The Flirtation with Fare by Distance

Recent presentations by TTC CEO Andy Byford both to his own Board and at a recent Metrolinx Board meeting included an undercurrent of references to charging fares based on distance travelled or some form of zone system. This shows up in the description of new fare gates for subway stations that would be provisioned at the TTC’s expense as part of the Presto farecard rollout.

What, you ask, is this all about? Don’t we already have Presto readers on existing turnstiles? Well, yes, but they have two problems according to Byford:

  • The reader is not ideally located (“it is too low”) for customers, and
  • New fare gates can be designed with provision for future “tap out” capability that would be needed for a distance or zone based fare structure.

The cost of this change is projected to be $38.1-million, and this is a net addition to the TTC’s already bulging 10-year capital project list.

Oddly enough, the new fare equipment arises from a joint effort with Metrolinx/Presto and it would be no surprise if the same gates show up at stations on the Eglinton Crosstown line.

TTC’s plans for handling subway entrances have changed recently, but with no public discussion. The following slides are from the recent Presto implementation report.

The views below show the current practice for modifying turnstiles with a Presto reader merged onto a turnstile that accepts existing media: tokens and passes.


There is no question that this is inadequate for automatic entrances, but the TTC’s proposal is to remove high barriers at these locations anyhow and simply install new turnstiles. However, the problem remains of monitoring that people entering actually pay a fare, a problem that will be common to all entrances once the Station Collectors become roving customer service agents.


The new fare gates, a style well-known in other cities, don’t actually prevent people from jumping into the paid area, but they make it somewhat harder.


Among the benefits listed below is the capability for tap in and out, and this was explicitly mentioned as an adjunct to fare-by-distance when this presentation was made both at the TTC and at Metrolinx.


What’s more, the project to implement the new gates is already rolling, and it is a co-ordinated procurement with Metrolinx.


In March 2015, the Metrolinx Board received a report “Towards a Regional Fare Policy” from their Chief Planning Officer, Leslie Woo. This report reviewed fare schemes, and talked about the evolution of a regional fare structure. When it reached the list of options available (p. 18), these were:

  • Flat fares – one single fare across the region
  • Fare by mode – different fares for different service levels
  • Fare by distance – fares based on distance travelled
  • Fare by zone – simplified fare by distanc

Notable by its absence is a time-based fare such as that now in use on some GTHA transit systems. There are arguments to be made pro and con each of these options, but the complete omission of one, especially one already in place, is rather odd. It’s not as if Metrolinx never heard of time-based fares, and they are mentioned on page 3 of the report (never to be heard of again).

Following the meeting, I wrote to Leslie Woo asking about this omission. She replied

“Thanks for raising that Steve, timed based could be a sub-option to the four base options.”

Until her next report appears in September 2015, there is no way to know just how seriously time-based fares are being treated. It is no secret that Metrolinx focuses on distance-based fares because of the nature and history of their operation. This doesn’t make their model necessarily the “right” one for local or even cross-border services in the GTHA. Moreover, the technological constraints of Presto which prevented it from supporting a wide variety of fare schemes have now been removed. An old “the computer can’t do it” approach to fares simply has no place in the discussion.

On the TTC side of things, at its April 29, 2015 meeting, the Board requested a report from management on fare options:

i) That the Chief Executive Officer 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 $1.00 for seniors.
ii) 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

iii) 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.

[Minutes of the April 29, 2015 TTC Board Meeting]

This does not sound like a Board with a burning interest only in distance-based fares, and indeed the question of extending time-based fares comes up quite regularly. There has been no discussion by the Board about selecting a new fare policy nor of eliminating any possibilities from evaluation.

The historical context of Toronto’s single fare goes back over four decades to a time when suburban members of Metro Council said, in effect, “our taxes are paying for the TTC and we want to pay the same fare as everyone else”. Whether one agrees with the premise or not, the basic fact is that this is the agreed-upon scheme for fares within Toronto. Moreover, any shift to zones or distance as the basis for fare levels will inevitably penalize those who take long trips while benefitting those whose journeys are short. This is a classic suburban-downtown split, and the political furor would likely make the Scarborough Subway debates look like an afternoon tea.

Physically, TTC stations are not set up to present a barrier between the “subway” and surface routes. It is not just a question of gates leading to the street, but of the many pathways between subway trains and surface vehicles. If the premise is that we need gates for distance-based fares, then the scope would be much greater than just at the station entrances, and the effect on passenger flow and convenience much greater.

When Toronto got rid of “Zone 2”, subway stations that had been designed around this fare structure were reorganized to provide a barrier-free path between the subway and buses. There are a few exceptions such as Jane where the surface platform doubles as a walk-in entrance to the station, and transfers are still required there. Some stations, particularly small, older ones in the central part of the system, would be difficult to retrofit with barriers on all subway-to-surface pathways.

There is a very basic question here: despite a strong interest in time-based fares in Toronto, and their existing use on systems in the 905, the focus of Metrolinx, and possibly TTC fare efforts seems to be heading to fare by distance. No policy debate has taken place about this at the TTC nor City Council who would have the final say in any new fare structure. At Metrolinx,, this is not seen even as an issue because this would be “business as usual”.

A decision on fares and on the migration path to the Presto system will be on the TTC’s and Toronto Council’s plate within the year, but the options are already showing signs that “the fix is in” through the efforts and preferences of Metrolinx and TTC management.

This is a policy issue with far-reaching implications for transit’s future in precisely the locations where it is less competitive because of service quality and coverage. This includes Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack system, whatever one might think of it. Yes, SmartTrack might use “TTC fares”, but if the fare structure changes, the cost of getting to downtown from the suburbs “by TTC” could change dramatically. That’s not what people thought they were buying with a vote for Tory, and he would do well to avoid falling into a trap where his signature service turns out to cost riders much more than they expected.

The wider discussion of a regional fare strategy will also involve questions about subsidies from all governments involved, including the perpetually cash-strapped folks at Queen’s Park who only spend money when it can buy a photo op, preferably many photo ops. Any new scheme for cross-boundary integration or for joint fares between the TTC and GO will have benefits and costs, not to mention pros and cons for various fare schemes. Inevitably some riders will pay more, some will pay less, and a new fare structure will encourage riding more by some travellers than others; it might even discourage some existing riders, or at least severely annoy them.

These are not decisions for staff at Metrolinx or at the TTC. The Metrolinx Board, a docile lot, can be expected to vote for whatever is placed in front of them, and the best hope is that some members will, in private at least, ask difficult questions about a policy that might be railroaded through in their names. At the TTC and City Council, members need to wake up and demand a real, informed debate, not simply a fait accompli, a bland statement that staffs of the two organizations have agreed to a plan. The contract with Presto requires that it support a wide variety of possible TTC fare schemes, and this should not turn into a “the computer can’t do it” scenario.

Musings about provision for fare-by-distance have come too often for comfort of late, and it is time that the context for them was made more obvious. Are we buying new fare gates because we really need them, or because they are a necessary prerequisite to an as-yet unannounced fare policy?

29 thoughts on “The Flirtation with Fare by Distance

  1. The one thing that people haven’t picked up on is the elimination of the unlimited use MetroPass. Converting to Presto means current MetroPass users will now have to tap on & tap off thus paying per ride instead of having unlimited rides.

    Steve: Not necessarily. Two options are possible and have been discussed publicly by TTC management. One is a cap on total fares charged in a manner similar to GO’s “monthly pass”. This scheme could also be applied to weekly and daily caps so that even a less frequent user would get equivalent-to-pass pricing if usage passed specific levels over the shorter periods. The other is that a “pass” would be loaded into your account automatically on subscription or by purchase online or at a fare machine. The big change comes in the shift from fare calculations done at the fare gate/reader to calculations done in the back end to reconcile all your trips with the fare to be charged. That’s the new account model Presto is moving to, and it will also enable use of debit/credit cards and smartphone apps. Whatever you used would not store your fare “purse” but simply act as an identification device.


  2. Great article Steve, a credit to your fine advocacy!!

    With the inevitable integration of transit systems across the GTHA (thank you Presto and Metrolinx) I can see them eventually coming up with one single fare system for the entire region be it fare by distance or a single fare.

    This could go both ways Steve and no doubt the debate on the matter will go the same way the debate on the Gardiner did squeaking by via a few votes.

    Personally as much as I “loooooooooooooooooove” fare by distance, I can see there being a compromise made with a single fare in the GTHA (Oshawa to Hamilton and Brampton-Markham) and a fare by distance should people attempt to go to places like Uxbridge, Bowmanville or Alliston.

    The reason I say it will be a compromise is because of the work v.s. pleasure theory. Many people live in one community and work in another making a single fare easier for everyone. A single fare in this case would make transit truly seamless across the GTHA. For example, people work in Pickering but live in Oshawa or live in Thornhill but work in Toronto. While people do live in Uxbridge, Alliston and Bowmanville, the distance is so far that it makes more sense to commute with a vehicle as opposed to GO or local transit.

    In my scenario, fare by distance would be retained only for the extreme outer edge of the transit system, areas where one fare is simply not practical. I mean who would ever consider a $3.00 trip from Toronto to Niagara Falls practical? Same with Uxbridge, for the amount of people that travel there regularly given the distance.. it’s less than practical for a $3.00 fare starting in Toronto.

    I guess you can say we are looking at Zonal Fares again but with the GTHA as I described it before being one large zone. This would only work however if they did not jack up the prices to compensate for the large zone.. I mean nobody would pay $5.00 or more to ride the TTC.

    The long and the short of it is, for any sort of new fare system to work the entire region would have to be integrated into one system like they did with Durham (Pickering, Ajax, Whitby and Oshawa transit) and York Region (Vaughan, Markham, Aurora, Newmarket and Richmond Hill Transit). If fare integration is to work there has to be ONE transit operator not eight as it stands right now AND everyone will have to pay for it not just Toronto (sorry for getting your hopes up York Region). It may not be Metrolinx but someone will have to run it … otherwise Fare Integration is a pipe dream.

    Steve: The issue is less of a single operator, than of a single clearinghouse for sharing of the costs of transit. The City of Toronto will always want better service than some of the 905 municipalities, and there has to be a way that we can pay for this rather than submitting to the rule of the lowest acceptable service across the region. The 905 won’t want to pay for our better service, and yet some of their residents will use it. Not an easy problem to solve, especially when nobody wants to spend more tax subsidy on transit.


  3. I’m a little confused by this. According to the presentation, both buses and streetcars will move to POP all-door boarding. Also, on the subway slide, it mentions POP will be enforced in all paid areas. So what’s the point of new turnstiles? Can’t we just get rid of all of them since it’s POP anyway? They definitely do that in other systems in the world–Berlin and Prague come to mind.

    Steve: Yes, the actual need for turnstiles is rather odd provided that there is good enforcement. However, the TTC seems to have a very confused view of just how many staff it will employ for this at the same time as they have an equally confused sense of what, exactly, the former Station Collectors will do. There is too much of a sense that Andy Byford is simply trying to clone his experience elsewhere without thinking through the consequences.

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  4. What politician would be stupid enough to agree to a fare-by-distance policy? This is exactly the type “suburb vs. downtown” issue that would rile residents up. The service in the suburbs is awful, now residents may be expected to pay more to ride that service? Nuts.

    I think this is an issue the various transit advocacy groups need to talk about and let people know.


  5. Okay, time for the obvious business question: at $38.1 million, how many years will it take the TTC to recoup the money from the increased revenue stream that this will cause? In other words, the TTC has budgeted for $1.1 billion in fare revenue for the current year. How much will that increase by if we install the new turnstiles to allow for a zoned system? If the TTC will only see another $2-5 million in revenue, then the costs to install the system may not be worthwhile.


  6. Fare by distance would make monthly caps or passes difficult, I suspect – in both scenarios, if I’m always commuting within downtown, how does my allowance or cap vary compared to someone who is always commuting from Hamilton to downtown Toronto (for instance)?

    Other than that, I actually support distance based fares, combined with modal based fares. It should cost more to take the GO from long branch to union, than the 501 for the same trip – it’s significantly faster and more convenient to GO, and GO costs significantly more to operate. It should also cost more to go from long branch to union than from exhibition to union, for similar reasons. And with distance based fares those living in the suburbs don’t actually pay more – they only pay more if they always commute downtown. Surely, someone who both lives *and* works in Markham would pay the same fare to go the same distance, as someone who lives and works in Toronto. With modal costs added, they’d actually likely pay less, because their service – an infrequent bus – costs less than the subway. Do a lot of people in the suburbs commute downtown on a daily basis? Absolutely. But they pay a heck of a lot less to live where they do, and expect the same transit service regardless. To me, it is not the TTC or Metrolinx or any transit agency’s job to play politics or provide “fairness” – it’s their job to run an efficient transit system that is well used, well planned, and funded adequately enough to achieve the first two. And this means fares need to relate to the cost of providing service, which only really happens if both distance and mode are taken into account.

    Besides, anyone outside the 416 doesn’t seem to mind currently paying markedly more for either GO, or the double fare when they cross the boundary. Presumably, someone just north of Steeles would actually see a fare reduction as they are barely leaving Toronto – and someone just south of Steeles would probably see a slight increase. Would Scarborough yell endlessly that now it costs them more to get downtown? Absolutely. But they’d likely be pretty happy if that extra fare went towards, I don’t know, some subways for them 😉

    And as I’ve seen many times in the comments here, distance based fares would likely encourage transit use for many that currently – unless they have a pass – think $3 is too steep for a 10 minute journey to the local grocery store. If I can run down the street or to the bar for 1$, get to work every day for $3, and visit my friends in Oakville for $8 – but all on the same fare, with the same system…I’d be a much, much happier transit user.

    Time based or flat rate fares just don’t make sense to me, because if the entire GTHA is to be integrated, urban dwellers will effectively be subsidizing the suburbs. GO aside, that single fare would have to be enough to cover the cost of moving a rider for ~2 hours or across the region – and my average trip length is barely 20 minutes, rarely leaving Toronto. I hate to sound like a “downtown elitist”, but when I’m already paying more in property tax to subsidize the TTC and contributing to urban densification instead of suburban sprawl, it doesn’t seem right that I’m also paying a fare that costs enough to move me 4 times my average trip.

    The other two major benefits I see from distance based & modal based fares are 1) integration with GO – which I personally believe would make the largest impact on improving transit in the region – and 2) drastically better data for transit planning and funding. Integration with GO, i.e. not having to pay new or separate fares every time a customer wants to take it, would make RER so much more valuable to the region’s network. Instead of everyone trying to take the Yonge line downtown, for instance, they’d probably prefer Oriole / Old Cummer / York U – there would be a marginal charge for the modal superiority, but the speed increase would make it worthwhile for many if not most. Those who live further from Toronto but don’t work *right* at union would also be considerably more incentive to take transit, as now moving within the city to their final destination doesn’t cost them an additional 3 dollars each way!

    Most importantly to me though, and something that wholly justifies “tapping out”, is the wealth of data the region can collect. Yes, this is a significant one time hurdle to cross, as exit gates hamper user flow out of the system. But the long term benefits are that the TTC, Metrolinx, and every other transit planner in the region can see exactly who is traveling where, and on what. If commuter A takes a combination of TTC and YRT to get to and from work everyday, and they’re on the TTC for 75% of that journey, it is not a stretch to send 75% of their fare to the TTC and the other 25% to YRT. If it’s discovered that the vast majority of people using the Spadina streetcar to get downtown “tap off” before King, increased short turns at King make sense. Do 90% of the Sheppard subway riders continue their journey to at least STC? It might make sense to extend the line. Does everyone taking the 505 eastbound transfer to an eastbound 506 at Gerrard? It might make sense to re route it so that it too ends at Main, instead of Broadview…Etc etc etc. I’m making these all up, of course, but it’s difficult to both plan for and fund effective transit if those practices are done “blindly” – and tapping out gives the city eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think that fare by distance would be hugely problematic on above ground LRT lines. Since there is no barrier at above ground LRT lines, you would have to have every passenger tap on and off at surface LRT stops. It is easy to forget to tap off and having large numbers of people tap off at busy stops would create large crowds. If fare by distance is used on the subway I think it would have to be used on the Eglinton and Finch LRTs as well. I assume that there will not be a barrier at the subway/LRT transfer stations so fare by distance would have to be used on both the subway and the LRT. Fare by distance on buses and streetcars is extremely impractical. I think that fare by distance should be limited to GO and a surcharge (less than the full fare) to transfer to suburban buses, otherwise it becomes impractical.


  8. Zones or distance based fares where the whole of the City of Toronto is not one zone is never going to fly at City Council. I’m not sure why somebody is even bothering to go down that route. That and I’d like to see a study done of the economic effect of raising fares zonally. Ask the owners of the Eaton’s Centre how much of their clientele comes from the inner suburbs.

    On another note, I am getting the feeling that RER is becoming a slightly less expensive version of the UPX – done only for some people that want to get there quicker and don’t mind paying for it.


  9. The best way to bring in a new fare policy is to do it with great discount. This helps make everyone think they are getting a better new deal and also helps attract new riders. Nobody should be paying more because they happen to live and work in odd corners that will cost them more. It really is about the state being competitive with public transit service. By competitive it means compared to automobile, car pooling, taxi, walking, biking, skateboarding without jacking costs for these alternatives, or of people choosing not to make the trip at all or even moving away from it all.


  10. Presto seems like a huge boondoggle anyways. Huge capital cost to the province. TTC save a bit (2%?) in operating it. But then have to pay more capital costs to reconfigure station and turnstiles, don’t save any money on removing station attendants and they end up paying more to enforce the system (hiring enforcement operators) … and the main “win” is that we can charge more for people who get less service and in the process make the system less efficient with multiple taps required as you move through the system. Crazy.

    TTC should put together an estimated system efficiency loss if everyone has to tap on and off. They should also identify if there are any stations where it would be particularly problematic.


  11. Fares, whether by distance/zone, or not, is a log jam just waiting to be fixed, and maybe the love affair between Metrolinx and TTC Chairpersons, visiting one another’s board meetings, presages some decisions being announced soon. Having TTC/Council/Mx decide these things the usual way gets us the likes of Scarborough Subway Extensions, so let us not go there. We need a single system, the distance/zone method works in many other places, so perhaps it is time to bite the bullet and get on with it.

    Once adopted, and presuming a fare calculation comprises a minimum charge plus distance components (as GO now), then that formula should be visible and public (not so on GO now).

    A two hour pass, such as you promote, should still be possible, given presumed Presto processing capacity, and without a special ticket. If a second journey is completed within said time, Presto figures it out and charges the lowest fare. I would like to see a reduced fare for a couple of stops on the subway, and reduced fares for travel after 9.30am on weekdays, which is known to ease the peak crush a little. Presto should be able to do all these things and more.

    And to be thorough, separate GO’s (free) parking costs from their fares, thus reducing fares, and charge for parking. Operating subsidies should be identified as fare subsidy or parking subsidy. When riders pay for parking, they may choose another way to get to the station, and may bolster the local bus service.

    Implementing fare by distance/zone should not involve sudden large fare increases for longer distance TTC riders, instead use Presto resources to increase such fares a bit at a time. If $3 is to become $5 for a trip from Long Branch to Malvern, then first increase to $3.50, then $4 etc, so that over say 3 years the adjustment is made.

    A Fareline (a line of Fare Gates) of the type you show, and used in Europe, all require an oversize gate and a staff person to facilitate entry/exit by those with luggage, kids in strollers, wheelchairs, special tickets, and stuck customers whose media will not work. So it seems that today’s ticket collector will have only a slightly changed job description, albeit without the booth.


  12. Dennon wrote:

    “Time based or flat rate fares just don’t make sense to me, because if the entire GTHA is to be integrated, urban dwellers will effectively be subsidizing the suburbs.”

    On the flip side, it can be argued that the urban dwellers have more transit options thanks to living in more high density areas/tourist destination area compared to someone in the suburbs. For example, in the suburbs, a person may have only one or two routes on say a 20 minute service. However, an urban dweller may have three or four routes close to home to take with 10 minute (or better) service.

    This is part of the problem: On one hand it costs more to travel over a longer distance, but in a high density area (i.e. urban setting) there needs to be more service and more options for getting from A to B. One person needs to pay for the service going all the way to their home, while the other is paying for having more service and/or more options.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Has there been any discussion with the union about what measures will be taken in the winter … a whole bunch of employees spending the majority of their time standing around freezing stations seems like a recipe for health (and safety issues) … the current booths are heated – and secure, and I would expect that stations would need to be winterized to some extent to allow for this … (or something like 15 minute warm-up breaks etc.) … and probably the idea of un-secured employees working by themselves won’t fly – especially at night.

    Steve: I don’t know what has been discussed, but some of the ideas Andy Byford has floated about how these station staff would work are complete fantasy that will certainly get pushback from the union, and staff will vote with their feet by refusing to bid into the Collectors’ Group. This is also supposed to be a group for staff who are on modified duties, and I cannot imagine such a person surviving a week in the bitter cold that is my home station, Broadview, in the dead of winter. The idea that they would roam around the station is laughable.

    Andy really needs to get out to stations like this (and the completely outdoor ones too) in the dead of winter and explain how someone would work there for an eight-hour shift.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I believe Rail in London (ie. “the tube”, as well as the Overground) is fare by distance … likely some natural (& understandable) bias towards this fare by distance, considering Byford’s career began in London as a Station Captain.

    My preference is time by distance, with a base (ie. $2 for 1 hr) and then so much per additional allotment (ie. $0.25 per quarter hour) to a maximum depending on the terminus of last vehicle boarded. If exit tapping is used via Presto, this can work very well over the entire region, in an integrated manner. Also encourage shorter hop use with the lower base on the first hour.

    And yes automatic caps on days and weeks and months encourage/reward bulk/frequent use, but probably need to be “zoned” in some manner to be reasonable.

    Express Services, as well as most GO rail/bus services into the greenbelt and beyond, would need some kind of “add fare” to make this work as a cross-board / all-GTA-systems fare system.


  15. I don’t see see what’s so special about Toronto that fare by distance or zone fares can’t work here but somehow they seem to work in other cities. Don’t those other cities have low income people living out in suburbs commuting to the core for jobs and entertainment? Toronto’s inability to change and try new things rears its ugly head again. We all saw how much fightback against LRT which people here weren’t used to since all they know are subways, to the Gardiner removal option which is bringing something new but no people and councillors here were too terrified of all the so called traffic chaos that would occur. Fare by distance, zonal fares? Oh the horror? How do other cities ever survive.

    Steve: The fare structures in any city are very much a product of its history and what people have come to accept as “normal”. Toronto got rid of its zones a long time ago, and there is a basic principle that you can travel anywhere for one fare regardless of distance. Yes, other cities have poor people living in distant suburbs, and their isolation through service design and fares is a political issue.

    This is not a question of “inability to change”, but rather a recognition that distance based fares would disproportionately affect people who already have less service and must travel further to reach their destinations.

    Be my guest to stand up at a public meeting in our suburbs and tell folks that their fare is going up. Even better, go up to Vaughan and tell people who thought they were getting a ride to downtown for one TTC fare that it ain’t happening, or to Richmond Hill and tell folks that the subway they lust for will cost them at least the equivalent of a GO Transit fare to ride into downtown.


  16. “Andy really needs to get out to stations like this (and the completely outdoor ones too) in the dead of winter and explain how someone would work there for an eight-hour shift.”

    Seriously? Being made a collector as modified duty might have to change, but whatever arrangements are made will still be a lot less arduous than what mainline railroad workers do day to day.

    Steve: The point is that this would be a major change in the character of the job. A railroader signs up for the job conditions. Is the idea to punish these people for being in “customer service”?

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Steve provided a bullet list of Andy Byford’s points of what is wrong with existing Presto readers on subway turnstyles:

    The reader is not ideally located (“it is too low”) for customers

    Bull – it is the only Presto reader that I have used that is the perfect height! There is no need to even take my wallet out of my pocket with the current turnstyles. I can use it hands-free by shifting my pocket towards it before going through.


  18. Steve – the things that makes me very uncomfortable with moving to fare by distance, is that it shifts the balance between car and transit, is most like to alter the cost most for those least able to absorb it, and does not take into account the fact that the roads are not themselves priced – other than through a gas tax (which may perversely favor those able to purchase newer cars and hybrids) – which may price pollution, but not really congestion.

    I would be more comfortable with introducing a multi-zone pass, etc, that would allow people to buy a couple of systems passes at a great discount. I certainly can appreciate that a 3 stop subway ride is much less expensive to offer than a 10 km bus plus 20 km subway ride do we want to radically change policy now – and what will be the unintended consequences of so doing – in terms of costs to the least well off, and changes in the commuting patterns.

    If we are going to move towards a model that is intended to do more for cost recovery in transit, we need to look at the same for other services across the city, including roads.


  19. Steve said:

    The fare structures in any city are very much a product of its history and what people have come to accept as “normal”. Toronto got rid of its zones a long time ago, and there is a basic principle that you can travel anywhere for one fare regardless of distance. Yes, other cities have poor people living in distant suburbs, and their isolation through service design and fares is a political issue.

    This is not a question of “inability to change”, but rather a recognition that distance based fares would disproportionately affect people who already have less service and must travel further to reach their destinations.

    Be my guest to stand up at a public meeting in our suburbs and tell folks that their fare is going up. Even better, go up to Vaughan and tell people who thought they were getting a ride to downtown for one TTC fare that it ain’t happening, or to Richmond Hill and tell folks that the subway they lust for will cost them at least the equivalent of a GO Transit fare to ride into downtown.

    Steve I agree with what you are saying. I lay this problem entirely at the feet of politicians who refuse to be truthful with voters and instead want to make things to continue being all “rosy” for them. We saw the same crap with Rob Ford when he was telling people that he could be subways for free without any cost to voters and now John Tory telling us that he can fund Toronto’s part share of his Smart Track plan without any cost to taxpayers as if anything is ever free in this world. Now I’m hearing they want to sell some of Toronto Hydro to fund transit just like the Province wants to sell Ontario Hydro. Instead of telling people what things actually cost and how to properly fund it through proper taxation, we would rather beat around the bush. After all taxes are evil. I mean why don’t we cancel all taxes, let’s see how far this country goes. We have been cutting taxes for years, how far has that gotten us? People are still demanding that more be cut. That’s the problem with cutting taxes, people will always demand that more be cut because they have a problem with paying taxes in the first place.

    Steve: It is worth noting that if Toronto sells Hydro, they will give up an annual dividend that is the equivalent of over 1.5% of property taxes. We will have money to spend on SmartTrack, but taxes will have to go up to cover the hold in other revenues. There are times I wonder if Tory or the people around him have ever run a company that didn’t simply have a license to print money like cable subscriptions where, by the way, rate increases don’t suffer from right-wing cant about how they are the root of all evil. It’s private enterprise, don’t ya know, and they need to make a profit, poor dears. Meanwhile the City scrambles for cash.

    Sorry for my little rant but it ties into how messed up the fare structures is in this place. People who travel short distances and across municipal borders especially from across the borders from in and out of Toronto have to pay more even if they are going a short distance. Why should someone travelling from let’s say Yorkdale Station to Eglinton West pay the same fare as someone travelling from Kennedy station to Kipling station. It doesn’t make any sense. If you take the 407, it charges you by the distance you travel. It doesn’t charge you the same price if you drive from let’s say Vaughan to Markham as someone travelling from Oakville to Pickering.

    It’s about time we had a proper debate and the politicians be truthful with the public about the fare structure and how much it costs the system and what needs to be done to actually to get the system working properly. Metrolinx needs to take a bigger leadership role in transit in this region. There are different ways to look at this problem. For example we could have the flat fares for buses and streetcars but charge fare by distance for GO Transit, the subways, and future LRT lines. There are different ways to solve the fare structure mess we have in this problem. It’s about time we had a debate instead of always trying to beat around the bush. I watched the Metrolinx board meeting and Josh Colle said something about how fare integration sounds nice on paper but because it will require more subsidies, nobody wants to properly debate it. We need a proper debate on fare integration and be truthful to the public about how much it will cost to have it. It’s a big concern for many of us in the public.

    Steve: “Truthful” and “politician” will not appear in the same sentence without some modifier such as “rarely” or “only when it suits them”.


  20. Dwight | June 28, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    “I believe Rail in London (ie. “the tube”, as well as the Overground) is fare by distance … likely some natural (& understandable) bias towards this fare by distance, considering Byford’s career began in London as a Station Captain.”

    Last time I was in London it had zone fares for the underground. Zones 1 and 2 were one fare, but if you came from farther out getting off in zone 2 was cheaper than getting off in zone 1. If you failed to tap off you were charged for the maximum possible ride you could make. Also if you failed to tap at certain transfer points you were charged more. They had plenty of tapping spots all through the stations and it never seemed to slow anyone down. Mind you some of their transfers made the walk between the two Spadina stations seem short. Lots of people just bumped the reader with their purse or hip pocket and it beeped if it read your card.

    Making it a requirement to tap off the subway will not slow the process down if there are enough readers that are spread out and no fare gates to interfere. Having said that it wouldn’t work in Toronto because they would screw it up worrying that fare evasion might go up by 0.01%. Toronto will finally get a 20th century fare collection system 16 years into the 21st century. Good job Toronto! This does not mean that I am in favour of a zone or fare by distance system for the TTC.


  21. Once the subway extends to Vaughan and Richmond Hill, they’ll need the fare gates to correctly charge people going to the York region. And adding distance-based fares to the system doesn’t mean that people in suburban Toronto will have to pay more to go downtown than people living in the inner core. When I lived in Lausanne, the compromise they made was that the inner core was one zone, and the suburbs made up a separate zone. One fare would pay for travel in two zones. So everyone moving around in the central core and the suburbs would pay the same fare. People coming from the exurbs to downtown would have to pay for three zones (one for the exurbs, one for the suburbs, and one for the inner core). People going from the suburbs to the exurbs would pay a single (2-zone) fare. Tada! Fare integration, distance-based fares, and a single fare for anyone traveling within the bounds of the city.

    Steve: Yes, that sounds wonderful, but the folks in what would be your zone 3 are looking forward to a zone 1 fare all the way to downtown, and there is some debate even about establishing a “zone 2” for the overlap. The issue is always that somebody gets a cheaper fare somewhere, and unless there is a corresponding increase somewhere else, total revenue goes down and subsidies must go up. There might even be more riding, although almost certainly not enough to make up the difference, and that riding would generate the need for more service which costs money.

    As I said, each city’s arrangement is a product of local historical evolution. Toronto was a single fare a century ago at a time when London already charged by distance, I believe. What someone believes is “equitable” in one city does not necessarily apply elsewhere. Good models of alternatives, yes, but politically saleable, no.

    For comic relief: In Boston, the “rapid transit” system is a separate fare zone, and the “streetcar” lines (collectively the “Green Line”) are part of the “subway”. It used to be even more complex with separate zones and a different fare on surface streetcars than on buses. From time to time, buses would replace streetcars, but they charged the streetcar fare. Try explaining to someone boarding with a pass that has a picture of a bus on it, that this “bus” is really a “streetcar”. Now that they have the “Charlie Card”, life is a lot simpler.


  22. It seams like before we decided how to structure fares we should ask ourselves “what is public transit?” If it is a product no different than buying a sweater at a store or a steak at a restaurant, then feel free to charge users for their consumption of the product.

    If, however, public transit is a public service, like schools, roads and hospitals, than we need to stop falling for this user pay model and fund transit properly.

    Personally, I don’t think a family that is priced out of living downtown, with its multiple modes and routes of transit service, should pay more for poor service simply because they are force to travel further to get to and from work. If we honestly thought this model was fair, should we not take this user pay model to its logical end and charge parents more if their child requires more help from their teacher. Should we charge the cancer patient more for their hospital vist than the patient with a broken arm? Do we really want to jump into a user pay model and treat taxpayers/residents/citizens merely as customers?

    I know these examples seem extreme but let us not let fares distract us from the real issue. The TTC is underfunded. We should not be looking to solve this problem at the farebox but by increasing the subsidy the TTC receives from government. We should be building a fare structure that ENCOURAGES use. Price by distance pushes people off of high prices, poor quality transit and right into car dealerships. We shouldn’t be descouraging people from using transit. Fare by distance in the car loving region that is the GTA does just that.

    Steve: I love comments that I can just post without editing, but with my wholehearted endorsement!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Sorry folks, flat rate for an area as large as Toronto makes no economic sense, and if you think about it that includes the people it supposedly benefits. First and foremost it removes any relationship between cost and price. So what you say? Well that builds in all sorts of perverse incentives and disincentives that no organization could ignore. It means that the TTC makes a huge amount of money on short subway trips downtown and loses their shirt on long rides from the city edge. This is exactly why service in the periphery, even at half decent population densities have been ignored (Jane Finch anyone?) The TTC knows that any trip of half decent length generated from the periphery is a huge draw on their subsidy.

    I can hear the complaining now, but GO’s fair structure is rational (price roughly relates to service provided) and the users know that if they live in the boonies and they want good service, they need to pay for it (and they get it). Toronto is left in a game where there’s every reason in the world to starve the edge, even if no one is willing to admit it.

    It might be laughable from a Toronto point of view to be envious of Vancouver, but they have a working, rational fare structure for their region. To bad for the nightmare we currently have.


  24. When I arrived in Toronto in 1959 we were way out on the Woodbridge line (Albion & Islington). I think the line had 6 zones — zone 4 started at that intersection while zone 3 was at Blondin loop — end of the Weston TC. I described the service as “every hour and a half in rush hour”. The top end was just beyond Woodbridge.
    London had 6 zones the last time we were there and we had a 6-zone pass. It seemed to cover all the buses and trains in those zones. I was never sure if it actually worked on some of the strange offshoot bus companies. I think that bits of the underground stuck out of zone 6.

    I think that a lot of people probably expect that “fare integration” will mean that they can drop a TTC ticket in the box and ride any transit mode to the border of Metro. Or possibly the extent of the GO system.


  25. The TTC had better remember to put in a wheelchair-accessible faregate at each of these farelines. The photos show no indication that they’ve remembered this.


  26. Fare-by-distance is a tricky one that I’m not yet firmly decided on. It clearly works on many large systems worldwide, and I have tons of friends and family who live in Zone 4 or Zone 6 in London who while they do complain the Tube is expensive, they still take it daily and never ever drive or take a cab or a regional train into the core. Perhaps it can only be coupled by changing the economics/costs of driving?

    I am 100% sympathetic that FBD benefits those who can afford to live closer to the core, whilst disadvantaging those who live within the borders of Toronto but farther out. I haven’t done enough research yet, but I always think about why someone who lives so far from the City of TO core, would still choose to live within our borders vs. in Peel, York, or Durham regions. Is it really the cheap access to the TTC or is it other services? In other words, what incentives are there to convince them to live in “expensive” Toronto in the first place?

    My friends deep within Metrolinx and TTC are also torn. They feel that it is not the role of the operator to handle the social equity, but the role of the province through transfers and tax breaks. I ask Steve and the community, if the province was to pair FBD for all GTA transit agencies and truly integrated fares, with a tax break to help those disadvantaged, would that change your mind?

    It reminds me of a conversation I had last week on Twitter with Moaz RE how social programs that give out free TTC fares would cope without tokens. I see Presto tech. as enabling if done right, and it would be easy to give out cards with balances on them, or a periodic reload to help with fares, whilst also giving valuable O-D and usage data.

    Maybe I’m too much of an optimist but things like this, and exiting fare gates are commonplace and the norm in cities everywhere. Yes local context is critically important, but I think we have to get away from the nay-saying that Toronto is always different and every other best practice could never work here.

    Steve: My response to this has been moved to another article.


  27. Flat fares are a very ineffective way to reduce inequality as the benefit is not well-targeted to those who need the help. There are plenty of people making long trips who could afford a higher distance based fare, and plenty who struggle to pay the flat fare for short trips or end up walking long distances because they can’t justify the cost. In most cases everyone would prefer better service. If you want to help those in need then push for an increase in the low income tax credits, don’t try to use the transit system as it is a very blunt instrument.

    In a way the flat fare leads the poor to live further from the core as only those who are better off can afford higher housing costs plus the flat fare. The poor service to far-flung locales also pushes commuters into cars, while those who can’t afford to drive end up trading their time for a lower fare.

    Steve: My response to this has been moved to another article.


  28. There hands-down needs to be a totally integrated fair system for the entire GTA. The best way to do it is a zonal system, not a system based on raw distance. The zones would be designed to ensure that MOST, but not all people still get to travel the same distance they travel now, for the same fare as they pay now, and that people who travel small distances across boundaries of current transit companies (i.e. TTC to YRT do not have to pay double fares or even a 50% larger fare).

    The best way to do this is to have zones along the lines of the following:
    – Central Toronto (northern boundary at Eglinton)
    -Northern Toronto (northern boundary at Steeles)
    -Etobicoke (all boundaries of that City)
    -Scarborough (old boundaries of that City)
    -Richmond Hill including Thorhill (the portions of Markham and Vaughan between Dufferin and 404)
    -Markham (excluding Thornhill section which is lands west of 404)
    -Vaughan (excluding Thornhill section which is lands east of Dufferin and south of Highway 7)
    -Eastern Mississauga
    -Western Mississauga
    -Eastern Brampton (Bramalea)
    -Western Brampton
    -other outlining areas grouped as logical (i.e King Township as one)

    Any user can travel within 2 contiguous zones for one regular fare ($3.00), but travelling to a 3rd zone not contiguous to the 1st one becomes a 50% higher fare of $4.50 (call it “One Extra Zone)”.

    In this plan, all fares within current Toronto would be a regular fare, except for going from Scarborough to Etobicoke. If you go from Scarborough to Northern Toronto but have to pass through Central Toronto for your particular, that would still be one regular fare as are still contiguous on the map. Travelling from any York Region zone or Peel zone or the Pickering/Ajax zone into the adjacent Toronto zone (i.e. Markham to Scarborough or even Northern Toronto) would also be one regular fare but to travel all the way to Central Toronto would be the 50% higher fare (one extra zone).

    Travelling “2 extra zones” could be another level higher, say $5.50. That would include going from Pickering/Ajax to Etobicoke or Richmond Hill to Eastern Missisauga or Western Brampton . Whether you take a TTC (including subway) or other bus system, including the GO Bus would not matter – all the same fee system. The GO Train would have a $1.00 surcharge on any fare mentioned above.

    All the calc’s above would be done by tapping on and off the system, but the scanners should be very powerful so people only have to put their card within a metre or 1.5 metres of the scanner, to avoid lineups.

    Monthly passes could be sold at a fee based on the locations you tap on and off again most of the time (which can easily be monitored by a computer system). All rides within that usually trip would be included within the monthly pass but after a certain number of longer trips you would have to “top-up the pass” to cover the longer distances.

    I think this system would be very fair and efficient.


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