On December 16, 2015, the TTC Board will consider a report from management recommending several changes in the fare collection system. Some of these proposals are straightforward while others are likely to bring confusion and outright complaints from TTC riders.
On December 14, the TTC streetcar system goes to “Proof of Payment” (POP) on all routes and a few days later, Presto will be enabled across the streetcar system. In the short term, paying by Presto will be akin to dropping a token in the farebox on the “old” streetcar fleet. If you need a transfer, board at the front door and get one from the operator. Otherwise, rear door boarding is allowed. Transfers will be required if somewhere in your journey you will encounter a bus that is not Presto equipped. (The TTC is silent on how they will handle a route like 504 King that operates both types of vehicle if a Presto user discovers a non-Presto equipped vehicle is the first thing to show up.)
The roll out of Presto brings the opportunity to revise the fare system, for good or ill, as the TTC migrates away from its conventional model of tickets, tokens and transfers. (It is worth noting that a large number of riders have already made this migration by using Metropasses which are simple, if limited in the fare options they provide.)
The transitional period when both Presto and existing fare payment systems co-exist will be a difficult one. Indeed, there are strong incentives for riders not to shift to Presto until the system is fully functional unless their TTC usage is limited to that part of the network where Presto is active.
Changes to be Implemented in 2016
Daily Caps on Fares on Presto
Presto users who “pay as they play” (as opposed to those using a pass) would have their total daily fare cost capped at the price of a Day Pass regardless of how many trips they take, effectively removing the need for this type of pass. Given that Presto will not “work” system wide, the paper version of the Day Pass will still be required for people whose trips begin on non-Presto routes.
Weekly and Monthly Passes on Presto
Presto users will be able to load a weekly or monthly pass on their Presto card. Like the Day Pass equivalent described above, this is of limited use to anyone whose trips might start on a non-Presto route. There is no point in paying for a monthly pass and not being able to use it for some trips.
Note that the discounted plans for Metropasses will not be supported on Presto in 2016 (see below).
Mixed Mode Routes and Trips
Some routes operate with a mix of buses and streetcars, and there is no guarantee, especially early in the conversion, that the buses will have active Presto devices. This means that, for example, the 504 King buses will not be able to accept monthly passes on Presto, and pay-as-you-play riders will require a supply of tokens “just in case” a bus shows up.
Daily fare caps on Presto won’t include fares paid with tokens, and so this feature will be of limited use.
Changes to be Implemented in 2017
Standard Cash Fare
Although this option was rejected during the 2016 budget debates, management has brought back to the table the idea that there should be no discounted cash fares for seniors or students (children already ride free). The premise is that this change will push more users onto Presto, and that has the earmarks of “it’s easier for management” rather than “it’s better for the customer”. There is no counter-proposal to explain how the system would operate if the discounted cash fares remain in place.
TTC would introduce a single cash price for all customer categories. It would have the greatest impact on seniors and students paying cash, as they can currently take advantage of a discount no matter what type of fare media they choose to use. Seniors and students would still have access to a discount when using the PRESTO card. This option would encourage migration to PRESTO, is consistent with the other Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area transit operators who also have a single cash fare and do not provide cash discounts for seniors and students, and optimizes TTC revenue and operations. [p 5]
“Optimizing” TTC revenue is a polite way of saying that, because some riders would simply pay the full fare because they have no Presto card, TTC revenues would go up. The projected amount is up to $5-million.
Proof of Payment System-Wide
Some form of POP will be required wherever a rider is on the TTC. Presto users (a group that, by 2017, will also include all Metropass users) have their POP by virtue of their “pass” being encoded on their cards, and non-pass users will have a valid “fare” from “tapping in” at vehicles and stations. What will remain will be the cash fares for which a fare receipt (subway stations or new streetcars) will be required.
An outstanding problem for cash fares is that “transfers” as we know them will disappear. If the point of entry to the system is incapable of dispensing a receipt, then a cash-paying rider would not be able to transfer (see below). This will affect all users of bus routes and the old streetcars except to the degree that the TTC provides on-street fare machines that could issue receipts. One option the TTC is considering is that such riders would just be out of luck and would be forced to pay another fare to transfer.
Tap On/Off Requirements
All surface vehicles would require a “tap on” to enter, and a “tap off” would be needed to exit a subway station through a fare gate.
On the subway, this provision is in part to deal with special fare arrangements for riders from York Region on the Spadina extension (TYSSE), although it is very much a “tail wags dog” situation. Although not detailed in the report, the implication is that if the tap in/out both occur in York Region fare territory (however that is defined by that time), then a lower fare would be paid than for a York-to-TTC trip, probably by a refund mechanism similar to that used by GO (charge full fare on entry, partial refund on exit).
Tap off would not be activated until 2017 when legacy media (passes, tokens, transfers, tickets) would no longer be used. This also co-incides with the opening of the TYSSE, although the timing of events may require transitional provisions depending on how long the legacy media survive beyond 2016.
Tapping out of stations would be a new behavior for customers to learn, customers will be required to tap out on the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension to avoid paying an additional fare when traveling from York region. For consistency, this functionality should be expanded to the entire subway system. This clear message will help reinforce the correct customer behaviour around tapping on all PRESTO devices and provides the TTC with better customer journey data. [p 6]
It will be interesting to see how long it takes the TTC to make use of the vast amount of customer journey data they will have.
Metropass Discount Plan (MDP) and Volume Incentive Program (VIP) on Presto
For MDP users, the cost of a “pass” would be billed at the start of each month at the rate appropriate for their fare type. The TTC also plans to merge the VIP and MDP plans, possibly into a common fare level.
Not explained in the report is how pass resales under the VIP plan would be handled. In this plan, a business or institution buys a block of passes and then resells them, possibly at a subsidized discount, to staff or students.
For Study in the 2018 Budget
Different fares would be charged depending on the time of a rider’s trip. An issue for Toronto is that unlike many cities, it does not have low off-peak demand and surplus capacity that can absorb time-shifted riders across the system. There is also a potential “equity” issue among riders on two counts:
- Riders who make short trips do not have to adjust their travel time by as great a degree to avoid the peak period as those who make long journeys.
- It is unclear how one would establish who “deserves” to get a cheaper fare because they can shift their commute, or be penalized because they don’t have that option.
For Further Study
Single-Ride Presto Cards for Cash Customers
One ride cards would be available from fare vending machines and, possibly, from third-party vendors. This raises a few issues:
- Why restrict the sale to a single ride card?
- Will third-party vendors have any inventive to stock these cards when all other TTC media disappear?
One part of the problem here is the high price charged for a “real” Presto card ($6). By contrast, a limited-term use card costs only $1 in New York.
This is not just an issue for riders wanting to purchase fares, but for agencies that give out free TTC tickets and tokens.
Elimination of Cash Fares on Buses (and Older Streetcars)
This policy encourages migration to PRESTO and reduces cash handling costs, however it creates an inconsistent and less convenient journey for customers starting their trip on a bus and paying with cash. To mitigate these issues, contactless payment by debit and credit (open payments), and an extensive PRESTO third party retail network would need to be available to ensure customers can purchase a limited use PRESTO card or load value to a standard PRESTO card. Some transit agencies worldwide are moving towards similar policies e.g. Transport for London, as the relative cost of handling cash increases. Note: This option will also apply to legacy streetcars while they continue to operate. [p 7]
At this point, this is only a proposal, but it begs the issue of availability of fare vending machines throughout the system to accept cash, and the degree to which riders would use other media via open payments. Note that for debit/credit payments there is no mechanism for issuing a fare receipt.
Loyalty Program Options
One option the TTC will study is whether the MDP and VIP options should simply be discontinued and the “Metropass” established as one fare level.
Not discussed in the report is the concept of moving to weekly or monthly capped fares (as for the daily fare discussed above). If a Presto card never charged more than the equivalent of a monthly pass, then the actual concept of a “pass” has less meaning unless the discount for long-term subscription (MDP or VIP) stays in place.
No Further Study At This Time
Two-Hour Time Based Transfers
The TTC recognizes that time based transfers would simplify travel and fare rules, but continues to drag its feet on actual implementation. The estimated $20m annual cost is no doubt a factor here, but the tradeoff for simplicity is lost in the shuffle. Now that we have eliminated children’s fares, and frozen other fare classes for 2016, some eager politician will embrace time based transfers as a sweetener for the 2017 budget.
While introducing a 2 hour time-based transfer is still considered a worthwhile service improvement that would reduce complexity and make the TTC consistent with other transit agencies within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, the ongoing Integration work, led by Metrolinx, may propose changes to transfer rules. That being the case, it is recommended that further analysis or implementation should follow the completion of the Fare Integration work if required. [pp2-3]
A two hour time-based transfer can be difficult to manage if there are service delays that affect the transfer window and would cost the TTC an estimated ($20M) in lost revenue from multiple trips made within the two-hour window. This policy however, would make it easier for customers to complete short trips such as getting groceries or going to lunch using transit and create a simpler, easy to understand transfer policy. [p 7]
Is TTC surrendering what would be potentially a very popular fare type to the machinations of Metrolinx who are not known to be sensitive to the needs of urban riders? We don’t know because Metrolinx’ intentions are unknown.
As for delays and the two-hour window, the real question is the amount of travel most riders could expect to make for a single fare. Where time-based transfers are already in use, its benefits appear to outweigh the circumstances in which someone runs “over time”. A related issue here is the “tap out” and whether a journey must be completed within two hours, or only completed to the point of the last “tap in”.
All-Door Boarding on Buses
Despite the benefits of all-door boarding, especially on articulated buses, the TTC does not plan to implement this operation on its bus network except for limited locations with rear door loaders/fare inspectors as at present. Essentially, the TTC position is that it would cost too much to deploy fare enforcement across the bus network, and the potential for fare abuse is too high. All-door loading will only be used on the streetcar system.
Fare by Distance or Zones
The TTC recognizes that a zone or distance based system creates operational headaches:
Customers who use the system for shorter journeys would pay less overall, however this is only true when the initial fare can be reduced, which would have major financial impacts on TTC. Another essential factor is the reliance on customers tapping in and tapping out of both stations and surface vehicles; the latter would have significant negative impacts on dwell times for surface vehicles and may be difficult to enforce without creating major bottlenecks in the system or significantly changing customer behaviors. [p 8]
A Metrolinx analysis of “an integrated distance/zone based system” for publication in 2016. This is no surprise, but the real question is whether Metrolinx will force this option down everyone’s throat to match their own preferences, or leave well enough alone for “local” travel.
Cash POP Receipts on Buses (and Older Streetcars)
The TTC has no intention of providing fare receipts to those who pay cash on buses or the older streetcars. Once transfers are discontinued, they will have no way to avoid paying a double fare when transferring to another route except where a free transfer connection (i.e. within a station) is provided. This is pitched by management as a way to encourage migration to Presto. However, a year’s operation where a fare receipt (a transfer) is available will establish this as “the way things work”, and will be a hard sell when this facility disappears in 2017.
Addressing the Needs of Disadvantaged Groups
This issue will be addressed in a separate report in 2016:
As per the report received by the Board at its November 18, 2013 meeting; it is beyond the mandate and expertise of the TTC to effectively resolve broader social and community issues related to income distribution. In July 2014, City Council directed staff from various City departments to work together to prepare a Transit Fare Equity plan to make the TTC more affordable for low-income Torontonians. This will complement ongoing transit expansion throughout Toronto. The TFE plan is due at the end of Q1 2016, and will include eligibility criteria, costs, and options for pursuing funding partnerships.[p 5]