Metropass Turns 30

Saturday, May 1, 2010 brings the 30th birthday of the Metropass.

Back in the dark ages when creative cheating on one’s transfer produced roughly the same effect as a ride-at-will pass, TTC management said a pass would simply not work in Toronto.  Over the years, they have trotted that story out for a lot of things, sadly, and the record is wearing out.  (It would have been a record, probably a wind-up grammaphone knowing the TTC back in those days.)

Then a strange thing happened.  Hamilton, little often-ignored Hamilton down at the end of the lake, got a monthly pass.  If it could work there, why not in Toronto?

Metropasses now account for over half of the rides taken by adult customers on the TTC.  With some luck we may see a shift to some form of smart card (that’s an article in its own right) and a much more flexible fare system on the TTC sometime this decade.

On Saturday, go have a coffee and a small pastry of your choice with a little candle, and sing Happy Birthday to your Metropass!

11 thoughts on “Metropass Turns 30

  1. Hmmm

    A quick visit to the Bank of Canada inflation calculator tells us that at $26 in 1980 we should be paying roughly $71 for this beauty now!

    Assuming total service is comparable, of course. Where’s that Queen car comparison Steve did…….?

    Steve: Your assumption about total service is not valid. The system has grown a lot, and the resources required to serve a “typical” trip have gone up. It’s worth looking at how fares rose over the past 35 years or so.

    In 1973, a token cost 25 cents. By 1979 it was up to 50 cents, and that was the fare still in effect when the Metropass came in in 1980 (there was no fare increase that year). That’s 6 years for a doubling of the fare.

    It took until 1990 for the fare to double again to $1, or an 11-year period, and it didn’t reach $2 until 2005, 15 years later. Half of that change took place from 1990 to 1995 (when the fare reached $1.50), and it took another decade to get to $2.

    We are now sitting at $2.50 in 2010, and this is only one quarter of the way into another doubling implying a 20-year gap if things kept up at the same rate.

    In other words, the doubling period has been getting longer, and this means that the rate of increase has been going down. The comparison from 1980 to today is skewed by very high rate of fare increases earlier in the period. Looked at another way, the $71 you quote would translate to a token fare of $1.48 assuming a 48-trip multiple as is used today. This fare was reached in 1995.

    One important thing to remember about the 1990s was that the farebox recovery rate grew to over 80%, and it has been wrestled down to around 70% by increased funding, mainly from the City, in recent years.

    I know that there is good cause to talk about things like wage hikes that run higher than those in other parts of the economy in recent times, but other factors need to be considered. If you want to talk about fares and pass pricing since 1980, many of the culprits lie in the past. That’s no excuse not to talk about the current situation, but we can’t blame the relative price of the pass over 30 years entirely or substantially on recent events.


  2. The Metropass as a concept is quite novel. Hong Kong does not have an all you can ride system. Every ride is metered and paid for seperately. If one boards a MTR train, a bus and a tram during the trip, one would have to “tap in” 3 times and “tap out” 1 times. Each with its own rates. It is quite nice to be able to budget a set amount every month. If I was living in Hong Kong, my transportation cost would flucuate every month depending on where I go.

    To make the Metropass truly great, the TTC should open the design. It should have a more enduring value than 12 months (for the tax credit). For example, why can’t we have co-branding on the pass? For $131, one can buy a U of T Class of 2010 Metropass for the month of May. Or during the month of January, a special $138 pass to commemorate Chinese New Year. 138 is considered a lucky number in Asian cultures. We should strive to make something people want to treasure and cherish for a long time.

    If we are not co-branding with other organizations. Why not a photo contest? Every month, someone should shoot a picture that represents Toronto. The winner gets to have his/her picture printed on the pass. This would be great to get people walking in their neighborhoods. When tourists see it, perhaps they will buy one in the same manner as a post card.

    Steve: The Metropass as we know it will be replaced by some form of Smart Card, although there will still be a monthly flat fare for those who use the system enough. Once you decouple the card from the individual fare purchase, any “design” comes in the pricing packages, not in the card (just as your credit cards don’t get redesigned every time someone has a sale.


  3. Wow! $26 for a Metropass! I heard that the fare used to be 10 cents as well.

    Steve: At that point, the tokens sold for 50 cents each.


  4. Anyone else notice the price on that puppy, $26.

    According to a CPI based Inflation Calculator, it takes $68.67 to buy what cost $26 in 1980, so how come the Metropass is nearly twice that?


  5. Inflation was pretty high in the 1970s when the fare doubled in six years. The cost of everything skyrocketed.

    I completely agree with the about the excuses wearing out though. It’s getting pretty tiresome.

    On another note, Transit City’s doomed even if the funding comes through. Look at the TTC’s Current Employment Opportunities web page in the jobs section of the website and read the posting for “Head – Electrical, Engineering, Transit City department”.

    The job description is interesting because it indicates that this position doesn’t involve traction power distribution or overhead wire systems, which is a major part of any light rail system. It also doesn’t include Fire/Life Safety systems or Signals either because those are separate postings on the same careers page.

    What then is left for the Head – Electrical to do since all the major work’s being done by other people? The answer is buried in the middle of the job description paragraph. I’ve copied and pasted it: “developing/implementing a standard Transit City light fixture”

    Yes, the successful candidate’s going to be designing a light fixture! Get those resumes in – the posting closes on May 10. Considering the way they blew it bigtime down on St. Clair, the last thing the TTC needs to do with Transit City is in-house light fixture design. What they need to do is order a proven design out of the catalogue of a reputable lighting manufacturer and concentrate on getting other, much more important parts of Transit City right otherwise it’s doomed to be a repeat of St. Clair or worse.


  6. Even in 1980, when I was a high school student, I calculated that the number of times I used the TTC meant that it was cheaper to buy a Metropass than actually using student tickets!


  7. I’d like to see how the ratio of metropass price to token price has shifted over time… with a token price of 50c, that pass costs 52 times more than a token – a higher ratio than now!

    Steve: It started out as 52, and has been wrestled down from there with much political effort as part of the Ridership Growth Strategy. The multiple today is 48 at full price, 44 on subscription, and about 38 when you take the tax credit into account (for those who have taxable income to offset with the deduction).


  8. I often wondered what year MetroPass – and my original picture card – originated. I only lost that card a couple of years prior to the end of the picture requirement. Sadly, that handsome young man (skinny with hair) in the picture did not look at all like I did towards the end of the time I was using it as ID. In the latter years – when the TTC supposedly cared about limiting the pass to its real owner – I really wonder what the Operators were looking at. (To be fair the picture card overall design had changed, so any Operator would know that the stranger in the card had his picture taken many years ago.)


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