The Metrolinx Regional Fare Integration Study studiously avoids one of the most important questions any new fare scheme must face: what is the effect for various types of riders?
As a starting point in examining what might happen, this article looks at some of the basics of travel patterns and fares to see what various Metrolinx schemes might imply. Note that this is not a definitive, accurate-to-the-nth-degree exercise, but a general discussion. The detailed work should already have been done by Metrolinx, but if it has, they are not publishing the results.
My apologies to readers in advance as this is an article more technical than political. Some of the calculations are unapologetically “back of the envelope”, and are intended as estimates, illustrations, not definitive results.
Updated Feb. 14, 2016 at 2:00pm: Comparative information about GO Transit fares has been added at the end of the article.
Updated Feb. 14, 2016 at 4:45pm: A further observation on the relatively low fare by distance paid by GO riders has been added at the end.
An All Distance-Based Fare Structure
For the very simplest of analyses, let us assume that the TTC (and by implication the rest of the GTHA) moves to a common distance-based structure. TTC accounts for by far the lion’s share of ridership and revenue, and so its stats are as good a starting point as any. Toronto also contains the largest number of riders who will benefit from or be hurt by changes in the existing fares, and so it is reasonable to use this biggest-slice-of-the-pie for a worked example.
For the year ended December 31, 2015, the total fare revenue collected by the TTC is expected to be $1,107-million for ridership of 534-million, or an average fare per rider of $2.073. [Source: January 2016 CEO’s Report pp 38 & 41]
From the Metrolinx Fare Integration background study, which in turn cites data from the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow Survey, we know that the average trip length is roughly 7.5km including trips that are captive to one mode or transfer between surface and subway, and trips that are local to downtown, to the rest of Toronto, or cross between these areas.
(Methodology: This number can be estimated from the average trip length charts by service type, or by estimating the trip type and length distributions from the chart below. I will spare readers the mechanics of doing this. What comes out of the process is that the average length of a “local” trip is about 4.2km, while a “rapid transit” trip is 8.9km. Averaging all trips gives a value of 7.3km. What does not make sense, however, is that the 7.5km average includes linked trips, journeys that use both modes, while Metrolinx segregates them. This is not the only problem with the Metrolinx data as we will see later.)
This number is in the same ballpark as one I calculated many years ago when the TTC was attempting to allocate revenue to its routes based on distance travelled, and average trip lengths could be worked out from the overall data. (Total passenger miles divided by total passengers gave average trip length.)
If the average trip is 7.5km, then the revenue per kilometre is $0.276. This number would move up or down depending on the value of average trip length we use.
On a purely distance basis, and with no reallocation for special fare classes, passes or other considerations, a 10km trip would cost $2.76, a 20km trip would cost $5.52. and a 30km trip $8.28.
Metrolinx subdivides trips by vehicle type with streetcars and buses classed as “local” and subways as “rapid transit”. The average trip length for “local” journeys peaks at a few kilometres, but most of the trips lie at or below 7km. It is no surprise that there are many very short trips, especially on a system where passes encourage hop on, hop off behaviour. Such trips have zero marginal cost for riders today, but that would not necessarily be true in the future.
The 7km limit is also interesting because it represents roughly the radius of the old “Zone 1” which was roughly the boundary of the former City of Toronto. A preponderance of trips within this range may be an effect of geography with the “old” city having a more compact route structure and generally better surface transit than the areas beyond.
The “rapid transit” trips tend to be fairly evenly distributed in length with a drop-off to the 10km mark, but a rise again at about 14km. Again, this is a function of geography because the subway termini are about 14km distant from the core, and the many trips taken from those points inward are actually part of longer journeys.
Distance Plus Base Fare
Even though “fare by distance” is often touted as the most “fair” way to charge for travel, in practice, the formula usually involves two components: a fixed base fare and a variable mileage-based component. GO Transit fares are alleged by Metrolinx to use this formula, but in fact the variable component goes down steeply as trips get longer. A journey to Kitchener from Union Station, for example, would be much more expensive on a truly distance-based scheme.
The question now becomes: how much of the fare should be a fixed cost, and how much should be variable. The chart below shows the effect of varying proportions of a base component plus a distance component.
All lines on the chart above converge on $2.07 (the average fare) at 7.5km (the average trip length). For the case where the distance component is 0% (a flat fare), the value of the fare stays at $2.07 regardless of the trip length. Depending on the percentage of revenue assigned to distance, the slope of each line changes, but they remain straight because there is no discount for longer journeys as there is on GO Transit.
Note that this makes no allowance for any elasticity effects such as revenue losses or gains thanks to people who ride more with very cheap, short journeys, or who ride less with expensive long ones. It simply gives an illustration of what happens depending on a basic assumption regarding the degree to which “distance” is part of the fare calculation while keeping the average fare and trip length fixed. If the effect of the right hand side of this chart is to be reduced or capped, then either a lower distance component is required, or someone has to subsidize those long trips.
The green 50% line shows what happens even with a “50/50” saw-off: the cost of long journeys quickly rises well beyond even the TTC cash fare, let alone token rate.
The chart assumes that all travel within Toronto remains under a common fare with no distinction between bus, streetcar, LRT or subway. However, Metrolinx is clearly trying to hive off the subway as a “premium” service (despite its crowding). This would almost certainly raise the cost of trips involving the subway, if only to paper over fare issues with SmartTrack and GO, while the degree to which bus and streetcar trips might become cheaper is unknown.
What is important about this chart is that it shows the effect of a straightforward, simplistic application of fare-by-distance, the sort of thing politicians and planners love to tout because it looks “fair”. What they do not acknowledge is that this actually has the greatest benefit for those who make very short trips, and penalizes those who travel further. This is inevitably “fixed” by bending those lines at higher distances to offset the real implications of linear increases by mileage, and this is exactly what GO Transit does in its tariff.
Motorists, by contrast, have a substantial fixed investment in the capital cost, insurance, parking (for owned home or assigned work spaces), and the price of a trip varies only with the marginal operating costs. For them, the cost vs distance equation only includes these marginal costs (fuel, tolls, mileage-based maintenance), not the full cost of ownership. Unbounded distance-based transit costs can run into problems for long trips where the perceived value of the competition, a car trip, can be lower than the fare. This can work contrary to transit goals that are not purely based on farebox revenue.
There are at least two gaps in this analysis:
- the omission of rides taken by passholders, and
- the proportion of rides taken (before adjusting for elasticity) at each trip length.
The Effect of Transit Passes on Average Fares
Passholders account for a big chunk of TTC revenue and rides. Unless passes are abandoned, including pseudo-pass equivalents such as capped daily, weekly or monthly charges, their trips and revenue do not participate in the “distance based” allocation. If someone is able to purchase any form of ride-at-will ticket, even for a limited geographic area such as one fare zone, they will no longer be paying by distance, and their incentive will be to take as many trips as possible at a fixed or capped price.
Pass users now represent 52.5% of all trips taken on the TTC network, although they are less than this percentage of all riders. They are the most prolific users of transit service, and their behaviour is encouraged by knowing that their monthly travel cost is fixed.
The TTC does not publish details of trip multiples (actual trips taken per pass), but a value of around 75 is not unreasonable. From this, it is possible to convert rides taken with passes to a count of passes sold, and hence an estimate of the revenue generated by passes. On this basis, the average cost per trip for pass holders is about $1.75. The remaining trips and revenue are for non-pass holders yielding an average cost of about $2.50. (This is an estimated number and it should not be cited as definitive.)
What we do not know here is the average length of a pass user’s trip versus the length for one paid with single fare media (typically tokens). Pass users have an incentive to take many short trips because these have no marginal cost. Single fare riders, by contrast, will avoid short trips, or they will bundle trip segments into a single “chained trip” notwithstanding the supposed ban on stopovers. This problem could be resolved, in part, by the adoption of a time-based transfer which would, in effect, be a time-limited pass such as that already in use outside of Toronto. A single fare would buy more travel, and some riders’ overall costs would go down even if the fare were not changed. Whatever happens, attempts to calculate trip length will always be frustrated by deciding just when a new trip begins, and how this relates to the payment for travel when the two are not necessarily linked.
As a general policy issue, it is much easier to sell transit use, at least on the level of short-to-medium urban trips, using fares that relate to a block of consumption, not to discrete trips. If a distance component is desired, this can be achieved by selling passes or single fares covering one or more zones, but retaining the concept of selling “time”, not “trips”. Even for so-called “regional” travel, nothing prevents the creation of a “Hamilton-Toronto” pass which confers unlimited riding on both local systems, GO and everything in between.
This is a fundamentally different way of thinking about “fare by distance” than the Metrolinx approach which remains fixated on the cost of individual journeys.
Trip Length Distribution
As for the distribution of trip lengths, if only a few riders make long trips (over 15km say), then most riders would face a maximum fare/trip of under $4 (see chart above where even the worst case crosses the $4 line between 14 and 15km). However, one must be careful with dismissing small proportions because even 10% of TTC trips represents about 150,000 per day, or as many as 75,000 riders depending on how many trips each of them takes. This is not a trivial number of riders (also voters), and the geographic distribution of home locations would be interesting to see. They are most likely not concentrated downtown.
Metrolinx does not break down mileages for journeys using more than one type of service. The chart above only gives information about each of three service types: local, rapid transit and regional. However, they do provide a table of trips by type.
There is a severe problem in comparing the chart with the table. In the table, “local” trips outnumber rapid transit by more than 2:1. However, in the chart the area under the “rapid transit” curve (blue) is larger than the area under the “local” curve (red) even though “local” has a taller peak by roughly the same factor. Rapid transit has more trips in total in the chart, but it has far fewer than local in the table. Something is awry in the Metrolinx data.
What is missing in the Metrolinx analysis is a simulation of how various fare structures would operate, and what this would mean for various types of riders. This should not be aggregated into averages which would be dominated by the more numerous short trips on local transit, but should be broken out geographically by location and major groups of destinations. Equally important to the concept of “fairness” will be a validation of a cross-border model that addresses the truly annoying short trips such as southern York Region to York University, while avoiding giving GO Transit riders an even lower cost/km of travel than they already enjoy compared to inside-416 TTC riders.
A common question I get is “so what would you do”? This is not easy to answer, in large part because the published data do not provide enough information, and modelling a fare structure is not a trivial undertaking. However, as basic principles, I would argue that simpler is better than complex, and transparent is better than obscure. A fare system must address the goals of transit overall including its social and political contexts, not just be a mechanism to ensure the most money goes into the pot.
“The Big Move” is not only about collecting fares, but of the need for transportation capacity and a network that will allow the GTHA to grow.
The cost of highways, for decades, has been treated as a general expense, not as a pay-as-you-go function with each mile of travel billed through tolls. Even gas taxes, which don’t pay the full cost of roads, are as much a tax on the style and efficiency of vehicle one chooses to drive as they are on actual travel.
Fare-by-distance is a blunt way of looking at fare structures and arises from the perceived inequity for certain types of cross-boundary travel in the GTHA. The implications are far more complex.
The concept of fare-by-distance sounds “fair” until one looks under the covers at its effects and the biases that inevitably exist in any fare system. Distance has a place in fare calculations, but it is not the only component to be considered, and in many cases it should be ignored both for simplicity and to encourage travel by transit.
Updated: Comparative Information About GO Transit Fares
GO Transit fares are substantially lower than average TTC fares on a distance basis. This is discussed in some detail by my article from December 2014 and by Sean Marshall’s article from November 2015.
The Mythology of GO Fare By Distance Pricing (December 2014)
Not so fair-by-distance: GO Transit’s problematic fare system (November 2015)
The fare per kilometre for GO Transit service declines precipitously from values well above TTC fare levels in the short distance range, but settles down to a range of values below $0.20/km for long trips. This is less than the average fare paid by TTC riders on a distance basis.
GO Transit fare increases consistently benefit those taking the longest trip. Although there is a “tiered” increase with an additional 40¢ to 60¢ per single ride fare, the upper tier applies to all fares from roughly Oakville or Brampton outward on the Lakeshore West and Kitchener corridors respectively. The result is that the percentage increase is lowest for the longest trip fares which, over many years, have risen far more slowly than those for short to medium length trips.
The equivalent of a monthly pass (40 Presto fares) to Kitchener now costs $545.70. If the fare by distance were raised to the level paid by riders from Oakville, the cost would be over $800. If the fare were proportionate to that paid by TTC riders, on average, the cost would be over $1000.
Any claim that GO is a true fare-by-distance system as a starting point for GTHA fare integration is bogus. There may be a valid reason to charge a lower fare to long trips, including the need to entice motorists onto GO, but this is just as valid an argument for local travel as for regional travel.
Updated Feb. 14, 2016 at 4:45pm:
Turning the idea of GO passengers paying at TTC rates on its head, if TTC riders paid at GO rates for longer trips (about $0.13/km), then the Metrolinx 14km “rapid transit” service territory would correspond to a fare of $1.82.
The idea that subway fares are somehow too low and deserve to be increased for this “premium” service does not hold up against the fares Metrolinx charges for its own regional network.
On a related note, there is no justification for charging SmartTrack fares at a higher level than TTC fares when this would place them higher than the distance rate offered to GO’s own customers.
I typically hate when “fairness” comes up in political discussions. It’s a completely nebulous idea and something that seems fair in one context can turn unfair if the context is widened or narrowed. Having no fares at all could be considered more fair than any fare structure. The fare structure should only be evaluated for how it achieves the goals of the transit system overall (whatever those may be).
Would they be measuring the “fare by distance” on the “as the crow flies” or the actual route someone takes. For me to go to the Zoo, I could be taking a southern bound bus to get to the 2 Bloor-Danforth, then 1 Yonge, then 4 Sheppard subway to get on the 85A or 85B bus to get to the Zoo. If they really measure by distance, I would need to take a northern bound bus to get to a 84 bus to get to the 4 Sheppard subway. Taking the southern route would be longer by distance, but the northern route would be longer by time.
Steve: This has not been stated, but since transit routes generally do not travel like crows, it would be the route taken that would apply on a mileage basis. However, a zone basis (depending on granularity) could smooth some of this out, but would bring its own peculiarities.
GO Fares have always been a conundrum to me. On the one hand, if the long distance fare is kept affordable, then it will help tempt drivers to abandon their very wasteful automobiles and choose a more efficient transit alternative. On the other hand, commuting over long distances is inherently wasteful whatever the transportation mode. Is it good public policy to encourage sprawl by subsidising long distance commutes?
Complicating the matter further is the affordability of housing in various locations. Banks will only lend so much based on family income and sometimes that is not enough for suitable housing within a short commute. These families have little choice but to live a long way out. While the banks turn a blind eye, commuting costs then overextend these families to a similar extent that would have been the case if the mortgage advance had been sufficient to live closer to work.
Public policy has so many competing and contradictory concepts of just what is “fair” that the whole debate becomes almost unresolvable. Whatever choice or choices are made in setting fare policy, there will be a legitimate group who can quite rightly claim that their interests have not been fairly looked after.
One way to take this debate is not to create an entirely new system, but make modifications to the current systems to make them more easily understood, or make them more easy to use with Presto…
Some things that could potentially happen in this case:
1. Local fare standardization
2. Local fare cross border standardization
3. Go->Local fare standardization (and vice versa)
4. Transfer standardization across the system
5. Monthly/weekly/daily pass standardization
6. Cross-system pass standardization
7. Concession standardization
8. Transit agency mergers (Oakville+Burlington, Brampton+Mississauga etc)
In the above you could do one or more at a time, over several years knock off the ones that are politically palatable…there are other side benefits:
1. Doing small changes on a big complex system is safer than big changes
2. Build agreement on the specific changes required across multiple transit agencies
3. Simplifies communications and change management
4. Simplifies coding and development for Presto
5. Simplifies agreements on re-distribution of funds or extra operating expenses required
Looking at even just one of the above items – local fare standardization (where every system has the same cash/presto fare for a local->local trip) would likely require the construction of some sort of central formula or governing structure for setting the fare, it would require some systems to provide better service to justify such a fare, it would require all the city councils to agree to give control to Metrolinx to set the number … this in and of itself is a huge task … some systems that are wildly out of line with this may need a few years to get to the point where it is even worth discussing – for example the disparity between Hamilton (2.75$) and York (4/5$) … changing this quickly or without some sort of discussion of how to compensate for lost ridership would be a disaster.
Some tasks like merging transit agencies might make getting to agreement easier and lower costs across the system. Making later discussions easier.
A first step could be for Metrolinx to publish goals for the GTA transit systems with regards to a unified fare (3.50$ base fare, 140$ monthly pass, children ride free, for example) … and then as transit agencies reach those goals they become part of the standard and they become part of the “fare union” – similar to how the EU has brought new countries on board over time … this allows the systems to adopt specific goals over time, rather than all at once.
Steve: Changing the fare also affects the subsidy requirements, although given the lower rate of farebox return in some systems, the effect would not be as great as lowering the fare for TTC riders.
The idea that Metrolinx would set goals is rather amusing considering that this would require the 905 agencies and their supporting Councils to become more pro-transit just to get anywhere near the TTC. The danger with Metrolinx is that the goals and associated financial framework would be set up to avoid hurting the 905, but could do serious damage to the TTC.
I think the Toronto housing market has distorted commuting patterns for sure. It’s a no win situation between the cost of housing in Toronto being so expensive, but the cost of commuting to far flung more affordable areas making up the difference in cost and consuming a lot of time, whether travelling by public transportation or car. It’s a conversation that comes up frequently among a bunch of us at work. Rent in Toronto? Buy in Toronto? Rent elsewhere? Buy elsewhere? All of those are expensive and to some degree there’s a tradeoff between shifting costs between housing (mortgage or rent) and transportation cost.
As Michael Greason pointed out, commuting cost is not a factor considered by the banks when people apply for mortgages. On the other hand, heating costs are. This is definitely causing people to shift costs over to commuting in order to afford places within what the bank’s preapproved them for. Combine this with the way the real estate and banking industries heavily encourage people to spend at the top of their preapproval, I can see a problem happening where people who are carrying the largest mortgage they can could end up in trouble if a decision at Queen’s Park and/or Metrolinx is made to rebalance long distance Go fares and subsidies and a monster of a fare increase is the result, but can’t easily move to cut costs due to what’s involved in selling a house and relocating. As for heating costs being a factor in mortgage approvals, I can say my $72/month Union Gas bill is far less a factor in my finances compared to train fares, so I’m not sure the banks are evaluating the right criteria when considering mortgage applications given how transit, depending on the commute involved, can cost much more.
I agree, but I would add that there are better policy tools available to control sprawl. Second the role of improved commuter transit is largely predicated on the need for equality of opportunity and maximizing the utilization of human resources within the context of economic transformations that favor highly centralized economic activity.
“Public policy has so many competing and contradictory concepts of just what is “fair” that the whole debate becomes almost unresolvable.”
To improve our understanding of what it means to be “fair” would require significantly improved metrics that could quantify the positive and negative externality costs associated with a project or proposal. One can then use standard economic modeling techniques to determine how to maximize human potential while at the same time minimizing cost.
The only reason the issues are unresolved is that they are poorly understood. Where you find ignorance you will find petty partisan parochialism.
Steve: It is ironic that a fundamental part of Metrolinx Business Case Analysis (flawed though it might be) is a larger economic view of a proposal. What economic activity does it generate or support? What social and environmental goals are advanced? And yet fare analysis sits mired in, first, an attempt for a “revenue neutral” solution to a problem that has inherent inbalances.
Turning away from neutrality seems to terrify Metrolinx staff who are unwilling to contemplate the need for added subsidy even though this is fundamental to solving the “cross border” problem. Moreover, they appear to be utterly unaware that the existing inbalance in regional fares actually favours the long trips, not the short ones. The short cross border trips which pay a double fare are a convenient distraction.
It is funny that other systems are moving to a flat rate system. The Hiroshima Electric Railway with fanfare launched a flat rate which reduced the price for everyone. Now for 150 JPY, one can ride from any point to another point. Before, it would range from 100 JPY to 300 JPY depending on the distance. This excludes the Miyajima Line. Flat rate system promotes certain social goals. For example, should a poor person forced to live further away from employment pay more to go to work? Eliminating traffic jams is also a notable social goal. This is why many Japanese cities are looking at a flat rate system in a country where fare by distance rules.
GO is not the only company where long distance riders are paying less. Why does a YYZ to YVR flight costs $600 return when a YYZ to HKG flight costs only $1200 on Air Canada? On the HKG flight, one gets 2 inflight meals, 2 checked bags and free alcohol. On the YVR flight, all that are pay per use. Who is getting screwed?
Another potential thing that could be advocated for – and maybe council should request it from Metrolinx…would be to remove the parking fees that are included within the base cost from rides between stations that do not have parking…this could maybe cut the 5.30$ before distance is included down to 3.30$?
That would make rides between Union, Exhibition, Bloor, Kipling, Danforth, Kennedy and various GoBus stops cheaper…
This would be a goodwill gesture to Torontonians who have been paying for parking even though their stops don’t have (GO Owned) parking lots.
Although their analysis is a noble attempt, it is incomplete and requires improvement. The current analysis does not adequately delineate the relationship between the currently unknown complete net benefits and the level of government that most benefits. The existing model creates the conditions that perpetuate free ridership (no pun intended) among different levels of government. By having a complete understanding of the net benefits received by a respective government the net benefits can be matched to the costs. Given that there are very likely to be significant unpriced socio-economic benefits associated with a project like Smarttrack/RER, a moderate increase in fare subsidy is likely to have a significant return. The problem is that under the current pricing regime nobody can measure it and nobody is willing to pay for it.
Some observations on GO Transit’s costs:
1. There are at least two parts to the cost:
a) capital cost for equipment and facilities
b) operating cost associated with running the trains or buses.
2. Capital costs are a function of peak period demand so the main costs in running off service are only for operating the equipment.
3. Union Station is one end of the trip for over 95% of GO Train riders and it is a very costly structure to run compared to most other station though there will be income generated from the renting of retail space.
4. Parking lots and parking garages eat up a lot of real estate and cost a lot of money. The last couple of garages built where around $43,000 per space.
5. Loading gets heavier the closer you are to Union.
Given the above it would seem that there needs to be more than one part for the fare structure:
There should be a capital cost because no matter how far you ride you require a train and 2 stations so there should be some equity in this part of the fare for all users but since the incremental costs of off peak riders is less than for peak riders there should be some benefit for those who ride off peak. This is partly taken care of on the TTC with pass holders who take short hops in the off peak.
To reduce equipment demands in the rush hour GO should look at operating fewer trains to the end of the line when service demand builds up. They do this to some extent on the Lakeshore lines now and this allows some trains to make a second run. Also passengers who get off before the downtown should get a break on their fare because this frees up capacity for users on the heavier sections of the line and does not add to the congestion at Union.
To encourage car-pooling or alternate means of getting to GO stations, there should be some charge for parking. There would be some complaints about this in the beginning but if it were introduced gradually and with a reduction in the fare it would also make for a more equitable distribution of cost to those who use the facilities. Remember when the TTC re-instituted parking charges for their lots and everyone said users would drive downtown rather than pay the extra cost? It happened for a couple of months then the lots started filling up again. Try parking at one now.
Steve: The capital cost is not recovered on the budgets of GO or TTC. If it were, fares would be astronomical, especially if costs were assigned to specific lines (e.g. the TYSSE) rather than distributed across the system.
True but is still a cost that is paid by society through taxes or the Easter Bunny in the form all those capitalists that are just so eager to throw their money at Toronto and the GTHA’s transit infrastructure. I believe that the costs of building and maintaining it should be reflected in how the fares are calculated while realizing that fares will never cover the construction costs.
Steve: That gets tricky. A goodly chunk of the capital was paid for by federal and provincial taxpayers, but the fares don’t go back to them. Of course, if the line were privately owned, then in theory the investor would reap the rewards, but more likely would ask for a government handout because people would not pay what it would cost to service the capital debt.
The TYSSE costs about $2.6 billion. On a 30-year amortization at 4%, the monthly cost would be over $12 million, or $144 million for the year. That’s about 25 cents for every TTC rider, far more if it is only charged to riders on the line itself. (I used 30 years because by that time a good chunk of the initial investment will require replacement, notably the rolling stock, and the physical plant systems will be lucky to get much beyond that.)
This is a very interesting analysis.
I would like to point out (as I’m sure you’re aware Steve, but may not be obvious to a reader stumbling on this page), that none of the Metrolinx proposals are purely fare by distance. Notably, two of the three proposals maintain a consistent flat fare for all local (bus/streetcar) trips. The remaining proposal envisions very coarse zones for local trips.
Steve: The problem for the “typical” TTC rider is that they don’t distinguish between bus/streetcar rides and the subway. Metrolinx may talk of a flat surface (or “local”) fare, but it’s on the subway that we will get nailed.
Running some quick numbers, of all trips that involve some TTC:
38% are local only (this includes bus connections from the 905)
55% are entirely within 416 and involve some RT. These trips have an average distance of about 9 km.
7% begin in the 905 and involve some RT. These trips have an average distance of about 22 km.
I would wager that somewhere between one half and two thirds of all TTC trips are either local only or are less than 7 km, and would therefore see no change under two of the three proposed schemes.
Steve: The average trip length on the TTC is somewhere in the range of 7-9km, and so half of the ridership faces a higher fare either for distance or mode-based charges. Those riders travelling less than 7km would be overcharged for the trips they make. Metrolinx loves to talk about fare by distance, but are selective in whom it applies to.
Another problem Metrolinx does not address is a multi-modal trip. There is no reason that someone travelling 25km from the 905 should pay a different fare for the component of their journey taken on, say, the Yonge Subway than someone who starts their trip at Finch. Moreover, Metrolinx rather coyly keeps their own buses as part of the “regional” network for fare purposes, while treating services like VIVA as “local” even though they might perform similar functions in places.
The average 905 user travelling 22 km with some portion on RT would continue to pay a higher fare. The small percentage of 905 users who travel by bus/streetcar only (5.3% of total TTC trips) would get a break. Note however that this percentage includes those who currently drive into Toronto to avoid paying a double fare.
Steve: But there is a non-trivial number of journeys that are longer than 7km, especially on the “rapid transit” system. All of these riders within Toronto would face a fare increase for no justifiable reason.
Except that a significant number of trips >7 km are bus or streetcar only, and would not incur a higher fare. And those riders being charged less than 7 km are being overcharged today, so I’m not sure why we’re outraged that they’ll still be overcharged tomorrow?
Steve: My point is that if Metrolinx is rejigging the whole fare structure in the name of “fairness” why do they omit this group? I ask this not because I think these fares should go down, but to point out the inconsistency in the Metrolinx position.
I guess my point is this: While your analysis is very detailed and interesting, I don’t think it’s a fair illustration of the impact of the fare scenarios Metrolinx put forward. It’s difficult to model the nuances of the mode switches, and even a simple question like “how many trips today are <7 km?" cannot be accurately answered from the data they've provided. One would presumably have to get deep into the weeds of the TTS data to get a detailed enough picture.
I wholeheartedly agree with your statement: What is missing in the Metrolinx analysis is a simulation of how various fare structures would operate, and what this would mean for various types of riders. Let’s hope that’s forthcoming so that we can have a more informed conversation.
Steve: That is precisely the point of my article. It was intended to show the kind of effects that arise from simplistic analysis, as well as some of the inconsistencies in the very data Metrolinx cites. They are happy to present a staff summary of this work to their Board, but with no real analysis of the potential effects.
As for mode switches, an underlying premise in all of this hocus pocus about fares (the same methodology has shown up elsewhere) is the assumption that a mode switch is actually feasible for riders. The idea that the magic forces of economic reason will lead them to choose the “best” route totally collapses when there is no choice, and it ignores economic factors beyond the transit network that can dictate where people live.
A critical number buried in the report (I included the illustration in the article) is that a very high proportion of trips in each “market” does not have the option of changing to another one. This should be a huge beacon to anyone trying to sell the economic theory, but they completely miss it and just barrel onward.
All this Metrolinx gobbledygook about fares is the same sort of genius that resulted in UPX empty trains (except when they give it away for free). In the real world people responsible for this kind of screw up would get fired. Only in government do people still get paid generous salaries for failure.
Only in government … What about HP, RIM, Sears, various US & UK Banks, GM, Chrysler, Bombardier, Xerox and the greatest failure in the history of Canadian retailing – Target. Not every failed executive stayed around – but they collected golden parachute payments far beyond anything contemplated in the public sector.
To be fair to civil servants – not all the messes are of their own making. In may cases the failure lies in the civil servants’ attempts to meet the goal of misguided politicians.
Since the UPX has been the equivalent of an upper management pet project, real world examples tend to favour reward over punishment when it comes to a screw up like this.
I was curious how the data differed for trips using “rapid transit” only vs. trips using “rapid transit” and buses/streetcars. I dug around in the TTS database. The transit records allow you to filter by the number of TTC bus/streetcar routes used and the number of TTC subway/RT trips used to complete the trip (as well as the number of GO rail or bus trips used). It also provides information on trip length. Unfortunately this is only in “as the crow flies” rather than the actual route distance, but it’s possible that Metrolinx’s stats also measure distance this way (and appears to be the case given the results, although I can’t say for sure).
I first ran the numbers and found that, of all trips on TTC:
However, I found that there were some very long distance trips because TTS doesn’t measure distance from where you board and alight, but from your ultimate origin and destination point. If you are a park-and-ride or kiss-and-ride passenger, or especially if you’re a GO passenger that uses TTC for the “last mile” downtown, you have an origin or destination well outside Toronto. So I filtered out GO trips and P+R / K+R trips. (This leaves cross-border local transit trips — I left those in because of the talk about fare integration across borders.) When you filter those out, the percentages are more heavily skewed toward surface routes (because most GO and P+R / K+R trips use the subway for at least part of the way):
Here are the results I came up with:
Some of these values vary somewhat from the ones shown in the Metrolinx report because they don’t include trips that do not use TTC, whereas the Metrolinx analysis included all local trips including those staying outside 416.
Note that half of all TTC trips fall outside the “short distance market” length, and 12% fall in the “long distance market” category. 23% of trips involving both surface and RT routes would be considered “long distance”. Again, in fairness, some of these may include cross-border trips from Mississauga Transit, Brampton Transit or YRT. I suppose if I was feeling ambitious I could re-run and limit it to trips starting and ending within 416. However, this leads to another rabbit hole: If Metrolinx is setting up distance based fare zones and wants to base “zone 1” on distance from Union Station, the fact that Union Station is located west of the geographic centre of the City means that either half of Scarborough (and all of Rexdale) is in Zone 2, or eastern Mississauga and Thornhill start to say that they should be in Zone 1 if the zones are truly distance based.
Some other stats on combined GO/TTC usage.
22% of GO rail trips make use of the TTC for part of the journey. Of these, 82% use the subway; 9% use a bus or streetcar; and 9% use both surface and RT routes. For the bus or streetcar component, it wasn’t clear whether those are downtown routes (Union Station end of the trip) or in the suburbs (to get to/from suburban GO stations).
Steve: Thanks for running these numbers.
To be fair, Metrolinx staff are taking the politically palatable path, which is an outcome of the TAC sessions. Unless there is a political plan with multiple level buy-ins, anything that’s going to require money from any government is built with an inherit veto.
Steve: But the pols need to know what the effect of a “do nothing” option will be. You can’t talk about “integration” without detailing its effects. That’s dishonesty, something we usually reserve for the politicians.
However, those incomes would be collected by the City, not Metrolinx.
With a 30-year design life, the daily parking rate should be around $5.50 (assuming a full lot on weekdays and empty on weekends). I think this would shift GO’s “last mile” usage, but overall revenues should be maintained.
Steve: A related point here is that parking lots are, at first anyhow, capital, not operating expenses. Therefore little would be “saved” on the fare base by charging to recover capital costs. However, treating the parking structures as “recoverable debt” (as the city is doing with some of the Union Station financing), would free up capital for other projects.
Whether one operates a transit system or an airline, there are certain fixed costs that will exist whether the trip provided is short or long. Generally, this involves things such as capital costs and day-to-day back-office expenses. However, in the case of an airline, a major cost of providing a flight is fuel consumption and this expense has a fixed and a distance-related portion. The fixed fuel consumption for an airline occurs when a plane takes off.
Given the same size plane with the same weight in passengers and cargo, the flight from YYZ to YVR will have a significantly higher percentage of the fuel cost associated with just getting the plane in the air compared to the YYZ to HKG flight, even considering that the YYZ to HKG flight will burn more fuel to get in the air because it will be heavier due to carrying additional fuel for the longer trip. I suspect that percentage of the cost more than covers the cost of meals and alcohol and the lost revenue of 2 checked bags per passenger.
Transit systems have their fixed costs that make it more economical to provide longer trips. They just don’t have the type of fixed costs that make it possible to provide meals and alcohol. 😉
Steve: Also, unlike airlines, transit systems are usually not trying to pay off their capital costs from net operating profits.
I am not saying that the revenues from fares should pay for the capital costs of parking lots, station structures or equipment but rather that society pays for these along with the operating costs of the service and the fare structure should reflect that total cost. I believe that there should be a fixed part plus a distance travelled part of the fare for GO service. Calculating the balance between those will not be an easy task and my name is not Solomon.
I am also of the opinion that there should be a cost for parking accompanied with a reduction in the GO fares to balance out some of the increased costs to drivers. Those who walk, car pool, get dropped off or take transit would get a break on their costs and it would better reflect the expense to society for providing the parking and other infrastructure. The car driver gets enough unacknowledged subsidies without needing the extra benefit of free parking because the parking is not free as someone is paying for it.
True but I believe that the city owns the actual building through which most of the passengers pass and has paid for a lot of the renovations therefore they should get those revenues.
Despite being in favour of some distance based fare system for GO I do not want [this] for the TTC. The TTC’s function is different from GO’s and the city of Toronto made a decision years ago to have a flat fare system for local transit. If the province tries to force riders in Toronto to pay more to get to work downtown from the outer regions of the 416 the next election will be very interesting. Perhaps we should set up separatist party for Toronto to take it out of the province.
Do other cities that have subways and surface transport charge a premium to ride the subway?
Sorry if this has already been mentioned and I just didn’t catch it.
Steve: Yes, some cities have separate subway and surface fares, but the situation varies from place to place and can be as much a matter of historical development as of a carefully worked-out policy.
Hi Steve… thanks for formatting my list of figures. In looking at it, I realize I inadvertently forgot that you have to be careful when you use “greater than”/”less than” symbols in a field that accepts HTML tags!! Here is what the columns left of “average” are supposed to say.
Steve: I have updated the table in your original comment with the correct info.
Steve, you’ve written a lot of material about the Metrolinx study, and I’d really love to hear your thoughts about [how] you think fare integration should work. Are chance of a post about that?
Steve: Not a post because as I said in the article, there isn’t enough background material to give a definitive idea of how specific structures would affect various classes of riders.
That said, I believe that the approach Metrolinx is taking is needlessly complex. The “squeaky wheel” here is the cross-border rider who makes only a short trip on the “other side” of the line. A lesser impetus, although politically more important, is how to square the Tory claim that SmartTrack will operate at “TTC” fares even though it might be indistinguishable from GO service. The Metrolinx solution is to raise rapid transit fares, something for which there is no justification.
My “solution”? On cross-border fares, make the co-fare much smaller so that the border isn’t a barrier. Why is it that we can happily talk about zones, but not about co-fares? Implement a co-fare between GO and TTC.
As for SmartTrack (and possibly an urban commuter version of UPX), GO needs to reprice itself for short trips. In other words, my approach would be to bring GO fares down to reasonable levels within the 416 rather than inflating subway fares so that they would match GO/SmartTrack fares.
Without question, this will affect cost recovery, and additional subsidy will be required. Metrolinx is stuck on a zero net revenue model which simply cannot be made to work. The whole idea of trying to define what is “local”, “rapid transit” and “regional” will completely fall apart if we build all of the map of “rapid transit” that the city would like to see in 15 years, let alone the Metrolinx projects in the 905.
But if the motto is “saving taxpayer dollars”, then we won’t spent more to support transit, we won’t attract more drivers out of cars, and we will penalize the majority of transit users within Toronto who already support and attempt to use the TTC in spite of its problems. Queen’s Park has to make up its mind which banner they want to stand in front of for the photo ops.
The ideal end-solution from my POV won’t be found using Metrolinx’s criteria. The only way to make Toronto transit integrate seamlessly is through significant subsidies from Metrolinx to local transit agencies, which Steve points out here and elsewhere.
Ideally, when riders cross borders or change like transit services, they shouldn’t have to pay an increased fare. Doing so creates unnecessary economic distortion, because borders are often fairly topographically arbitrary (and certainly this is the case in Toronto).
Given that operations are also paid for through property taxes, I’d also like to reduce the subsidy that riders receive when they cross borders between transit authorities (the best example being 905 commuters using TTC services). Using Metrolinx, this needn’t be inconsistent with avoiding extra fares for passengers, nor exacerbate the issue of price cliffs at borders, particularly at the 416/905 border.
To handle the income tax subsidy:
– Presto cards, where feasible, should be associated with an address (residence or associated CC billing address).
– When a traveller takes a trip or trip portion with a transit authority (TA) other than their ‘home’ TA, Metrolinx remits a subsidy to the TA to account for the portion paid by the TA’s ratepayers.
– When a traveller enters a TA vehicle or station outside of its boundaries (e.g. TTC stations and buses in the 905), an additional payment is made by either Metrolinx or the local TA to the ‘foreign’ TA. Some assumptions need to be made about where the trip is going, but these are fairly straightforward, given the nature of cross-border services. Other arrangements are possible (e.g. flat rate for running the bus route). The key however is that travellers are not paying a premium for carriage over a border, and the carrying TA isn’t out any money either for extending beyond its borders.
To handle the border price cliff:
When a traveler takes a trip using the vehicles of more than one transit authority (TA), the following should happen when they tap onto the 2nd service:
– the traveller gets a greatly reduced co-fare, or the fare is entirely waived
– Metrolinx pays the TA the amount it is ‘out’
The benefits of these arrangements is that it doesn’t penalize TAs to offer service to non-residents, nor to service areas outside of their ‘home’ municipalities. This should promote better optimization of routes and more cross-border connections.
This of course leaves ‘regional’ transit (read: GO) to fare-by-distance, which means that it will create some perverse corner cases where GO or local transit is better. So be it. I agree with Steve that making local trips lower in cost will help.
What there really isn’t a place for is extra fees for ‘rapid transit’. The only place I can see it as less than totally unworkable is having tap-on tap-off at new TTC stations outside the 416, but even then it is still working against the border cliff issue.
Steve’s last comment about Queen’s Park has to make up its mind – there’s a lot of blindness about just how much avoided cost and subsidy cars get, that older figure of $2700 p.a. from Vancouver is actually middle of the pack for a set of estimates from 20-ish years ago. So, as transit is overall lighter on all of us, the way forward presumably is to ensure more of a cash flow from the motorists, so if we had another few cents of gasoline tax directed to TTC/GO, that might be far more of a real fix than what’s lurking with this possible set of fare changes. And I’m grateful for all of the info and commentary to help me wade through some of the problems, not that I’m completely understanding it all yet – it makes some sense to have a fare-by-distance, but there’s a lot of reasons not to do it too.
With current prices in Ontario, gas is $0.53 plus $0.351 in tax, so that’s a 66.3% tax rate. A $0.02 addition would only raise around $310M. Once you split that between the TTC, GO, and other local transit providers, you probably get $155M of that for the TTC, which would be 8.6% of the current operating budget or 0.75% of the 10-year ‘overall capital budget’ of $20.6B.
Eliminating the shroud of subsidy for car usage is good, but more gas tax won’t balance the scales.
The more I read suggestions about how fares should be charged, I still come back to my basic suggestion that I have been saying for years and have not had the need to update in nearly four years.
It is important to address the balance between needing to encourage longer distance commuters to use transit while not making shorter distance commuters feel they are paying the way for the longer distance commuters. No plan will satisfy everyone, but there are ways to keep it as simple as possible while attempting to strike a balance between the two.
You can read the details at the link above, but the suggestions rests on five concepts needed together:
1) Unified Fare Structure with Time-based Fares
2) Overlapping Zone Boundaries
3) Zone Supplement Fares
4) Integration with GO Transit
5) “City Saver” (Local) Discount Fares
Steve: For the benefit of Metrolinx and their consultants, Calvin uses “time based fares” to mean a block of time, e.g. the two hour transfer, and not the bastardization Metrolinx talks of whereby fares are based on the journey length measured on the clock. Metrolinx has consistently misrepresented “time based fares” in order to discard them from options under review, while mentioning in the fine print that a time based transfer might be a local option. This verges on dishonesty because they use a definition different from common usage.
I agree with the general statement. Fare by distance is just a poor metric to use, but it is more than that. It is not ‘fair’ or ‘accurate’.
Taking the subway 1 stop doesn’t make you any cheaper to service than taking the subway 30 stops.
The major costs of running a transit system are there in either case. The driver must be paid. The vehicle must be paid for. The tracks must be built. The stations must be maintained…
This is very much like the internet, where once the infrastructure is in place, the cost to the ISP to service you has little to do with how much you use it. (nitpickers, insert things about peering agreements, congestion…)
This doesn’t mean distance shouldn’t be used at all. It can be used to capture revenue, control usage/congestion… But I do think since distance isn’t a direct factor in the cost of the service on a per ride basis, that we should be careful with it so that we don’t discourage transit usage for no good reason.
That’s nice if you have a credit card and a house. I hope you don’t wind up in the bread line where we will fill out endless forms, avow that we are not no-good moochers and beg for the “if not feasible” cards so that we can have a place next to the kindly rich folk on the train.
Better still, transit users should be required to tap in and out of their homes on every trip.
This will supply crucially-important data without which the TTC and Metrolinx will be utterly unable to plan service.
(I can’t help wondering whether someone actually suggested this internally, and was shot down only because of the high cost.)
Steve: Considering the degree to which the TTC is unable to provide adequate service even using the simple expedient of looking at vehicles to see whether they are full, the “big data” Presto implementation is laughable. For many years, TTC said they were going to install automatic passenger counters in a subset of the fleet and rotate these vehicles around the system. If there was any benefit from this, it is never mentioned in their reports.
Tap out data is a red herring used to “justify” a practice essential for fare by distance billing. Can we just be honest enough to say so rather than concocting fairy tales about detailed ridership patterns?
Since 95% of riders will get back on the system where they got off it should not take a computing science genius to figure out how to get this data from the “tap ons.” Hell, I could probably figure out how to do it. There maybe some people, especially those who live between Kingston Rd. and Queen or Gerrard and Kingston Rd. who might walk down hill to one line in the morning and down hill from another in the evening to avoid climbing up hill but they should not throw the count of that much. I actually knew someone who did this.
Any charge by distance is going to require tap-on tap-off.
I recall a screw-up my daughter had that left her stranded in Barrie and I had to drive up there to get her.
A failed tap-off drained her card leaving her no way to get home. She has never used the Presto card since.
From the Presto call center responses this was obviously a frequent problem. Multiply this by the number of TTC customers and the issue could be horrendous.
Steve: It is intriguing that Presto does not publish any stats on the frequency of various types of failures, assuming they even have some way of knowing what this might be. When you’re a little one-horse shop carrying about 200k trips a day, many of which are pre-defined “standard” trips on accounts, the number of exceptions will be low. When they ramp up to a 1.7 million trips/day, even with a large number of “passholders”, there will still be vastly more unique trips to be tracked.