Updated April 30, 2015 at 12:40 pm:
The text of motions passed regarding this item have been added at the end of the update below.
Updated April 30, 2015 at 9:30 am:
The debate on the motion asking for a report on a pilot project for a $1 off peak seniors’ fare went on at great length at the April 29 TTC board meeting and provided some political theatre along the way.
At its heart, there are interlocking issues in any debate about fares:
- Should seniors as a class of riders receive discounted fares, and how generous should this discount be?
- Are other groups of riders equally or more deserving of discounts?
- Should a “pool”of subsidy related to discounts be allocated to various groups based on needs, or should the scope of such subsidies be increased?
- How will eligibility for any subsidy be administered?
- How should any fare subsidies be funded, and what is their priority relative to other transit needs such as improved service and maintenance?
- Should the standard fare structure be revised to provide benefits to all riders rather than targeted groups?
The proposal for a $1 off peak seniors’ fare came from Commissioner Vince Crisanti, a member of the Ford faction in the previous administration who was not noted for his generosity on the subject of social programs. Moreover, when he did sit on the TTC board (before the coup d’état that ousted many of the Ford crew), his knowledge of transit matters could not be described as encyclopaedic. To be fair, at this point the proposal was only a report request – tell me whether it would be feasible to have a pilot program to test the lower fare – and one might expect the whole thing to disappear if the result proved impractical, especially from a financial standpoint.
The problem, of course, is that everyone wants cheaper fares for one or more deserving groups, or even for all riders as Mayoral candidate Tory advocated, without getting into the questions of whether this is the best use of transit dollars or how a net new subsidy would fit into the allegedly tight city budget situation.
Public deputations on the issue, of which there were few despite the large crowd of seniors in the audience who arrived as a group, concentrated on support for the lower fare. In one case, the presentation by TTCRiders ran into a basic problem that their primary desire is to help low-income riders, but they have been pulled into the $1 fare issue as a jumping off point for their larger cause.
Questions from board members were generally civil, although there was a common thread of “how should we pay for this”. One deputant tartly replied that if the city can afford to eat the sunk costs of cancelled LRT projects and build the Scarborough Subway Extension, then availability of revenue is not the issue.
Toronto Councillors love to pretend that any discussion of new services or expenditures must be a zero-sum game with higher costs in one area balanced by reductions in others. This ignores the considerable taxing powers of the City that go unused thanks to pandering to motorists (the vehicle registration tax) and to the no-new-taxes philosophy that hobbles modern political debate.
The best moment came in a testy exchange between an old Chinese lady, speaking through an interpreter, who was harangued by Commissioner Denzil Minnan-Wong with a series of questions ending up with, to paraphrase, how can we pay for fuel if we let people ride for free? After a short pause, the reply came back: “that’s a stupid question”.
For far too long DMW and others have grandstanded at the expense of citizens who just want to exercise their right to speak on public issues, and chairs of meetings (including the TTC’s Chair Josh Colle) have failed to rein in such abuse. That one response burst DMW’s balloon, and will long be remembered.
Colle himself noted that he had come to the TTC a few years ago with a similar incentive – helping seniors with lower fares – but has since learned that as a group, seniors are rather well off. The real issue is to identify those who are in need regardless of their age.
Commissioner Alan Heisey proposed a motion asking for a report on a variety of fare options to come forward in October 2015 as input to the 2016 budget process. This would allow TTC staff to explore a range of new or revised fares, and in particular whether technical capabilities or limitations of the Presto fare card would affect the implementation.
The decision on future subsidy levels will be up to Toronto Council, but the TTC board should already have taken a position on the matter rather than simply inheriting a campaign promise as they did with the free rides for children in the 2015 budget.
Voting on the items took a bit of diplomacy as nobody wanted to actually vote against Vince Crisanti’s proposal. In the end, it was amended to request a “briefing note” by June, and then Heisey’s much broader motion was passed. A briefing note does not come back to the TTC agenda and simply updates members on information from staff. A report becomes the subject of future debate.
The motions as they were passed are:
Motion by Commissioner V. Crisanti
Request the TTC CEO to report back to the TTC Board by June 22, 2015 in a briefing note on the feasibility of a six month pilot program to reduce fare costs during off peak hours to $1 for seniors.
Motion by Commissioner A. Heisey
Whereas in November 2013 TTC staff reported to the Board on a variety of policy changes with respect to senior discounts. The Board chose not to make those changes.
As a result of this report TTC staff began work with other city departments on a “Fare Equity Strategy” which was co-signed by the TTC and the City and endorsed by City Council. The detailed work on that strategy staff will report by the end of 2015 to City Council on that strategy and the role that PRESTO would play in any implementation.
Whereas in January of 2014 TTC staff reported to the Board on time-based transfers and indicated they are broadly a positive change, but possibly expensive, and not really achievable until PRESTO implementation.
Whereas in August 2014 TTC staff reported to the Board on the “Opportunities Report” that considered, among other things, the 2 hour transfer. The report was approved based on the need for funding. Everything was funded except the 2 hour transfer.
Whereas in October 2015 TTC staff will be reporting to the Board on all new options that PRESTO will allow including different concessions, different fare policies (time based, directional, off-peak vs peak), Metropass vs daily / weekly caps., different policies that enable greater information, cash acceptance and a strategy for that etc.
Therefore, be it resolved that the Board:
(1) Request staff report back, as planned, and in consultation with city fare equity staff, in October for a fulsome discussion on fare policy when PRESTO is in place and for when we remove legacy fare media (tokens etc.) and what the future for cash payments are including consideration of various fare options including:
(i) fare by time of day
(ii) 2 hour transfer
(iii) Seniors fares by time of day, including $1.00 seniors fare during off-peak hours
(iv) Fare by distance
(v) Concession policy overall as informed by Fare Equity Strategy
(vi) Monthly pass versus daily / weekly / monthly capping
(vii) Free regular transit fares for Wheel-Trans qualified passengers in addition to the visually impaired
(2) Request that staff continue discussions on a 2-hour transfer, with PRESTO and Metrolinx, to understand how that could be funded via savings in the PRESTO programme and in support of more regional fare integration.
Original article from April 29, 2015:
The TTC board will consider a request from Commissioner Vince Crisanti at its April 29, 2015 meeting:
Requesting the TTC CEO to report back to the TTC Board by June 22, 2015 on the feasibility of a six month pilot program to reduce fare costs during off peak hours to $1 for seniors.
This idea continues in the tradition of bribing riders with their own money while ignoring the wider implications for the transit system. First, let’s look at the numbers. The TTC publishes a compendium table of fare and ridership data on the City’s Open Data website. Here is the table with information up to 2014.
In 2014, there were approximately 69-million seniors/students rides of which 23m were by monthly passes, 33m by tickets and 12m by cash fare. The TTC estimates that of the non-pass trips, 40% are due to seniors. Of these trips, about 2/3 would be off-peak given that many seniors will avoid peak travel if possible, and they are less likely to be tied to a standard commuting schedule.
- Starting with 45m non-pass student/senior fares,
- 40% of that brings the number down to 18m senior fares, and
- 2/3 of that brings the number down to 12m off-peak senior fares
For the sake of argument, assume that the $1 off-peak fare represents a $1 saving for all affected trips, and so the base cost would be $12m. However, the lower off-peak fare would almost certainly cause some peak trips to shift out of the peak, and moreover, there would be a lower incentive to buy the already high-priced senior’s Metropass at $112 (or $102.75 on MDP discount). The break-even point for a senior’s pass today is just over 50 fares/month, and the pass brings the convenience of avoiding lineups for fareboxes or fare machines. If a rider is in a position to travel mainly off-peak, their monthly cost would drop quite considerably with a $1 cash fare.
[I am an MDP subscriber for a senior’s pass, and my monthly TTC trip count averages somewhere around 80. Therefore my average fare today is $1.28. I would probably continue to buy a pass for the convenience of not having to queue for a farebox/fare machine, but riders who use the system less than me might not consider this expense worth the bother. Moreover, once the “pass” functionality is implemented through Presto, that inconvenience disappears.]
Any reduction in TTC revenue would have to be offset by increases in other fares, or by higher operating subsidies. As a rule of thumb, a $30m bump in subsidy represents a 1% increase in taxes, and so it is easy to calculate the tax effect of any planned fare discounts.
The planned enhancements to TTC service for 2015 have an annual cost of $88.2m as shown in the following chart [see Operating Budget at p. 15]:
Note that $12m of the total above is actually a capital-from-current charge for purchase of new buses, and $30.2m relates to acquisition of space for these vehicles. Therefore the actual service-related costs are about $46m ($88.2m less $42.2m).
The TTC considered a variety of fare reduction options in a November 2013 report which argued [p. 1]:
• It is beyond the mandate and expertise of the TTC to effectively resolve broader social and community issues related to income distribution.
• The current TTC policy regarding concession fares is that new or reduced concession fares will only be considered if arrangements are made to subsidize the TTC for the associated revenue loss. Additional subsidy is required to avoid placing the burden of the proposed program on existing riders through increased fares and/or reduced services.
Given the likelihood of shifts both from peak to off-peak travel by seniors to take advantage of the reduced fare, and the migration from pass-based to cash trips, the annual cost of a $1 off-peak fare would be well above $12m. Moreover, one must ask whether seniors as a group should receive this type of added subsidy when other groups such as welfare recipients are routinely denied such benefits on the grounds that social policies are not in the TTC’s mandate.
There is also a broader question of time-of-day based fares for all riders, not just for seniors. This is a complex problem that would affect a wide swath of TTC revenues given that over half of all riding is off-peak. Such discounts can prove troublesome for riders with very long commutes who cannot as easily avoid the peak period as someone with a trip that can easily be taken on the shoulder of the peak when fares are cheaper.
If the TTC is going to get into a discussion of fare policy, it should do so on a much wider basis than simply looking to give one group of riders a fare reduction. There are other difficult questions such as whether fares should be flat, time-based or distance-based, and how fares can be truly integrated between TTC, the 905 transit systems, and GO so that moving from a red bus to a blue bus or a green train does not pose a huge fare penalty.
As I reported in a previous article, the TTC has rediscovered the role of policy debates, and they could make a good start with these issues. If nothing else, the underlying research and discussion of options should be on the table for general input from citizens rather than simply appearing as a fait accompli in the next round of budget papers.