The TTC has announced that the use of traditional fare media will be phased out starting in 2017 with the goal of complete conversion to smart card technology by the middle of that year.
A presentation by Deputy CEO Chris Upfold at the June 22, 2015 TTC Board meeting outlined the project.
Current plans for migration to Presto will see all streetcars and subway stations equipped with readers by the end of 2015, and the bus fleet by the end of 2016. This will lead to all-door loading and proof-of-payment operation on the entire streetcar system by the end of 2015.
Presto (part of Metrolinx) is responsible for the entire fare collection system with only a few exceptions, notably the gates in subway stations. In return, they will receive 5.25% of fares collected through their system, a lower cost to the TTC than its estimated 7% on the existing system.
As riders on the new streetcars already know, the procedure for obtaining a paper “transfer” or fare receipt is cumbersome for Presto users as this is handled by a completely separate device which is not beside the Presto reader. This will be a major disincentive for riders who must transfer to a route where Presto is not in use. (Moreover, given the TTC’s chronic inability to reliably schedule its fleet, I fully expect non-Presto buses to show up on “Presto” routes.)
Riders who now use tokens would still require them up to the point where their travel is all in “Presto” territory. A pass user whose travel involves non-Presto routes has no incentive to change to Presto because they would have to revert to the standard fares rather than the pass-based discounts. The transitional year, 2016, will be a challenge.
TTC management will propose, in November 2015, a scheme for the new fare structure. Among major decisions the TTC and City Council (because of subsidy implications) must consider will be:
- How much transit usage will one “fare” purchase? There has been talk of a time-based fare (two hours, say), but this has been opposed in some quarters, including the Mayor’s office. With luck, he will reconsider.
- If the TTC moves to a zonal system, this will require “tap off” at vehicle and station exits to ensure that the appropriate fare is paid. This would be a major change for the TTC, and could produce severe congestion for passenger handling on surface vehicles.
- The handling of transfers between surface and subway is now designed in most locations to be barrier-free. Riders do not necessarily “leave” the system on the route where they started.
- Through services into other jurisdictions (e.g. Toronto to York Region by bus or subway) raise the questions of zones and revenue sharing. Does York Region collect a YRT/VIVA fare for the inbound trip and TTC a fare for outbound? At stations like Vaughan Centre, the process is simple – set up a fare barrier – but for routes crossing the boundary, the situation is not as straightforward. Gone are the days when an operator could walk through a bus with a hand-held farebox at the zone boundary.
These are just some of the issues facing the TTC for its own system, and another whole layer is added for “integration” with other transit networks, notably GO and the future SmartTrack which will share GO facilities, but operate with TTC fares and transfer privileges. Metrolinx plans to produce its own study on fare integration in September 2015, and this will probably set the stage for the options available to the TTC.
Although initially the system will accept only Presto cards, support for credit/debit cards and smart phones will follow in 2018. This entails a major change in the Presto architecture, work that is now underway for an implementation in Washington DC. Instead of storing your account balance on the card, this information will be kept by the “back end” systems and your card (or smart phone app) will only be used as an identifier. (A good analogy is a phone bill where the record of calls and billing are handled by the carrier, not by equipment where the phone is used nor by the phone itself.)
In subway stations, new fare gates will be installed at both the primary and “secondary” entrances which are now only available for token and pass users. These gates will initially be set up with readers only on the “entry” side, but will have the capability of “exit” readers if a fare scheme requiring “tap out” functionality is implemented. The need for new gates, and to move away from some existing equipment such as “high gate” turnstiles, comes from limitations of the current setup, especially at “automatic” entrances which cannot be used by many people. With Presto and the move away from fare inspection by a collector at entry, the distinction of an “automatic” entrance disappears.
It may be possible to wean everyone onto new fare media fairly quickly once the bus system is converted, but there are many issues related to casual users and a variety of concession fares notably free rides for children, family/group passes, and the distribution of fares for low income riders by social agencies.
The TTC seems very “gung ho” to get on with this migration, but in the absence of details, people will inevitably pepper them with “how will you do this” questions. Waiting for the November report is, I believe, a poor strategy and at least a preliminary discussion of options and implications should be published now if only to frame the debate.