This article contains the text of my address to the TTC Meeting of November 17, 2009.
- Report 2a 2010 TTC Operation Budget – Fare Increase
- Report 2c Review of Smartcards at the TTC and the Presto Smartcard System
Today the TTC will consider fares for 2010 as recommended by staff as well as a number of alternatives that will come forward from both the Commission and from other deputations at this meeting. Also on the agenda is a report detailing conditions for the the TTC’s participation in the Presto Smartcard project. These items are related.
First, with respect to the fare increase, my position is simple:
- A fare increase is unavoidable, and indeed might have had less effect both in the media and in the general public if there had been an increase for 2009 rather than a fare freeze.
- The proposed increase will not raise all of the $100-million plus shortfall forecast by the staff report. Additional funding will have to come elsewhere either by added revenues or by adjustments to the budget and service. Having no increase at all is not an option.
- The proposed increase in the Metropass price multiple from roughly 48 to 50 fares is contrary to the direction the TTC has been taking with the Ridership Growth Strategy, and there has been no public discussion of this or many other possible changes in the fare structure.
I concur that a 25 cent increase in the base adult fare is reasonable under the circumstances, but all other pricing including passes should rise proportionately without penalizing any subgroup of riders.
Metropass users now account for over half of the adult trips on the TTC, and this proportion continues to grow. Indeed, with various incentives such as the monthly discount plan, volume purchases and the income tax rebate, passes are well on their way to being the dominant form of fare payment in Toronto as they are in many other cities.
As the TTC moves to smart cards, the distinction between a “pass” and a single “token” fare will become even more blurred and pricing will likely move to a more general discount system based on volume of use within a period of time (week, month, holiday period, etc). This is hardly the time to be tinkering with the Metropass multiple, especially when many other possible changes in the fare structure are on the table.
A troubling comment in the report notes that overall costs will increase in 2010 by 7% due to several factors, and that this rate of increase will continue for the foreseeable future. This is an alarming projection, and staff should produce considerably more detail to substantiate this claim. How much is a presumed allowance for future service improvements, for labour, for materials and energy? If this rate is unavoidable, how will the TTC’s funding sources – fares, municipal and provincial subsidies – keep up? This is a vital part of TTC planning comparable to the long-range projections in the recent Capital Budget debates, and it should form a core part of the Operating Budget report in December.
Fare policies are rarely debated except when a fare increase is proposed, and the discussions are always in the context of a change that must be approved “today”. Alternative proposals emerge, some on the day of debate, and they are considered in the political heat of the moment rather than as part of an overall fare strategy.
With the Ridership Growth Strategy, Transit City and more recently the Transit City Bus Plan, the TTC put forward a range of options, discussed the implications of each, priced them and estimated the benefit for ridership and overall system attractiveness. I believe that the same process is essential to a review of fare policy.
Recently, we learned through the media that extension of student pass pricing to post-secondary students would be proposed today by deputants and championed by Chair Giambrone. The estimated cost is cited as $2.5-million, but there is no source material for this, nor do we know if it is an annualized cost, or merely the cost to provide the lower-priced passes effective in September 2010.
We also learned that a time-based fare which would provide, in effect, a time-limited pass in place of a transfer would cost $15-million a year, and the Chair dismissed this as an unreasonable cost. Is it? Has there ever been a debate on the issue relative to the many other changes both in service and fares the TTC might implement?
How might a combination of distance and time-based fares work to address both cross-boundary and short-trip convenience issues that are often parts of fare debates?
The TTC will move to Smartcards starting likely in 2012. This technology is integral to all-door loading on the new streetcars, and it is a condition of funding by Queen’s Park for the Transit City network which will open beginning in 2013. The TTC will put forward its business requirements for a Smartcard system, and it is essential that these requirements capture all of the options for a future fare structure. The last thing we need to be told, after spending nearly half a billion dollars to implement the system, is that “the computer can’t do it”, or that some option we might have had wasn’t in the specification and is, therefore, not available.
Before the TTC finalizes its business requirements, there must be agreement about just what those requirements are. These would embrace not only fare media (stored value systems, credit/debit cards, cell phone) but fare structures, payment systems and distribution schemes that take into account the wide variety in TTC user locations, riding patterns and demographics.
The TTC’s network is by far the most complex and the most heavily travelled within the territory that Presto will eventually serve. Toronto must not be hamstrung in fare policy by a simplistic model based primarily on commuting trips, limited network connectivity and simple trip patterns.
Although Presto is a provincial initiative, the TTC and the City of Toronto should seize control of the debate on fare policy and technology which will overwhelmingly affect TTC riders. I strongly urge the TTC to launch such a debate. Final approval of the TTC’s participation in Presto may be hard to withhold given the straightjacket Queen’s Park placed Toronto in with respect to Transit City, but that approval should only be given once Toronto is sure which capabilities it wants in that system.
In summary, I urge the Commission to:
- Approve a 25-cent increase in adult token fares with proportionate increases in other fare prices as shown in the first of three scenarios in the staff report.
- Ensure that a detailed explanation for the anticipated ongoing 7% increase in operating costs is included in the Operating Budget report for December 2009 together with a description of how these increases might be addressed and contained.
- Launch a fare policy review program including a report on fare options, costs and ridership effects; consultation with the public, members of Council, group and agencies representing various constituencies such as students and the poor.