Metrolinx Plans a Fare Increase

The Metrolinx board will meet on Monday, January 9 to formally approve new, higher fares across the system effective February 18, 2012.  Unlike the previous fare hike of March 20, 2010 which was a flat $0.25 bump in all fares, this round uses tiered increases so that short-distance fares are not as disproportionately penalized.

  • Fares which are now between $4.20 and $5.50 would rise by $0.30 (5.5 to 7.1%)
  • Fares which are now between $5.51 and $7.00 would rise by $0.35 (5.0 to 6.4%)
  • Fares which are now at $7.01 or more would rise by $0.40 (at most 5.7%)

Considering that many GO fares are well above $7 (a one way from Kitchener-Waterloo to Union costs $14.60), that maximum increase amounts to only 2.7%.  Oddly enough, the presentation on the agenda notes that:

A flat increase disproportionately impacts shorter trips and will make any potential future fare integration arrangement with the TTC more difficult to achieve.

The 2012 increase is still disproportionately high for those who might make short journeys.  The idea that this somehow supports future fare integration with the TTC is hard to swallow.

The average GO fare is $6.55 and the average increase, allowing for the effects of discounts, will be about $0.31 (4.7%) .  If this were applied to the KW-Union fare, the increase would be about $0.70.

A chart of page 3 of the presentation makes interesting reading.  It shows various GO cost factors and their rates of increase over the past decade.  By far the highest are diesel fuel and electric power.

Concurrent with the fare increase, GO will change the discount plan for adults and students to encourage their shift from paper passes to Presto.  The discounts of 17.5% and 35% now offered to adult and student passholders respectively will stay in place for Presto fares, but the discounts for a paper pass will drop to 15% and 30%.

Like the TTC, GO faces the dilemma that adding service, even if they carry more riders, drives up costs because on average all services recover only about 80% from the farebox.  Stronger ridership with little service improvement is financially beneficial, but service improvements add to the operating costs.

With constraints on funding from Queen’s Park, passengers will have to dig a little deeper.  This is a major issue for future GO planning as they move to services that will not have as robust a cost recovery rate (two way, all day rail service).  The farebox cannot pay for GO’s evolution from a system that cherry-picks the cheapest of riders to one that provides service as a basic policy for the GTAH.

Metrolinx Board Report

Metrolinx Board Presentation

Rebuilding A Transit City

The waning fortunes of the Ford regime and its defeat on planning for the eastern waterfront have emboldened many to focus on the resurrection of the Transit City LRT plan.  Advocates despaired as the newly-minted Mayor Ford so unceremoniously and undemocratically cancelled the plan.  We watched as Queen’s Park, terrified of a “Ford Nation” juggernaut decimating Liberal ranks in the 2011 election, caved in with a “Memorandum of Understanding” completely undoing the principles of their own “Big Move” transit scheme.

Now we’re in 2012, rumour has the Liberals wanting a return to the original plan, but fearing a unilateral move without a request from Toronto Council.  Oddly enough, the absence of any Council approval for Ford’s actions, a requirement of the MOU, is never mentioned.  The economics of the all-underground Eglinton “LRT” and the private sector Sheppard subway don’t look encouraging, and Queen’s Park faces widespread constraint in public sector spending.  This is hardly the time to be blowing billions to gold plate projects, to cover them with “gravy” that would invite ridicule in other circumstances.

The left may engineer a vote at Council once the 2012 budget debates are out of the way seeking to resurrect Transit City as it was originally proposed and agreed to.  CodeRedTO has formed with the intent of seeking a way, preferably through compromise, to a revised transportation plan that will keep the best of competing views of our future.  They hope to copy the success of the waterfront’s CodeBlueTO.

Whether this will be possible given the bluster and intransigence shown by the Mayor whenever surface transit is mentioned remains to be seen.  Unlike the Portlands fiasco, a scheme hatched and promoted by the Mayor’s brother Doug, the transportation file is firmly part of Rob Ford’s agenda.  It was in his campaign platform, and the Mayor has often repeated his loathing for “streetcars” and his mantra that the war on the car is over.

Unlike Waterfront Toronto, transit agencies don’t have a string of projects to show off as a mark of their expertise.

The TTC still hasn’t lived down the St. Clair project even though many of its problems were not of the TTC’s making, and “St. Clair” is as much a conjuration of urban myth than today’s experience.  Local transit is more a collection of horror stories, of fights between the system and its customers, rather than of day-to-day triumphs.  Right at the top, the TTC is infected with the premise that transit is for somebody else, for the folks who can’t afford to drive, rather than an essential part of the region’s network for everyone.

Metrolinx does well as far as it goes, but has the comparatively easy job of serving a small, concentrated and select market.  It’s easy to do well when you deliberately ignore millions of potential customers and see high farebox returns as a mark of success without seeing all those trips not taken (because service isn’t provided) as a cost to travellers and to the region.

However the politics works out, a vital challenge for advocates is to avoid an endless debate on thirty years worth of future transit plans, pitched battles between various transit schemes, technologies and alignments.  Taxpayers who must fund whatever we build, and politicians who must get re-elected, need a focussed, clear objective.

The waterfront file was an easy fight in this regard:  a widely-praised, detailed plan already exists that was demonstrably better than what was proposed.  The rivalry between agencies (Waterfront Toronto vs Toronto Port Lands Corporation) and the desire to get quick sales to fund property tax breaks in Toronto exposed the shallow goals and cronyism of the Ford alternative.  The situation with Transit City is much different.

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