Fare By Distance? Not When It Suits GO (Updated)

Today, GO Transit implements a 25-cent across the board increase in all fares.  Writing in the Star, Tess Kalinowski reports displeasure among commuters who have been slapped with higher relative increases for short trips than for long ones.

This isn’t the first time GO increased fares disproportionately, but the cumulative effect sets a pattern.

One commuter who travels from Old Cummer to Union complained that:

… the flat-fare hike means riders who live in Toronto are subsidizing passengers travelling from places such as Hamilton and Barrie.

“Over the last five years, I’ve seen my fares go up 27 per cent. Somebody from Barrie has seen their rates go up 9 per cent, Oshawa 14 per cent, Hamilton 10 per cent,” he said.

In response, GO replies that many costs have nothing to do with how far someone travels:

Transit officials defended the increase, saying many of the system’s costs, such as snow removal, station improvements and communications, are fixed and have nothing to do with distance. They also worry about discouraging riders from farther afield by pricing them out of the system.

Strange, that argument.  It’s precisely the one for which I, among others, have been villified when suggesting a flat (or at least flatter) GTA-wide fare policy.  Long distance riders are subsidised with free parking, new make-work garage building, and proportionately lower fares relative to the resources they consume.  Why?  Because we don’t want them driving to and from work.  The costs — both physical to provide and maintain infrastructure, and social to consume so much land with unproductive roadways and a low-density lifestyle — are greater than what it takes to subsidise their commute by GO.

As regulars here know, I have a big problem with parking construction as an alternative to improved local feeder bus services.  This issue will only grow as GO becomes less of a peak period carrier and more of an all day regional rapid transit system.  That’s one of the many areas Metrolinx, in its less than infinite wisdom, chose to ignore.  We won’t have “Mobility Hubs” complete with soaring interiors and palm trees as Metrolinx envisions if stations are surrounded by parking garages, and those who cannot afford to dedicate a car to all-day storage at a GO lot will still be isolated from regional transit services.

Finally, those who advocate for fare-by-distance as a “benefit” of the “Presto!” card (or whatever technology is eventually adopted) should compare notes with the folks at GO for whom high costs for long trips are a very bad idea indeed.  Queen’s Park and its agencies don’t seem to have a consistent view of how we should price transit.  There is no perfect system, and all of them will distribute benefits and rewards inequitably.

Metrolinx could do everyone a big favour by looking at the impact of various options for fare structures, including the wider issues of local service funding and the broad social value of mobility for everyone.  Will they will have the fortitude to take on this issue (and revenue tools in general) rather than studying only infrastructure we may never be able to afford to build and operate?

Update 1, March 14 at 3:50 pm:  Andrew Salmons of Milton has created an online petition requesting not only a reversal of today’s increase, but a lowering of GO’s cost recovery ratio so that fares could be reduced.