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?