, there has to be a pay off in terms of customer convenience and automation (will the TTC need to staff every subway station when PRESTO is fully implemented; they certain won’t have to process all the coins, cash and tokens they do now). Also the province is paying for most of this. Maybe it will prod the TTC past its lowest common denominator, technophobic ways; so while, yes, tickets and tokens do the job, maybe in 2007 it is time to move beyond this.

    Steve: This comment raises several issues:

    1. Do we organize the fare structure around the occasional user, or the regular rider? How many potential occasional riders would be driven away by each of various possible fare schemes?

    2. If Presto is going to be a stored value card used for other types of purchases, why is the TTC or the GTTA in that business? Why not the banks who have a lot more experience? [This is a call to all you private sector advocates to jump in to make sure those banks are even more obscenely profitable than they are today.]

    3. The cost of processing cash fares and tokens declines as the use of passes by regular riders goes up. Stations will always be staffed, although in a completely automated environment, the staff would likely be roving security guards and fare inspectors, and there would likely always be two of them for mutualk protection. They are paid much more than station collectors.

    4. “The Province” is you and me through our taxes [yet another chance for the right wing to jump in with both feet]. We hear all the time about wasteful government spending and value for money and holding down taxes. This project was specifically not mentioned in MoveOntario. Where is the funding coming from and who pays for the cost increase to $250-million for the TTC system? Are there other uses for this money that could provide more riders and better service?

    This is not a question of technophobia. This is an expensive bauble that is not an integral requirement of running the transit system. Its primary purpose is to give the impression that Queen’s Park is “doing something” about interregional transit. If this were not a political announcement, why wasn’t it done by the GTTA?


  7. Steve

    I have had a quick look at the Commission report.

    It looks at a capital cost of $250m *and* a current cost of $12m p.a. It does assume retaining cash within the system while eliminating tokens and tickets, but I would think it might be better to look at ways to eliminate cash entirely, at least on vehicles. This would markedly reduce certain security issues if potential thieves knew there was no cashbox on the bus/streetcar. It would also eliminate the need to issue limited use cards.

    There would be issues around how to ensure tourists, seniors and low-income households were able to easily obtain passes if they don’t live near subway stations, but I don’t think these are insurmountable problems and liaison with local communities and support groups could ensure wide access. If there can be a 6-49 machine on every street corner in this town there can be a smartcard vendor too.

    As I have posted before, we differ on the value on having finer grained ridership information. I think it would be valuable to look at annual events like Caribana, Pride, etc. and see which routes surge in ridership, not just downtown but elsewhere in the city. It may be that while a given downtown event attracts a lot of people, a large number of those could be using Lawrence West or Sheppard East or SRT as the first part of their journey. I would think advertisers would find better ridership *and* connection info useful and TTC could adjust its advertising charges upwards accordingly.

    The report does seem to assume the TTC smartcard would be administered by TTC staff. I don’t think it should. GTTA should operate a single card infrastructure, payments etc. and the participating transit systems should transfer their employees to GTTA or redeploy them. How else do you get economy of scale in deals with the various banks from a cross-system smartcard? There should be a single call centre and distribution centre (in Thunder Bay perhaps?!)

    A Mississauga resident moving to Toronto could go to the Presto website and select a “Toronto Plan” rather than a “Mississauga Plan” without changing cards, or telephone a GTTA operator. GTTA can then distribute the smartcard revenue to operators on the basis of a distribution agreement agreed by each operator as they join the system. TTC’s responsibility would be solely as agent for GTTA at collector booths and in ensuring against fare evasion.


  8. I guess I should take back what I wrote on your blog recently about removing the word “authority” from the GTTA. Clearly, it showed it didn’t have any when the premier rolled out its regional transit plan. (The premier even joked that MacIsaac would now have something to do.)

    But now, the GTT(A) shows it does have authority because it will be making the TTC spend at least a couple hundred million dollars (how many buses is that?) to implement a technology that will do nothing to increase service and will forever eat into the TTC’s annual operating budget.

    This is a regional initiative that should be funded by the regional agency implementing it. Things like this cause me concern when I hear people advocating for one regional transit agency for the whole GTA.


  9. I agree whole-heartedly with you that the $$ can EASILY be spent more constructively on service improvements and a like; however, what are we going to do when it comes time to switch to proof of payment fare structure?

    We need to look into some sort of electronic system that can cut out the needless garbage of paper tickets and transfers.

    I think that fare by distance is an excellent idea, as a person who occupies a seat for a shorter distance should have to pay a smaller fare, however with the urban makeup of toronto and its odd mix of densities it would simply not work.

    Steve: As I have written before, paper tickets and transfers disappear with any form of pass whether it has complex electronics or not. We need to move as much as possible to fare media that don’t depend on fine-grained accounting.

    As for fare-by-distance, the biggest problem is that TTC riders from decades of experience do not have to “tap out” when they leave a vehicle or station, and indeed the system is not set up to register such transactions. Adding this to the fare structure would require additional underlying technical complexity to determine the appropriate fare and would lead to nasty disputes when someone claims to have “tapped out” but not be registered by the system and is charged a full fare for a short trip.


  10. When you have an area as big as the GTA, you can’t use flat rate anymore!

    The fair way to do this is to calculate the fare by straight line distance … entry-point, exit-point. This resolves the inequity of trips that cross a zone slightly. The technology to do this exists (GPS). Tinker with the rate per km until you come up with something that’s revenue neutral. Sure, some people will pay more, others less, but you can’t have everything in life. The rate for the first x kilometres is y per km, and so on — do it in tiers.

    Everyone talks about service levels, but not about the distances involved and the speed of the service. Does the fact that it would take over 2 hours for someone deep in Mississauga to get to Scarborough ever cross anyone’s mind? That’s the reason you’ll never get those people on transit. Those people have to use cars. Target the trips where transit is competitive.

    For example, drive along Bloor St. with all the lights and you’ll find that the BD subway is competitive with the car in terms of speed. Those are the cars you want to get off the road, not all cars.

    Steve: I am amazed that on one hand you want to protect some sort equity between riders who go from Hamilton to Oshawa on one flat fare, while at the same time saying that they are extremely unlikely to do this because the trip is so slow. That is exactly my point: the overhead and complexity of a distance-based fare is not required when a much simpler time-based fare rewards those who take short trips with stop-offs.

    We had this fight about a single fare on the TTC back in the early 1970s. Yes, it cost the TTC revenue to charge people the same fare, but the old-style scheme of sitting at fare boundaries checking transfers was simply not feasible as the system (especially the subway) expanded beyond the old Zone 1.

    Any attempt to make people living in the old 416 suburbs pay more to ride downtown while giving short-hop inner city travellers a break would not play well politically. By extension, how could we justify a flat single zone fare within the 416 while charging extra for riders from the 905? That is the root of this whole discussion.

    My vote is for a flat, time-based fare. It is simple to understand and administer, we won’t need a computer system attempting to track where everyone travels to figure out how much they should pay, and people will be able to exit vehicles and stations freely without “tapping out” to ensure they are not overbilled.


  11. I have more Presto Questions.

    The Month Pass is dated so if you did not use the rides you need to make it worthwile you lost out on value for that month.

    Does Presto run out before the month is up if you say rode the system 7 times a day or more?

    I really want to know how it is working. Does anyone know this? I am just guessing at how a ride is paid for using the card.

    Is unlimited travel in a month still able to be done with the card in the beginning pilot?


  12. Steve, what time do you propose as the time limit then? Two hours? Valid across all GTA systems? Is GO included? The transit agencies stand to lose a lot of money using your method.

    My way is fairer. If the outer 416ers don’t like it, tough! I used to be an outer 416er — why should I pay the same rate when I’m using more of the TTC than someone downtown?

    Under a straight line distance system, GO can be taken from Union to Etobicoke North, or the YU and BD subways and the Kipling bus can be taken … for the same amount. A rider who sits near a boundary and crosses into another one doesn’t get dinged twice. The entries and exits and modes used can then be used with a cost sharing formula to divvy up the money between the transit agencies. OK, it’s complicated, but this is the 21st century, not 1960.

    It just isn’t practical to do flat rate anymore. Now, to get those crosstown 401 commuters, you’re going to need something a lot faster than LRT. This is why they prefer to be stuck in the 401 than on a road like Eglinton. With all the red lights, the travel time is the same.

    Steve: Two hours would be just fine. If you actually want to make a longer trip, you pay another fare. Somewhere along the line you are going to change vehicles and your old fare won’t be valid any more.

    As for completely distance-based fares, I will be happy to watch you try to get elected on that sort of platform. You don’t here Dalton talking about how we can make long distance riders pay more than they do today, do you?

    It will never happen on the TTC, and may run into problems in the 905 as well.

    I am trying to make a proposal that can actualy work in practice and on a political level.


  13. Would it not be better to re-institute the Zone fare system. It may not have worked in 1973 when it was removed but now with seamless GTA wide transit I think it would be best to give it a try. GO Transit does it and it is working fine for them.

    Steve: Even assuming the operational issues with collecting and inspecting fare were eliminated through technology, what won’t go away is the political hit anyone proposing this will take from suburban riders for whom Zone 2 was eliminated in the first place.

    GO has zones because they have always had zones and people are used to them. Even so, a recent fare increase aroused some dissent because some riders felt that their zone fares were increasing disproportionately to others. This is a very sensitive issue, especially if you can’t make the trains run on time.


  14. To me, the smart card is in roughly the same category as the Sorbara, oops, Spadina subway extension to Hwy. 7. It’s a solution desperately in search of a problem, ie., perhaps “nice” but not really that necessary at a time when there are many other priorities on which we do not seem to be moving forward.

    The concern is that the provincial and particularly the federal governments may reach the point of saying “sorry, no more funding, we’ve given you millions and millions already”. Said millions will have been spent on lesser priorities, and the real needs will be left crying for funding which has dried up.


  15. Steve,

    I like your idea of a single 2-hour time-base flat fare–A LOT! A brilliant complement to the TTC’s unlimited use flat-fare passes that not every rider needs or can afford. Go anywhere you want to go in two hours with unlimited, multiple boardings to and fro and in between!!! It’s so simple, elegant and effective! No fuss, no muss, no technology! 😛

    It works because it helps make transit cheaper, faster and more convenient than the car for many more users and kinds of trips (for example, stop at grocery store on way home, or LCBO, or make several Saturday afternoon shopping trips on St. Clair to your local butcher, baker, candlestick maker… on one fare) that would normally be done in a car due to the multiple $2.10 adult cost of each boarding (non-pass users).

    It also would be a very elegant solution to the arbitrary, punitive 416/905 double fare which discourages transit use not only from 905 residents into 416 but increasingly from 416 residents to their 905 jobs! The GTTA could apportion operating subsidies by % total boardings which would surge without the 100% GTA fare premium.


    I did a presentation back in March to the 5th GTA Transportation Summit* in which I looked at fare zones (going way back to 1940). Steve’s right… more fare zones = less transit trips due to a more complicated and expensive fare system; while fewer fare zones = more transit trips as it’s easier to understand and cheaper to ride.

    Fare-by-distance or zone fares are a great financial strategy to recapture operating costs (witness GO at a 89.5% “R/C” ratio in 2006). Unfortunately they are complex, not as simple, intuitive as our current unlimited use, flat fare passes, unlimited “one-way travel” single fares or the 2-hour time based “two-way travel” transfers currently being tested on St. Clair.


    It’s a MS.ppt. View in “Presenter Tools” and search for fare zones and you’ll see a ridership graph going back to 1940 showing the impact—good/bad—of fare zones on TTC ridership (with many other factors impacting as well).


  16. Steve:

    I actually did not mention anything about “tapping out” in my comment, but if you were assuming that that is the type of environment I am in, you are correct, I do tap out from train stations, but not on busses (tap-in only, as they are flat-fare, unlike the trains). I am aware that Toronto and Tokyo are vastly different, and I had taken into account that tapping-out is problematic for the GTA’s habits to date. However, tapping-out is actually not necessary. Since a time-based structure is most likely, tapping-in, including taps at transfer boardings, would be all that is needed. Where one gets off is irrelevant if we already know what route they boarded, and we will also know where they got off when they are getting ready to go back home, as it is usually very likely (although not guaranteed, people walk or get a lift etc., who knows what) to use the same station they got off at when they tap in again to get home. This provides the same very valuable information while the habits of the GTA need not change (exception: subway station bus terminals would require an additional tap), apart from having those habits take far less time to do ;).

    I’d argue that “is the bus full?” is not the most important question, the question should be “how did the bus get so full?!?”. If that question is answered, a more comprehensive strategy can be taken to improving the transit structure and flow. The cure is fine and well, but prevention by striking the cause has stronger merit.

    As for the comment on banks managing this card, that would be pointless because then the banks instead of the transit agencies would make money off it. This card should be use to give the transit agencies the means to generate more money, not banks. Diversification is how many other transit agencies elsewhere in the world make a profit. The “Transit only” model for public transportation companies worked upto a while after the second world war (hey, the war years is where the money for the original Yonge subway came from), but now you need more in your arsenal.


  17. Mimmo and Steve,

    I understand where both of you stand. Both of you are right in your own ways with very strong arguments. However, in my opinion, I’m in favour for “fair by distance” in the long term.

    In the short to mid term, why not have the best of both worlds and have fair by distance, at a “low rate”, for those who use the subway (plus the flat rate) AND flat-rate for bus only users.

    Subway stations are ideal to “tap in” and “Tap out”. Subways will be treated as a premium service which deserves additional charge. This will get riders feet wet for “fair by distance” concept.

    In the mid to long term, when Technology exists, and more public acceptance, a “near” full-blown fair by distance can be implemented.

    I truly believe the TTC should be less reliant from government subsides and less attached to political influence. This would be a baby step to becoming a little bit more self-sufficient.

    My suggestion would only apply to the TTC. I haven’t made that much thought about this outside of the GTA.

    Steve: Fare policies need to work for the entire region and, indeed, the whole rationale for Presto is that it will eliminate or minimize the problems of using multiple systems for one trip.

    As for reliance on subdies, the TTC is less reliant on them than any other system in the GTA. If you are serious about this position, then look for huge increases in fares around the GTA (or service cuts), not to mention some way of paying the immense cost of capital improvements from the farebox. This is contrary to the idea that transit is a public service existing for the general good. If riders on the Sheppard Subway had to actually pay the cost of carrying them, they would all drive cars.


  18. If Presto does get implemented, how easy will it be for riders to add cash to the cards?

    I do not know if people will be too keen on using the card, if they are limited to major bus terminals to fill up the card.


  19. Karl

    if the transit system manages the card they pay the bank a fee every time they take money from a customer’s bank account. However, with a system as big as GTTA there might be a case to make for GTTA joining the Interac consortium!

    A shared infrastructure could mean that GTTA could run smartcards outsourced on behalf of other municipalities like Ottawa or K-W.


  20. I’d see a time based fare across the whole area as a good solution, why? Because with two hours, you can’t really get from Oshawa to Mississagua, so instead of fare zones, there should be different time-based fare options like 1, 2 or 3 hours, that effectively act as zone fares without fare boundaries and the complexity of zone fares.


  21. I have been a fan of time-expiry fares for quite some time and even moreso since YRT adopted this fare system just before VIVA was launched.

    Running extra errands has been made more simpler and has reduced my “carbon footprint” because of it. I take YRT to and from work most days and being able to make a stop to purchase something or pay a bill on the way home means I don’t have to drive for that purpose in the evening, saving me time and the cost of gas.

    While I don’t see the need to implement zone fares where there are none today, I am not against retaining what is in place, though with three changes: wide boundaries, zone supplements instead of full extra fares, and equal treatment.

    Wide boundaries means that instead of the zone change being at one point, such as Steeles Avenue, there is a dual-zone space of about 4 km. In this example, the dual-zone would be from Finch to Centre if on Yonge Street. Anyone travelling from either zone into the dual area would only have to pay the single zone fare.

    A zone supplement is the charge for passing completely through the dual-zone are, and would be something less than full fare, say $1.

    Equal treatment means that regardless of who’s vehicle you are on, you pay the zone supplement on the vehicle you are on when you cross into the other zone and your transfer is good to board any other vehicle in that zone until its expiry (this is one area where a smart card would simply things, but I’m not on board with justifying its expense). Under the current system, if you are on a TTC vehicle, you must pay the fare of both zones the vehicle travels in if you travel in both, but on another vehicle such as YRT, you only pay the one fare. For instance, during rush hours, one can travel from Leslie and Highway 7 to Don Mills Station using either TTC’s route 25 (it is 25D when northbound, but signed 25 on the southbound runs) or YRT’s route 90. With route 25, you will have to pay both the YRT fare and the TTC fare (a YRT pass, transfer, or validated ticket is accepted as the YRT part of the fare), but on route 90 you can travel the whole distance on just the YRT fare. While I like the idea of having this option, it really is an inequity that should not be there.


  22. As far as I look at it, in all else being equal, if you live far from your destination, then you should be “punished” by paying a higher fare, it’s just the way the world works.

    I live downtown, so why should my trip to a pub cost the same as a trip to finch station. I work in Markham and as unhappy as I’d be if I was forced to pay more to get to Finch, as long as it cost me less to get around downtown I wouldn’t be happy, but I would live with it.

    Steve: This may be true for you, but if you have ever been at a TTC meeting when fare increases are under discussion, you will know that anyone whose fares would rise will be extremely upset.

    The related issue is that, as a matter of public policy, we are trying to attract people onto transit. If we had superlative service region-wide, then an argument for paying for what you use might fly, but the big issue today is improving service. If all we do wit Presto is to raise fares for long-distance rides but don’t make their trip more attractive, we will not aid the cause of transit growth.


  23. Karl Junkin is right. Why stop at transit? The TTC should diversify into more profitable markets.

    How about breakfast cereals? TTC Flakes makes breakfast fun with marshmallows shaped like streetcars plus seven essential vitamins and nutrients.

    Steve: You will have to watch out for the half empty box of cereal due to short-turns.


  24. Having experienced the wonder of time-based transfers in both Vancouver and York Region, I have to say that their fare systems are infinitely preferable to the current byzantine TTC system of transfers and outside-the-station connections and whatnot. Unfortunately, even the TTC can’t get this quite right—maybe I’m just an idiot, or maybe I don’t take the St. Clair streetcar often enough, but the time-based transfer is difficult to read. It says your expiry time’s printed on the transfer, but I’ve never been able to decipher the notches.

    If we’re really going to go to the trouble of replacing the entire fare infrastructure, I’d love the Vancouver-style system where you can get printed, easy-to-read transfers even at the bus cashbox, and then use those same transfers as a disposable magnetic-swipe card on other buses so the drivers don’t even have to look at your card. Whether this is far too pie-in-the-sky for consideration, I don’t know, but after coming back from Vancouver a couple of years ago the way we collect fares seems quaint and inefficient by comparison.

    Steve: When I talk about time based fares, I am most definitly NOT talking about the current TTC transfers. What I mean is that if we have a Smart Card, it is quite simple for the card to “know” the last time you validated it and when the current “fare” will expire. Whether you’re tapping in, or being checked by a fare inspector, your card will say “Valid until X o’clock”. Single-use fare media, whether they are issued by drivers as in Vancouver, or prepurchased and validated when they are used, are a casual user’s version of a smart card.

    If they are sold everywhere (something the TTC really hasn’t figured out how to do) either in convenience stores or by vending machines at busy locations, people will figure out fast enough how to use them. I remember when Vancouver introduced its scratch and ride day pass. You could buy them at any 7-11, everyone knew this and there was nothing high tech about it.

    The point is that you don’t need $250-million worth of technology to have a workable fare system, and if you do have the technology, you don’t need to make the fare system as complex as possible just to exercise every possible option in the software.


  25. We all know the advantages of the smartcard.

    But you point out the big problem is fare structure?

    Has the TTC considered operating the subway/rt fare structure different from streetcars or buses?

    For instance, buses and streetcars would charge a variable flat rate since having riders to tap out when they leave be inefficient and slow service down.

    Meanwhile subways charge by distance. Of course this would require riders who dock into the station via bus to tap into the subway system and tap out when they leave.

    Steve: The whole design of the TTC network assumes that the subway and surface routes are the same fare so that riders don’t demand frequent parallel services on Yonge and Bloor to save money. If we wanted the subway to really be a premium, express system, it wouldn’t stop every few blocks the way it does today.

    By variable flat rate, (yes I know it sounds like oxymoron), but a bus/streetcar would have variable flat rate depending on where it is relative end of the line/subway. For instance, if you board a 36 West Finch bus going to Finch Station at Islington, it would cost you more than say if you board the same bus at Bathurst.

    The average variable flat rate on a bus/street car line should be based on the the what the average distance a rider stays on that particular system or something with that logic to it.

    To make this work, an average bus ride to the subway station + an average subway ride should be equal to 2.10 or whatever (avg. cost of ride on metropass). Of course if you’re going longer than average distances you will be paying more.

    What do you think Steve? Am I onto something here? Somehow I know I will get ripped apart by you on this LOL.

    Steve: No, not shredded. Please see my remarks in another comment about keeping the fare system simple, and also remarks about the idea that we’re trying to encourage people to use the system rather than drive. We already penalize long-distance travellers with uncompetitive travel times on many routes, and the least we need to do is charge them more for the “privilege” of using transit.

    I am reminded of the flurry of comments I received just after Transit City was announced where many people wanted to discuss the fine points of station design for lines that were only a proposal rather than the general idea of how we can change the way people think about using transit. The debate about many possible fare schemes seems to be quite similar.


  26. Steve, I am wondering if it would be better to pay your fare by distance rather than age group, so you can make more money like the subways in China + Korea + Japan

    If we do end up with a smart card like Octopus … should there be add value machines at subway stations? The last thing is making the card more than [a transit card] with other usages like parking and shopping at several shops accepting the card?

    I am asking since all this is currently happening in Hong Kong and I don’t know if it would work here in Toronto.

    Steve: The issue with any change in fare systems is that people are used to paying a certain amount for something, and if there is a big change, there is bound to be resistance from those who are negatively affected. The idea of “making money” from the transit system is foreign to the GTA and subsidies to both operations and capital are well-established as part of how we do business. It’s a service the city (and province) provides, and the cost is seen as being more appropriately on the tax base than on trip-by-trip users.

    Comparisons to other cities are tricky, especially in very dense ones like HK with different demographics of auto ownership. It is feasibile, if undedesirable, to have a large proportion of urban travel handled by car in Toronto as daily experience shows. The TTC has to compete for customers rather than having them fall into its lap.

    As for cross-acceptance of a farecard as a general cash card, yes the idea is interesting, but I am not sure that the TTC or the GTTA are the organizations with the capital and expertise to implement and run such as system. It has to work reliably all of the time, something transit operators in these parts don’t really understand how to do.


  27. Steve

    I think the idea of a time-expired, full-access to all GTA transit lines (including or excluding GO) is a very useful idea.

    When Mississauga introduced their time expired transfers, my transit use went up and costs went down. Everytime I went to Toronto I would always wish there was something similar.

    Here in Kuala Lumpur, RapidKL reintroduced their bus service with a system of different daily passes. You buy a pass when you board the bus, and you can use that pass throughout the day. It is transferrable, lendable, whatever you like.

    Local bus RM1
    Trunk bus RM2
    KL City Shuttle RM2
    Comprehensive Pass (Local + Trunk + KL) RM4
    Express 1 way RM3
    Express 2 ways RM5
    Full system (bus + LRT) RM7

    Of course, rapidKL isnt making alot of money but the service options are great. A full day of decent bus travel for only RM4.


  28. Mark Dowling wrote:


    if the transit system manages the card they pay the bank a fee every time they take money from a customer’s bank account. However, with a system as big as GTTA there might be a case to make for GTTA joining the Interac consortium!

    A shared infrastructure could mean that GTTA could run smartcards outsourced on behalf of other municipalities like Ottawa or K-W.”


    The card would not take money directly from a customer’s bank account. No argument that that would be a ridiculously expensive way to go about it. Customers might be able to register their smartcard to their accounts with their bank, but that’s the bank doing that with the customer, not the transit agency doing that with the customer’s bank, that’s completely different.

    The card works like a cash card in that cash goes out of it, but you can’t just pull out cash directly from your bank account via the smartcard. The customer would have to pay a fee to their bank via transaction charges everytime they send money to charge up their card through online banking for example. Or they could use their credit card (which is what I do in Tokyo). Recharging can be done through cel phones as well (as I already do this today).

    The transit agency would obviously have to deal with banks to some degree, but they would be handling transactions in bulk, like weekly or monthly or something along those lines to minimize service charges for financial transactions. To some degree, the transit agency (or rather, their unified regional body) would become partially like a “(one-way) bank” themselves, but you can’t withdraw money from them (only use their services).

    Becoming a bank doesn’t make sense if they only use it for transit though, it simply becomes an additional cost in that scenario. If they diversify and become “a bank-like entity” among other things, this can lead to more profit, and less subsidy reliance. However, the TTC has said in the past, more than once, that it isn’t really interested in diversifying, which is fairly self-destructive on the TTC’s part because they throw potentially lucrative revenue sources (like real-estate) out the window.

    While I acknowledge Steve’s point that subsidies is what this continent is used to, I think it is critical that we move towards trying to get these systems self-reliant, because if another Harris gets elected, well, we all know how that story goes. Just because we’re used to it doesn’t mean it is safe to stick with. Subsidies are very unreliable in cases of political regime changes. If McGuinty gets tossed towards year-end, MoveOntario2020 goes bye-bye, too. We all know that transit ridership revenue alone is impossible to work with for getting off subsidies, which is why I push for diversification with this card among other methods. Very long-term thinking here, but if the regional transit authority can grow to eventually become a mini-empire (a common case in Tokyo (Odakyu, Keio, Tokyu, to name only a few, are corporate empires, while transit providers at their core)), then they have options to work with, and money to make improvements with regardless of politics.

    Steve: The TTC already accesses bank accounts and pays fees to run the Metropass Discount Program. Every month, those who subscribe to the pass have an automatic bank withdrawal to pay for it. This is no different from any other pre-approved electronic bill payment. The operating cost model for the TTC Smart Card proposal includes a considerable allowance for bank fees.

    I would love to see a transit agency independent from the whims of political interference, but this is never going to happen. Even though it is conceivable that the TTC could get up to 100% cost recovery on operations, it has no source of revenue that comes close to handling capital costs.

    The York University subway extension is worth about $1.5-billion, give or take, and that would require an annual increase in costs of $75-million just to pay the interest on the capital debt (at 5%). That would translate into a fare increase of about 15 cents, and it’s easy to see that any substantial capital program would have a huge impact on fares if that were the only source of revenue. Other sources exist in theory, but not at this magnitude.


  29. So far, the GTTA has done nothing to impress me, and the early information on this Presto card doesn’t change that. Things seemed so much simpler before this unnecessary level of government was created. Perhaps Mr. Tory and/or Mr. Hampton will agree and put it out of its misery if elected.


  30. I’m not sure why the discussion of the Presto card has anything to do with TTC fare structures, or tapping out on buses.

    Let’s face it. The vast majority of TTC riders never use any of the bus systems in the neighbouring regions, and few use GO. Therefore the vast majority of TTC revenues are not impacted by any inter-regional fare structures.

    If TTC starts using a Presto-like Smartcard, there is no reason that today’s simple fare structure would not, and could not, stay in place, exactly as it is, for intra-Toronto travel. (hopefully with a few simple quirks such as time-based transfers and daily or even weekly capping).

    And with today’s fare structure, there is no need to tap out on buses. Even in a system that has a complicated fare system such as London, there is no need to tap out on buses – I have no idea why anyone would suggest such a scheme. Does anywhere require people to tap out on buses? If you want to spend more than 2-hours on the same bus route, isn’t that punishment enough! 🙂

    Obviously, with a time-limited transfer, you are good, as long as you board the bus within the 2-hour (or whatever) window; not get off. Montreal has had time-limited transfers for years without anyone checking the time you got off the vehicle.

    In terms of complexity – I still don’t understand the current POP system … nor can I find a page on the TTC site describing it. Seems that it’s use is random as far as I can tell (though I don’t tend to be near Queen during rush hour).


  31. In my opinion, the Presto Card is a great idea for GO Transit.

    It would do away with the cumbersome, and easily damaged cardboard passes, and it will be easier and cheaper for riders who need to travel between more than 2 zones. I use the 407 express on the weekdays, and the Yorkdale bus on the weekends, and it is inconvenient for me to have to buy 2 seperate passes.

    Not only that, boarding times may be decreased at bus stops with passenger simply having to “tap” the reader, rather than the driver vaidating the ticket.

    The card is of little use outside of GO Transit. I have a feeling that there will not be many outlets in which one can refill the card, once it is empty. I do not think people are going to want to line up at major terminals just to fill up card. If there was a way for the the card to be filled up at convenience stores, and supermarkets, this card might have some value.


  32. I much prefer a time-based system for casual fares, as in Vancouver. You pay, you get a ticket that gives an expiry time, leaving no confusion or dispute upon inspection. It is a great attraction for those who want to make a round-trip errand, as they view it as paying half fare. The barrier-free entrance to rapid transit is also a very attractive feature – imagine TTC subway stations without turnstiles! Some say “proof of payment” allows too much fare evasion, I say you can tailor the enforcement to the level you wish. The enforcement is actually a useful service as well, as roving fare inspectors would ideally also be peace officers. More visible police presence is generally a good thing.

    Now, since no one else has gone radical and said this yet, I will: if the majority of transit users are paying for a pass, either for two hours or for a month at a time, and the majority of the costs are being borne by the taxpayer… why not just save the $250 million and continuing on-going costs and make transit TRULY BARRIER-FREE. As in, no cost for users. Everyone pays for the roads, why not for the economically and environmentally superior alternative? I know, there is the issue of transit-as-homeless-shelter (see the above re: police presence), and of course increasing taxes is always a difficult political move.

    Implementing free-to-user transit would require a definite ramping up period in service, as I suspect free transit service would hugely increase ridership in the long run. As for making the people living “further out” pay more – if service is provided based on demand, surely justice is served? Live in an area with low transit service demand and you get poorer transit service. Live in an area a long way from your regular destination and you pay a time penalty on every trip.


  33. Steve wrote: “The TTC already accesses bank accounts and pays fees to run the Metropass Discount Program. Every month, those who subscribe to the pass have an automatic bank withdrawal to pay for it. This is no different from any other pre-approved electronic bill payment. The operating cost model for the TTC Smart Card proposal includes a considerable allowance for bank fees.”

    Indeed, and it is to the tune of 12 million a year in operations… hey wait, wasn’t that the total cost increase per year? And it is all coming from bank fees? All the other costs/savings of the project balance each other out. Bank fees seem to be the only significant thorn in the side of the whole thing.

    This is why I say they should just become a (semi-)bank. Or better yet, branch-out as a credit card company (they have an insurance company branch already (although that one’s out of necessity)). It would be able to allow for a significant reduction in bank fees and also create a credit card that would be extremely attractive to Torontonians, particularly among the choice riders (as they are probably more likely to use credit cards than captive riders). Metropass and credit card in one, that makes everyone’s wallet less complicated ;). They could also offer reduced fare incentives to those that use the credit card frequently (the loss of fare revenue is negligible to the amount they make off the credit card’s use). It could turn the whole thing around into a new source of revenue rather than an operations increase.

    As for the metropass and pre-authorized bill payments, those are great for monthly payments that happen on a fixed date. Those are monthly, and done in bulk since all metropasses are for the same time-period for all users. Charging Presto isn’t a fixed-date thing though, that’s why I am not so sure direct-payments out of your account can be automated or cost-effective.

    Steve wrote: “Even though it is conceivable that the TTC could get up to 100% cost recovery on operations, it has no source of revenue that comes close to handling capital costs.”

    I would like to add that even in Tokyo, subways do recieve capital subsidies (and on rare occasion, even private commuter railways). If the TTC could meet its own operations costs, the key point in the battle would be dealt with. The TTC can always make a case for eligibility with the CSIF when needing some capital, correct?

    Steve wrote: “The York University subway extension is worth about $1.5-billion, give or take, and that would require an annual increase in costs of $75-million just to pay the interest on the capital debt (at 5%). That would translate into a fare increase of about 15 cents, and it’s easy to see that any substantial capital program would have a huge impact on fares if that were the only source of revenue. Other sources exist in theory, but not at this magnitude.”

    The York subway extension is over 8km. That’s longer than the Sheppard Line (even if it went to Vic. Pk.), yet the northern half of it will be more useless than Sheppard (and yet it will run 6(7?)-car trains… oh the stupidity). However, a per-km (per project) approach to such capital expansion is arguably a better strategy. It’s all about baby-steps (and management… which governments are incompetent at (I suspect on purpose)). Since the TTC could still get some assistance from CSIF or perhaps other capital subsidies, in combination with branching out and tapping other sources of revenue, a one-km or so extension would see a fare-hike equivalent to one additional fare (~$2) added to the metropass… which I think people could swallow without declaring war. This should reasonably allow extentions of about 1km every 2-3 years or so… the duration of construction of 8km all at once is going to take a decade anyway, spreading it out a little like above won’t make a significant difference, except the key point that spreading it out is far more financially sustainable.


  34. Interestingly, according to their website, Vancouver buses are now a “fare paid zone”, which means that roving inspectors can ask to see your monthly pass or transfer at any time. I wonder how this works for their time based transfer? For example, if you board the bus with time remaining but once you were on the bus your transfer expires, can you be cited for not paying your fare? Would you have to go up to the driver in the middle of your trip and buy another fare? Sounds silly, but it is unclear as to whether that would be the case or not.


  35. So we are paying 250 million to build a system to “look” sophisticated?

    Stop being so lazy, plan ahead…why should subsidize the late sleepers and lazy bums in our city who can’t get out of bed until 30 minutes from their work hour.

    Get your life organized and you don’t need things like this.


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