Metrolinx Fare Integration Study: Heading to a Foregone Conclusion?

Updated September 22, 2015 at 8:00 pm:

A few issues raised in this article were addressed during the presentation and debate on the Metrolinx report.

  • The dismissal of “time based fares” refers only to fares that are calculated by the length of a journey measured in hours rather than kilometres or zones. Times based transfer privileges (in effect, limited time passes) are still part of the mix of fares under discussion.
  • Although the initial goal of the study is to produce a revenue-neutral model, Metrolinx will also expand the scope to look at adjustments to reduce the effect of bringing about that “neutrality”, in effect to offset unwanted side-effects of balancing who pays for what. This is an important consideration so that all interested parties can debate whether we want more subsidy, or higher fares, or some combination of these in aid of the greater good of an integrated and “fair” regional system. Just telling everyone “this is how it will be” is a recipe for political disaster, especially considering any reorganization of regional fares is likely to occur just in time for the next round of elections.
  • Integration is a big issue for Metrolinx because the distinction between “local” and “regional” travel is vanishing. This is actually more important than the off-cited cross-border double fare, and the RER service concept cannot operate without close integration of local fares and service to whatever Metrolinx runs.
  • Still unanswered is the question of just what service classes Metrolinx will propose, and the effect of making rail services like subway and LRT lines a separate fare class when they were designed, for the most part, to be integrated with local systems as replacements for existing bus routes.
  • Metrolinx plans to publish the background papers for this study including a review of the fare structures now in use by the GTHA’s transit systems.

The original article follows below:

The Metrolinx Board will receive an update on the status of its regional fare integration study at its meeting of September 22, 2015. To no great surprise, the study is pointing strongly toward fare by distance as the preferred scheme, no matter how much the entire exercise wants to give the impression of an unbiased approach and of “consultation” with municipal transit operators and the public. For some time, the Metrolinx review has the air of “any colour you like as long as it’s black”, and this update does little to change the impression.

The fundamental problem is that Metrolinx is a regional commuter system where any kind of flat fare simply won’t work, although their pretensions to being truly fare-by-distance fall apart the longer a trip gets. As the role of Metrolinx changes, both with the construction by Ontario of urban lines, and with the evolution of its market beyond the hinterland-to-downtown model, a one-size-fits-all fare system simply won’t work. Things get even more complicated where there is a mix of GO and local services serving the same territory whether these be rail or bus operations.

An “integrated fare system” has long been the goal for regional planners, although just what this means has varied over the years. For a long time, “integration” meant little more than having one farecard (Presto, of course) that would work everywhere while the actual fare structures were unchanged. The farecard would simply eliminate the pesky business of having different fare media – tickets, tokens, passes, cash, transfers – for different systems. Now that completion of Presto’s rollout is within sight, the question turns to the matter of fare boundaries and “fairness” in fare structures.

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