The War On Metropasses (1)

The National Post reports that the TTC is going to spend $1.5-million to install fare validation equipment in stations and vehicles.

The devices will be similar to the metropass slide readers currently in use at subway stations and will be mounted on top of fare boxes. If a fake pass or token is swiped or dropped in, the devices will beep and a screen will tell operators that a counterfeit has been detected, said TTC Chair Adam Giambrone. The machines will spit fake tokens, he said.  [Full article]

The TTC never rests in finding new ways to slow down service.  One huge advantage of the Metropass is that one simply waves it in the general direction of an operator.  They may nod or say “thanks” or just go about their business, but people can pile onto a vehicle.  Imagine if each pass holder has to swipe their card on entry.  Pay-as-you-enter slows TTC service enough, but Metropass validation?

What will they do for all door-loading at busy stops?  What will they do once streetcars board at all doors and fare handling is self-service?

By the way, the project cost according to the Capital Budget (page 1,179) is $5.368-million, of which a smaller amount is budgeted for 2010.

The TTC may save money on counterfeits, but how much will they lose in service delays?  Do they even care?

If the TTC is looking for cuts in their Capital Budget, this is a prime example.

24 thoughts on “The War On Metropasses (1)

  1. Maybe I’m not smartified enough, but, would it not be cheaper and more efficient to have more transit cops roaming the system to look for violators. It works well here in Ottawa.

    Steve: Transit cops in Toronto cost over $100K each per year.


  2. It’s news items like these that I wish that the TTC actually was on board Presto! I wonder if it is the MFP situation all over again regarding fare collection?

    Steve: The current estimate to implement Presto! (or whatever technology will eventually be used) is around $450-million. Queen’s Park wasted an immense amount of time trying to develop a proprietary technology. This isn’t MFP, but eHealth comes to mind.


  3. I’ve got no issue with this — it’s not a “war on metropasses”, it’s a war on fraud.

    What would I really like to see? RFID-enabled smart cards, of course, like the rest of the modern world. That’s a capital outlay that needs to be made and would have multiple knock-on benefits as the transit system expands over the years.

    I’m not holding my breath, however.

    Steve: TTC management hate Metropasses and take every possible opportunity to portray them as revenue losers.

    We just implemented improved security for passes in Toronto in July, and already the TTC wants an even higher level of validation.

    It’s a war on passes.


  4. Oy. One thing I loved about having a YRT/Viva pass is that I didn’t even need to show it to anyone. I just walked through any door and found a seat. No digging through pockets, no digging through wallet. Fast, simple, and pleasant.

    Any chance of these readers being compatible with Presto, or adaptable for on-board POP validation?

    Steve: That’s a joke, right? This is the TTC we’re talking about.


  5. Talk about counterfeits, or maybe just laziness. I noticed at the END of the day today, that my Metropass was actually behind some other random card in its slot in my wallet, rendering it invisible, but I successfully boarded at least four different buses having thought I showed it each time. Most drivers really don’t care what it is you show them, and I can’t blame them.


  6. Other cities already use this system. New York City comes to mind. How does loading there compare to here? I’ve never really noticed it being a problem when I’m on a bus there, but I haven’t done it frequently enough.

    On buses I really can’t see this slowing things down, if there’s a lot of people, generally they aren’t filing in any slower than people going through a turnstile in a subway station.

    Steve: Try streetcars with double door entry, not to mention rear door loading at busy stops. Long ago, the TTC decided that fast loading and good use of internal space on streetcars was more important than having someone check everyone who got on the car. We hear about fraud, but never about the cost of running more service and slowing riders as we check each person getting on.

    And for the existing and future POP routes … I don’t see anything changes; instead of swiping on entry you’d just show your card for inspection if requested.

    Steve: I have never met a fare inspector in all the time POP has been in use on Queen Street. Frankly I think such staff could be much more productively used as rear-door loaders at key points.

    Does seem bizarre to be going this route now, after all these years though; instead of just not worrying about it until the new farecard finally get’s rolled out.

    Would it though, allow partial implementation of Presto? Could it be rigged to detect a pass loaded onto a Presto card? It wouldn’t replace tokens, but if the magnetic bar code was compatible it would allow those with monthly passes to use Presto sooner than later.

    Steve: Don’t hold your breath for any compatibility with Presto, or whatever, considering that the actual smart card technology has not been settled on yet. It will almost certainly be RFID based, not using a mag stripe.


  7. Ack…Why does it cost 5 million$ to put card readers on busses, and 450 million$ for presto?

    Surely we are not talking about 445 million to do the subways and streetcars? I can’t believe that presto readers cost 100 times as much as metropass readers, these new devices can detect conterfiet metropasses AND tokens, seems likely to have been developed from scratch, doesn’t presto already exist…so…what is the breakdown?

    If I assume they are about the same price, that’s maybe 10 million to do the whole system, lets be generous and say five times the price…50 million…that leaves 400 million for what? Is it a backend system (surely that already exists with GO/mississauga transit using it)? Seems to me to be rather fishy…

    The real question is…how much will this add to the price of eventually doing presto…will we have a situation like the metron’s where we have the old card readers left in the busses because it’s a pain to remove them?

    Steve: The difference for the proposed pass/token validators is that they are local to each vehicle and only have to give a go/nogo reading to the operator. They don’t have to call home to record that Steve got on a King car at Broadview and Erindale, and his pass is valid for a transfer at Queen Street. Vastly more equipment is needed both on vehicles and in stations, not to mention back end systems, to implement smart cards especially with some of the complex fares structures that have been proposed in some quarters.


  8. Thanks for the alert on this! I’ve posted on my facebook about this and given you credit for clarifying the inherent stupidity of it all. Imagine yourself at Queen and Spadina waiting for all 100 people getting onbaord to pull their cards from their wallets, swipe, look at the driver for approval, and shuffle forward!


  9. I lived for years in Chicago where the CTA used a fare-card system exactly like this and somehow we all managed to get on our buses just fine. And I understand they manage it in the Boston MTA and the NYC system as well.

    At least in Chicago, too, it was approximately 3 bazillion times better than the Metrocard, because you weren’t restricted to getting a card for a calendar month or one of the TTC weeks; you could get it for a seven- or 30-day period starting whenever, and you could add more money to your card online.

    Anything’s better than having to choose either exact calendar months or using these %^&*( tokens.

    Steve: If you’re adding to your card online, this means that onboard pass readers need some way to check whether you have anything left over. This sounds more sophisticated that what the TTC will be rolling out. I suspect we will get the worst of both worlds — pass readers, but not flexibility in pass usage.


  10. Steve (on Presto): “The current estimate to implement Presto! (or whatever technology will eventually be used) is around $450-million. Queen’s Park wasted an immense amount of time trying to develop a proprietary technology”

    Umm… I thought Presto will be using an off-the-shelf tecnhology – specifically MIFARE, which is used in the Opus card (Quebec), Charlie card (Massachusetts), and the Oyster card (London), to name but a few. Unless QP tried to go it alone before giving up and going off-the-shelf??? Even if that’s that’s the case, that wouldn’t effect the cost of installing the chosen system.

    TTC has about ~1700 buses, 250 streetcars and 69 subway/RT stations. Allowing one reader per bus, two per streetcar and 30 (!) per station means a total 4,270 readers… or over $100,000 per reader! This is why I don’t buy TTC’s $450m figure for installation. I agree that it won’t be some small financial item, but I really cannot see how it adds to $450m.

    Steve: I am quoting the cost estimate from the TTC’s own budget. For stations, a great deal of work must be done to retrofit electrical systems so that passes can be read for large numbers of people streaming in (and possibly out) of the stations. Depending on the fare structure and level of reporting detail about trips, you need a lot of infrastructure. On board vehicles, two readers is not enough for a streetcar if you are doing all-door loading and want people to be able to swipe for each of the four entry streams (two front, two back). Same argument for buses. There is also a sizeable investment in onboard technology to communicate with central systems, the central systems themselves and their support staff. It’s not just a case of buying a reader.

    The problem with Presto is that Queen’s Park did not use a technology compatible with the payment card industry standard. Everything is moving to the use of credit/debit cards for this sort of transaction, not a captive medium like a transit pass.


  11. I should add that in Chicago, *even the transfers* were implemented with magnetic cards, and those even if you paid a cash fare! The resulting cards were good for 2 trips up to 1 hour (or something). Again, the slowdown just wasn’t that bad.

    Steve: How many streams of riders boarded buses at once? If only one, then of course there would be few problems.


  12. Steve said: I have never met a fare inspector in all the time POP has been in use on Queen Street.

    I have. Twice, if I recall. Same for Viva, I actually got checked twice in one day once (once in each direction).

    Anyway, I don’t see this as really solving the problem. I will guarantee you right here, right now, that somebody, somewhere, will find a way to hack the technology and come up with a way to trick these readers. The TTC is kidding themselves if they think any one technology will be invincible. This is a battle that is best won by not fighting it. There are other ways to secure more revenue. Providing service people are happy to pay for it is a good place to start. Psychology’s funny that way.

    Steve: Not to mention providing enough service that thirty people are not trying to crowd onto a car with only room for twenty. My bet is that most operators will ignore the pass readers in the interest of getting people onboard quickly. Alas TTC management have a fetish for controlling riders even if it means they undo all the best efforts to improve service quality. At the same time, they repeatedly tell us that fare evasion is quite low on the TTC.

    Dare we mention how the new, heavier tokens triggered the need to move revenue operations to a new building because the old one can’t handle the weight of the tokens? The extra staff needed to carry the heavier tokens to collectors in the subway? These are expenses incurred in the battle against fare fraud we never hear about.


  13. Anyone who defends the status quo in GTA transit, politician or employee, should go to Europe or Japan, and come home wearing sackcloth and ashes.

    I don’t use it anymore, or just the subway rarely. Unpleasant, under-subsidized, inconvenient and unreliable.


  14. Instead of waiting for the driver to give the passenger the go-ahead couldn’t they add an audio cue? A beep for approved and an electronic raspberry (think game show wrong answer) for a non-approved pass.

    As for installing readers at doors for multiple door entry, Melbourne and Dublin have the readers at the door (and in Melbourne’s case have machines which sell the passes on board!) people can either swipe as they enter or swipe once they’ve gotten a seat, great for people with strollers. In both cases, as with GO, there may be a random inspection with fines issued on the spot for violators.

    Steve: If the entire point is to validate that the pass is legal, there is no need to swipe it unless (a) someone is going to watch/listen to the transaction or (b) there is a roving inspector who would, one assume, have a hand-held unit. The TTC is marrying PAYE fare collection to smart card technology and coming up with a ridiculous result.


  15. I am incredibly skeptical about that $450m figure quoted for Presto rollout across the TTC… I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t even within an order of magnitude of being correct.

    Ottawa costed out adding Presto to its system and came up with the figure of a $14.268m hit to the city and $6.978m to be picked up by the province. Apparently Ottawa’s bus fleet consists of ~1300 vehicles, so that gives us a rough figure of $16,000/bus.

    I also found this Oakville budgeting document that suggests the total capital cost related to Presto rollout there is $1.517m, which would work out to about $19,000/bus. FWIW, there’s no mention of a provincial contribution there, and a suggestion in that document that Oakville will be on the hook for $1.5 mil in operating costs spread over 10 years, so there’s obviously no straightforward apples-to-apples math here on Presto.

    But surely it’s pretty easy to see in light of those figures that the $450m number for the TTC simply had to come out of someone’s butt, unless there’s some bylaw I’m unaware of that requires card-readers inside the City of Toronto to be affixed with 18 karat gold screws. As is par for the TTC course, staff needed a kneejerk reason to play hard-to-get on a regionwide initiative. What’s shocking is that nobody’s stood up and called them on what has to be a bald-faced exaggeration.

    At the end of the day, we can all whine about Presto’s particular design shortcomings and poor decision-making related to the Accenture contract. But that ship has sailed and this thing will be the de facto stardard everywhere outside city limits. Not only that, but one of the conditions that MTO/Metrolinx are exercising through their ownership of the new TransitCity lines is mandating Presto compatibility, so we’re going to see Presto on Sheppard East regardless of what the TTC feels inclined to do on the legacy system.

    Steve: At this point, the TTC has never updated the detailed cost estimate, only shown an aggregate figure in their budget books. As for Transit City and Presto, all the more reason to ask why we would spend money on a reader to validate Metropasses.


  16. Often, my Metropass gets demagnetized before the end of the month and it stops working at turnstiles in subway stations. If these readers are magnetic, a lot of people will end up with Metropasses that don’t work. I sure hope these readers are RFID based and compatible with Presto in the future.

    Steve: There’s no RFID antenna in the Metropass, and so you’ll just have a bum pass. Indeed, if people have to swipe them on all surface vehicles too, the likelihood that the strip will wear out or get demagnetized will go up. Yet another reason to change off a bus — my farebox doesn’t work — and another piece of technical complexity for the TTC to claim requires them to increase the spare ratio. We won’t say anything about fare disputes.


  17. The fareboxes I’m used to here in Waterloo Region would implement this quite easily, as they’re already automated. Cash fares are counted by the electronics, tickets are scanned; a valid fare produces a beep. If a transfer or pass is shown, the driver hits a button to count it and you also get a beep. There’s no physical magnetic scanner attached, but I bet they could add one as a module quite easily.

    My question for Toronto is, could they buy modularly-adaptable fareboxes that would handle all of the above, and also make Presto easier to install once it does roll out? Or am I asking too much pragmatism from such a legendary bureaucracy?


  18. It’s this age-old clash between policy and technology. They’re completely separate.

    I’ve used the Tokyo systems extensively (4-1/2 years). It isn’t comparable for a couple of reasons. To start, bus and train services never share the same fare, even when both services are operated by the same company group (the companies are technically separate, but under the same umbrella/empire (e.g., Toukyuu Electric Railway Company. is a separate company from Toukyuu Bus Company, but both belong to Toukyuu Group Corporation), and the obvious answer is that they make more money that way. Most transit services are privately operated, but even the Toei system owned by the Tokyo Government (I’ll point out that Tokyo is considered equal in status to a Prefecture/Province, not a city within a Prefecture/Province) practices separate fares between their bus system and subway system. Beyond the higher cost recovery (to the point most turn a profit, even Toei (a recent development, it used to run a deficit)), another reason is that trains are all fare-by-distance while bus services are all flat-fare, so the fares aren’t compatible for sharing between modes. So although the technology allows you to use the same card on any train or bus, the fares are still completely separate and incompatible. And that’s because fares are a policy issue, regardless of control being in the hands of a corporation or state. Technology is just a tool to improve convenience and, by extention, quality of service (transfer tickets can be pre-purchased, but it’s convoluted and complex. If you can’t purchase a transfer ticket, you’d be forced to purchase tickets twice).

    The issue of fares in the GTA isn’t so much about tickets being cumbersome to purchase because all systems are flat-fare here, except GO (and to a lesser extent YRT). The real issue is the fare boundary, which applies even if you aren’t transferring buses. Technology can’t fix that, it’s a policy issue, and Presto won’t make things more convenient by a meaningful margin because monthly passes are all system wide in the GTA, except GO & YRT. That’s not the case at all in Tokyo (they’re only valid from station to station, and the stations in between on a pre-determined route).

    There is an enormous cultural habit difference and far-apart ideals about what constitutes an acceptable business practice in public transit. The built form between Tokyo and Toronto is also worlds apart and that has a profound impact, even if indirect, on the acceptance of the transit business practices regarding fares. This is something that is quite hard to understand and appreciate without having been there and experienced it, ideally extensively, because it really is SO different. To really compare transit fare policies and practices in Toronto to those of places like Tokyo, you need to have the perspective of a local regular user for both. I have that perspective for Tokyo, and I can say definitively that is an apples to oranges comparison with Toronto.


  19. The swipe method is not going to work. The magnetic strip will wear down before the end of the month or the machine breaks down in the middle of the day.

    The biggest problem I see is that it would be very inconvenient for seniors to slowly pull out their metropass and slide it in the reader. A better method is needed here. I wonder have they ever thought about pleasing the customers instead.

    I can’t wait till to see what they do on the new light rail lines.

    In comparison, the German subways (U-bahn) uses POP for all subway station. Imagine all the money they will lose if everyone is dishonest.

    Steve: Senior passes don’t have a stripe, if memory serves. They will have to be recognized some other way.

    And, of course, there is no way to recognize valid transfer unless the TTC moves to time-based rather than location-based transfer validity.


  20. This seems like a pretty quick and sudden decision from an agency that has for years dragged their heels on smart cards, saying that the existing gravity fare boxes work fine and there is no need to spend money on replacing something that works fine.

    I would hope that the guys in operations talk to the guys in fare media about the impact this would have on surface routes. The fare media guys would likely say that it only amounts to a couple of seconds per rider, and isn’t that worth it to stop counterfeiting, but that’s enough to make a difference. (Those damn Orion 7s have rear doors that seem to take an eternity to close, to the extent that I have had operators request that passengers exit at the front because they are running behind schedule — the excess door time is really probably more like 6 or 7 seconds but it feels like much longer.)

    The June 2009 news release (about the validation sticker) says TTC lost $5M per year to counterfeiting prior to the elimination of adult tickets (it is not clear whether this is for all fare media, or just the tickets). This compares to $841M in total fare sales, and $948M in total wages, salaries and benefits in 2008.


  21. The great thing about the TTC, it’s like many other large corporations, they will use an inferior technology to save 50 cents, and it ends up costing them millions of dollars.

    Seems like the best idea is some kind of RFID based smart card, such a card would have 2 modes of operation, refillable fare based, where you wave the card over the reader, it deducts your fare from your card, shows you how much is left on your card, and shows a green light to the driver. It would mark it for transfer for a period of time, say 2 hours. So using your card within that 2 hour window does not deduct another fare. The display would show as “no charge”

    The second mode of operation is metropass mode, where it simply counts trips. You basically wave your card over the machine, and it does it’s thing.

    Paying for fares would be accomplished using a debit pay system in the stations, a few machines would be set up, you put in your fare card, your debit/credit card, do your thing, remove both cards, and go into the station. No collectors, no transfers,. no tokens, would save the TTC a subway car full of money every year once it’s paid for.

    What you do with collectors, they become system ambassadors, greeting customers, helping them with the fare card system, giving directions, etc.

    We can dream, can’t we……


  22. Kark Junkin wrote, ” The real issue is the fare boundary, which applies even if you aren’t transferring buses.”

    And, in the second installment of this topic, Steve wrote, “Unless you can track every trip and decide which ones constitute a new “fare”, it’s very difficult to decide when an “all you can eat” cap might kick in on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.”

    The REAL issue that makes this complex is the complicated way boundary fares are charged. On my website, I propose a fare system that attempts to balance the need to attract longer-distance commuters while mitigating the feeling that shorter-distance commuters are subsidizing the former. The key is “four pillars” of change: unified fare structure with time-based transfers, overlapping boundaries, zone supplements, and full integration with GO. There is a fifth optional point that would allow any operator to offer a “city saver” discounted fare with a shorter expiry time for use within one zone. To be clear, I am not suggesting that the TTC be divided into zones – I am suggesting that the 416 remain as a single zone.

    Thinking about it in the context of a smart card system, it would be fairly simple to implement this, including a daily/weekly/monthly cap when one reaches the cost of that particular pass. The real ‘neat’ thing is that, under my fare system, it would NOT be necessary to ‘tap off’, with the exception of using GO.

    Whenever one boards a transit vehicle, one ‘taps on’ (with RFID, one does not even have to take it out to do this). The cost of a single-zone, 2-hour fare is deducted. The next time they ‘tap on’, if it is within the expiry time and still in the same zone, nothing is deducted. If it is in another zone, the zone supplement is deducted. If it is past the 2-hour expiry, a new fare is deducted. Fares are deducted within the same day until the day pass amount has been deducted, then no deductions until the first ‘tap on’ on a new day. The same applies throughout the week and month for those caps.

    With wide zone boundaries, there is no need to ‘tap off’ to determine if one needs to pay the supplement. If their travel takes them further into the new zone, they will be ‘tapping on’ on another bus, where the system will be able to deduct the supplement. Our current TTC/YRT boundary at Steeles means that a tap-on/tap-off system is needed. With a wide boundary (say, Finch to Highway 7), the tap-off is unnecessary, even for the route that travels a bit further than the overlap, such as TTC 25D that goes as far north as 16th Avenue, and YRT 90 that goes as far south as Sheppard. Anyone using one of these routes to reach a destination shouldn’t have to pay extra, but anyone using one of these routes as part of a longer trip will pay the supplement when they get on the next vehicle for the next part of their trip.

    I will admit, the “city saver” fare suggestion could not be implemented with the smart card. This would have to be implemented with special tickets.

    Steve: The biggest challenge, as your illustration shows, will be to get outfits like the TTC to change the way they think about fares. They very strongly resist any move away from getting a new fare as often as possible, even though going to time-based fares would actually simplify things greatly.

    I disagree with your proposal to retain zones, even with an overlap, because “two hours” of transit should cost the same regardless of whether I happen to cross Steeles Avenue or not. Imagine if the old TTC Zone 2 still existed and we charged people living in the suburbs an extra fare to get on the subway. This will become a big issue once the subway pushes into the 905 just as it was when the BD line went into zone two in 1968.


  23. Steve wrote, “I disagree with your proposal to retain zones, even with an overlap, because “two hours” of transit should cost the same regardless of whether I happen to cross Steeles Avenue or not.”

    I believe that the zones are necessary to introduce a small component of fare-by-distance in order to balance some of the “why should my short trip subsidize long trips” attitude. At the same time, I believe that the zone supplement should provide a small extension to the expiry time, perhaps an additional 30 minutes, since trips that use more than one zone, in many cases, will require more time.

    To illustrate this with cash fares, here is a possible fare structure:

    One-zone fare with 2-hour transfers: $4 – that may seem like a big jump, but remember it allows stop-overs and return trips in that time, and the “city saver” fare for one hour with no zone upgrades might be just $2.

    Zone supplement: $1 (could be $1.50, but let’s keep it simple for now). Cross completely into another zone and $5 gets you 2.5 hours of transit. Need to go further? Another $1 per zone, with an extra 30 minutes. Few will be making a return trip between Newmarket and downtown Toronto on the same fare, but stopovers will be convenient when needed.

    I propose that GO between the same two zones should be the same price, plus one extra zone supplement for its “express” benefit. In this example, $7 is the cost to travel from Leslie and Davis Drive to College and Yonge if the GO train is part of the trip, $6 if it isn’t.

    I know that getting the TTC to move to a different fare system will be a daunting task, let alone move to something that is orthogonal between carriers (meaning that it doesn’t matter which carrier the fare is paid on, as long as it was paid). To me, THIS is an area that Metrolinx should be in charge of: setting a GTHA-wide fare structure and integration system.


  24. Has the TTC looked at the cost of installing Genfare fare boxes, which seem to be used by just about every other transit system in Ontario?

    These fare boxes count deposited coins, ensuring the correct far is paid, provide passenger counts by route/run, have a module for pass validation — mag stripe or rfid, and can be equipped to issue transfers. Heck, they can even accept fare payment by credit card.

    I notice short payment of cash fares seems to be quite widespread and is usually ignored by operators who prefer to avoid fare disputes. When the cash is counted by the farebox, there’s no dispute.

    I would expect the payback on these units to be short and wonder how the cost would compare with the TTC’s proposed mag stripe readers?


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