Updated April 29, 2016 at 9:00 am: Information added about the joint meeting.
The joint meeting of the Metrolinx and TTC boards was something of a love-in with much generous praise of each other’s organization and shows of “working together” with joint presentations on major issues. In his opening remarks, TTC Chair Josh Colle noted that although the two organizations had similar goals, there would be times when the TTC and Toronto Council would not agree with Metrolinx. It is too early to tell whether cracks began to form in the building foundations at Union Station where the normal state of Metrolinx meetings is sunny and the concept of disagreement is banished in the (usually) well-managed agendas.
A substantial chunk of the meeting was consumed with opening remarks and overviews of the two organizations by their respective CEOs. At an initial meeting, this might be expected, but it follows a distressing pattern where substantive discussion is pre-empted by management back-patting eating into the limited time available. The idea that Metrolinx and TTC Board members would need an overview of each other’s current activities says much about the degree to which each board is informed about transit in the GTHA in general. (One might make a similar observation about some board members with respect to their own agencies, but that’s another topic.)
The TTC made a point of citing their own ridership numbers and, by implication, the scale of their operation (not to mention its longevity) compared to Metrolinx. For its part, Metrolinx noted that it has just reached 10 years of age, but completely forgot that GO Transit has been around for almost 50 years.
Cross-border travel at 58 million rides per year might increase by as much as 8 million with some form of TTC/GO/905 fare integration and the removal of the boundary between TTC and other systems, but this would still only bring the cross-border total to about 12% of the TTC’s total ridership. The main benefit of fare integration would be to reduce fares for existing riders.
In his opening presentation, TTC CEO Andy Byford dwelt at length on five “megaprojects” within the TTC, and showed a list of other major improvements in the hopper (see p34 of the presentation). All of these have been implemented at least to some degree except for Time-Based Transfers, and the idea has been sidelined for the moment in part because it is perceived to be too expensive by some city politicians. The most recent word on the subject was in a December 2015 update on fare policy:
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 Fare 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. [pp. 2-3]
This is something of a Catch-22 because transfer rules are obviously part of any overall fare strategy – they affect the attractiveness of transit for multiple “short hops” on a single fare without the need to own a Metropass (or some equivalent). Moreover, the ability to make many short trips on one fare speaks to the problem of “trip chaining” often cited in debates about bias in fare policy towards longer commute journeys and against the type of travel more common to the un- and under-employed.
Transfer rules across the GTHA should be part of any “fare integration”, and yet the topic has been completely ignored in Metrolinx work to date. Metrolinx sloughs off the topic claiming that these are local policies, not regional issues, forgetting that regional planning is impossible without considering local effects.
During the update presentation, TTC’s Deputy CEO Chris Upfold noted that the TTC network is an integrated design with free movement between routes and modes. Josh Colle gave as an example the St. Clair streetcar which runs directly into two subway stations and talked of how the system would have to be “de-integrated” to accommodate a separate fare for subway travel.
Metrolinx Chief Planning Officer Leslie Woo replied that the concepts in the study are only for analysis with a business case, economic and operating impact studies to follow. Considering how long the study has been underway (see main article), one might think that economic and operating impacts would have been an integral part of early analysis to determine whether options were viable. Instead, Metrolinx forged onward with its preferred view of fare structures strongly leaning to a distance and class-based tariff ignoring the issues for transit operations, not to mention the potential effect on riders. Again, the blinkered view of an agency with relatively small ridership and a uniform demographic precluded consideration of the effect on an operation ten times its size serving much more complex travel patterns.
TTC Commissioner Shelley Carroll asked about reports to come in fall 2016, and their implication for actual implementation of new fares. Woo replied that Metrolinx is very open to meeting with area Councils, agencies and transit management. That reply dodges the basic problem that Metrolinx has acted as the gorilla in the room in its dealings with local transit agencies, and the threat of losing provincial subsidy always hangs over municipalities who don’t sing from the Metrolinx songbook.
Chris Upfold stated that the TTC Board and Toronto Council need to take a position on fare integration. He suggested that this cannot happen until something is actually proposed, and nothing is going to happen to fares within 2016. That’s all very well, but Metrolinx history shows that once a proposal emerges from staff, it acquires the endorsement of a provincial agency and is cast, if not in stone, in very fast-setting concrete and is almost impossible to change. Toronto needs to understand what a new tariff would actually look like in order to take an informed position. Otherwise, the process is nothing but endless rounds of approving “principles” that could have far-reaching effects. “Equity” to one person might mean time-based transfers (in effect limited-time passes), while to another might mean fares charged by distance and class of service.
“We can leave the decision to later” is a recipe for Metrolinx cooking up a tariff and claiming that Toronto (or other cities) don’t object when the process precludes such objections until after the tariff is fixed. This is the same cart-before-horse process we see in transit project assessments (mini-Environmental Assessments) where early decisions discard options that are almost impossible to reinstate later even if the early work is shown to be flawed or outdated.
Metrolinx Board Member Iain Dobson asked why we couldn’t just “do something, somewhere” such as eliminating the Mississauga/Toronto fare boundary as a trial. Upfold replied that Presto would have to be in place for this (so that fares paid on one system would be valid on the connecting legs of a journey), and that there would be a need to fund such a reduction in fares for the affected riders. The fact that both agencies have had paper transfers for ages and could simply adopt a policy of accepting each other’s as a valid fare seems to escape him.
TTC Commissioner Joe Mihevc noted that “fare integration” is one of those areas where the mandates and outlooks of the regional and local agencies and councils will not align. Toronto residents may not be happy with using the TTC to support lower fares for the 905.
Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard opined that a $40 million cost to provide an integrated fare is not much of a problem. He should talk to his good friend, John Tory, for whom this amount is more than a 1% tax increase, and who has torpedoed much less expensive transit initiatives through TTC budget cuts.
TTC Vice Chair Alan Heisey remarked that Toronto already subsidizes the 905 by about $50 million annually through the TTC operating subsidy, and Commissioner Rick Byers reiterated that the TTC already has the lion’s share of the region’s transit ridership.
Prichard ended the discussion saying that we don’t know what the right answers are now. One might ask “why” considering how long his staff have been working on the question.
In the media scrum following the meeting, Josh Colle was asked whether subway riders should worry that their fares are going up. He replied that, no, this should not be a concern and gave as strong an indication as any we have seen to date that the whole “subway fare zone” concept is dead in the water. It is amazing what a little political realism can bring to a debate.
As I have said in other forums, I would love to attend a public meeting where the Scarborough MPPs and Councillors (not to mention the well-meaning social activists on the Metrolinx Board) explain to their constituents how they will get a shiny new subway, but will have to pay more to ride it while commuters from Markham enjoy lower fares.
Original article (April 25, 2016):
The TTC and Metrolinx boards will meet in a joint session on the evening of April 27, 2016. Among the items to be discussed is an update on the Fare Integration study that has been underway for some time between these agencies and other GTHA operators.
Based on discussions at recent Toronto Council and TTC meetings regarding the “motherlode of reports” that will hit Council in June on a wide variety of transit issues, one might have expected something definitive about Fare Integration. Alas, this will not be so as the projected date is now in fall 2016. That poses a challenge for discussions of SmartTrack (ST) which depends strongly on integration with the TTC network and fare structure for its attractiveness. Of course, given that ST has dwindled to no more than a few stations added to what the GO Regional Express Rail (RER) would provide anyhow, the point may be moot. However, as long as we pretend that ST is a going concern, then its fare structure remains an issue for debate.
Chris Selley in the National Post wrote recently about the importance of Fare Integration and the political minefield it represents. Recently we have seen just how badly Metrolinx can screw up its planning with the botched implementation of the UPX service to Pearson Airport. The idea of Fare Integration has been around for some time, but discussions have always been quite general on matters of principle and general concepts with no explicit examples of how various schemes might affect riders or subsidy requirements.
It is worth reviewing the history of reports to the Metrolinx Board on this subject.
December 2013 : Fare and Service Integration Work Plan Overview
This report claimed an aggressive schedule:
- Winter 2013/14:
- Global Practice Review
- Needs and Opportunities
- Summer/Fall 2014
- Quick Wins
- Summer 2014
- Regional Service Structure
- Fall 2014
- Fare Policy
- Fall 2015
- Service Implementation Strategy
- Fare Implementation Plan
It is now Spring 2016 and we do not even have a fare policy yet beyond general principles let alone any definitive tariff proposals or implementation plan, or at least nothing for public consumption.
December 2014 : Status report includes mention of a September 11, 2014 Metrolinx Transit Leaders Forum that included “discussions on harmonization of concession fare policies across the GTHA”. That is hardly a fully worked out fare policy.
(The only mention of a regional service structure in reports since 2013 has been occasional reference to integration of cross-boundary paratransit services. Nothing has been reported on “regular” transit integration.)
March 2015 : Toward a Regional Fare Policy : This report reviews the major themes that would emerge with more detail over the next year on various fare options. At this point it was quite clear that Metrolinx was heading toward some form of zoned or distance based fares including provision for different classes of service. Although there were few specifics, there were some overall principles:
- Governance and fare setting responsibility
- Role of municipal transit providers and municipalities
- Phasing-in and transitional options and costs
- Stakeholder concerns, including the impact of the options on various customer groups
Current Evaluation of GTHA Fare Models
- Assess suitability to the GTHA using high-level indicators
- Examining four base models and two hybrid scenarios
- Evaluate impacts of each model using current transit networks by identifying impacts on fares, fare revenues and ridership
- Select two options for further analysis
- Further detailed analysis using GGHM model, including RER operations, future land use and more extensive service integration
- Develop Business Case Evaluation and determine preferred fare policy / structure
- Assess potential fare structures in the GTHA context
- Use the analysis to inform the RER analysis
- Develop a stakeholder engagement plan
- Report back with more detail in summer 2015
Of particular interest are the points about fares, fare structures and revenues. Nothing produced to date has addressed these issues.
June 2015 : A status update at this meeting reported:
- Evaluation of alternative GTHA fare strategies is underway, refining the list of alternatives previously developed. A meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee of municipal representatives in June will address the refined options and issues to consider in the evaluation.
- A progress update on Regional Fare and Service Integration is to be presented to the Board at this meeting.
However, if there was a progress update, there is nothing in the public agenda.
Meanwhile, over at the TTC it was clear that management was making provision for new fare structures and for a possible separation of fares for subway travel from the surface system. This took place with no discussion at Council about a new fare structure, and the entire SmartTrack debate continued on the assumption that a “TTC fare” for SmartTrack meant free transfers between all modes.
Over the course of various meetings, TTC and City staff have engaged in a bit of sophistry on this point claiming that a “TTC fare” would be whatever the then-tariff implied, and if there were service class based fares, then that’s what ST would have. This does not align with the fact that ST demand modelling has presumed the existing TTC flat fare structure with no penalty for changing between modes.
September 2015 : GTHA Fare Integration : By the time this report appeared, many fare structure options had been discarded. Most importantly, the concept of “multiple service categories” was common to all remaining options. This choice is essential to maintaining the relatively high cost (and associated cost recovery) of the GO Transit system. However, whether this should be extended “down” into local services including subways, LRT and BRT routes is quite another matter.
Explicitly rejected was “travel time” based fares, although Metrolinx has always claimed that the “time based transfer” is a separate concept from the actual fares, and that this would be a local option. Needless to say, this confuses the whole idea of a “regional” fare structure where a “two hour fare” purchased in York Region could be valid across boundaries.
- Metrolinx Fare Integration Study: Heading to a Foregone Conclusion?
- Metrolinx Fare Integration Backgrounders
The report concludes with:
Next Step: Detailed Analysis of Fare Structure Types
- The detailed analysis of the Fare Structure Types will address:
- Service categories, including number and which types of service to be included in each
- Fare structure for each service category
- Zone number and design (for applicable structures)
- Price structures
- Transfer policies
- Consultation with municipalities and other stakeholders and public outreach planned for key decision points
- Winter 2016: Consultation and outreach
- Spring 2016: Report to Metrolinx Board of Directors:
- Recommended GTHA Fare Integration (addressing fare treatment of service types, length of trip and transfers) as a potential transformational implementation
- Ongoing: GTHA agreements on concession definitions, fare products, concession discounts
The only “consultation and outreach” to date has been part of the joint City/TTC/Metrolinx planning presentations leading to the March 2016 Council reports. These contained no additional information on detailed analysis of fare structures.
Moreover, the only “Spring 2016” report to the Metrolinx Board we have seen to date contains no recommendations.
December 2015 : The only reference to Fare Integration is in a status update indicating that work with GTHA municipalities continues.
February 2016 : GTHA Fare Integration : This report contained more detail including the concept of three different types of fares related to distance travelled and service class, but still without worked examples to show what the actual effect of the proposed changes would be on specific fare levels.
- Metrolinx Fare Integration: Get Ready to Pay More For Subway Trips
- Metrolinx Fare Integration Background Study: February 2016 Update
- What Would Fare By Distance Mean For Toronto?
- What Is The TTC Policy on Fares?
The “Next Steps” section gives the tantalizing hope we might see specifics in the near future.
- January-April 2016: Consultation on concepts as input to evaluation
- January-May 2016: Concept Analysis and Evaluation
- Refinement of concepts (Impacts of different zone sizes, transfer policies, pricing structures)
- Evaluation of concepts using objective-driven framework
- June 2016: Report findings and preferred fare structure
- Summer/Fall 2016: Assess additional fare structure elements and implementation considerations
April 2016 : GTHA Fare Integration
This report continues the long series of updates which do not actually tell us what a new fare structure will look like and who it will affect.
Among the points noted in the report:
- Early estimates suggest that a discounted or free cross-boundary fare may result in 3-6 million new cross-boundary transit trips yearly
- Early estimates suggest that a discounted or free transfer between GO and TTC at current GO fares may generate between 0.7 and 2 million new transit trips annually at current transit service levels.
This is not exactly a vast increase in transit trips relative to overall TTC demand, and moreover it does not speak to the savings, such as they might be, for the 42m riders who already make this type of journey. That, of course, depends on what the new tariff looks like, and if the tariff affects existing inside-416 TTC riders, the effect is on a much larger scale than the cross-border commuters. Those “early estimates” imply that fare integration would add from 3.7 to 8 million new transit trips, but with the important caveat “at current transit service levels”.
The primary beneficiaries of fare integration, at least in the short term, would be existing riders, but improved service could be expected to bring more. The obvious question is “who will pay for the additional service”?
The report goes on to talk about SmartTrack and RER talking about the need for competitive fares and full integration with the TTC network. Exactly what that integration would look like is not discussed.
A number of issues fall under “Key Considerations” and give some hint that the real world of TTC operations, system design and fare structure (not to mention political considerations) has finally intruded into Metrolinx planning.
A comprehensive evaluation framework, developed with extensive input from GTHA transit agencies, will be applied to evaluating fare structures. Aspects of particular interest in Toronto include:
- Customer Impacts
- Impacts on ridership, specific markets such as SmartTrack ridership, Line 1 subway capacity, etc
- Consistency of customer fare experience across the GTHA and on the integrated TTC bus and subway network
- Impacts on different trip lengths
- Implementation Practicalities
- Impact of tap-on tap-off fare collection system and transit operations
- Preservation of convenient intermodal transfers
- Supporting network design with bus feeding subway
- Financial Sustainability
- Revenue and ridership
- Funding arrangements
Over the next two months, there will be “optimisation and evaluation of concepts” including consultation with the public, transit and city management. A technical update to the Metrolinx Bune 2016 Board meeting will be followed by “Complete business case analysis and evaluation to determine preferred option” over the summer of 2016.
- Fare structure findings, reflecting input from the GTHA municipalities, including the TTC Board, will be presented to the Metrolinx Board in fall, 2016 for consideration as advice to the Ministry of Transportation
- Metrolinx and MTO will investigate the feasibility of implementation in consultation with municipalities, addressing issues such as
- Impacts on ridership and service
- Impacts on revenue and financial sustainability
- Impact on decision-making structures and governance
- An implementation plan will be developed by Metrolinx and MTO for review and decision-making by the Provincial government and municipalities.
From the UPX debacle, we know that Metrolinx is very good at ignoring the obvious until they are forced by external circumstances to wake up to the real world in which they operate. Does Queen’s Park propose that Metrolinx will implement a new structure by a provincial dictate, possibly backed up by a threat to withdraw transit subsidies if the municipalities don’t play along? That is, after all, how they forced the adoption of Presto by linking subsidies to implementation of their fare collection technology.
“Impacts on ridership and service” cannot be calculated without tariff proposals, and it is long, long overdue for Metrolinx to put something in writing on this score. How can municipalities possibly provide input about a new fare structure with no background on what it would look like, how it would be funded or how it would affect various types of trips within the GTHA? Metrolinx has gone out of its way during the entire study of fare integration to avoid specifics, probably because they know the firestorm that would result.
Who is responsible for this obfuscation? Metrolinx management? The Board? The Minister? The Premier?
With UPX it was clear that it suited an agenda somewhere for the real effect of the high proposed fares to be misrepresented as the result of careful research even when, as we now know, many consultant studies showed that the high fares would result in low ridership.
Can we trust Metrolinx to be honest about its fare integration plans?