GO/TTC Co-Fares: A Glass Half Full

Today, October 6, 2017, the Government of Ontario announced that there would be a $1.50 co-fare between GO Transit and the TTC. This long-overdue change begins, but does not fully address, problems faced by transit riders who cross the City’s border and faced a full extra fare to ride on two separate transit systems.

Ontario is lowering the cost of commuting for people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) by introducing a 50 per cent discount for PRESTO card users who transfer between GO Transit or the Union Pearson Express (UP Express) and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), in both directions.

Premier Kathleen Wynne was at Union Station in Toronto today to announce that adult, senior and youth/student TTC riders will pay a TTC fare of just $1.50 when they use a PRESTO card to transfer to or from GO Transit or the UP Express. The discount will launch in January 2018, shortly after the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension will begin service to six new stations. For people whose regular commute includes GO/UP Express-TTC transfers, this step towards regional fare integration and more affordable transit options will save about $720 per year. [Ontario government press release]

For some types of trips, this is “good news”, but it is far from the panacea some, notably Mayor Tory, touts:

“Thanks to bold leadership at City Hall and Queen’s Park, we have found a way to give a discount to those who use a mix of our transit systems. Transit will now be more affordable for Toronto residents who ride a mix of the TTC, UP Express and GO Transit to get around the city. This agreement also moves us a step closer to make sure that SmartTrack will cost Toronto residents the same as the TTC. We need to make sure that the transit we are building and maintaining remains affordable.” [From the press release]

The primary beneficiaries of this change will be GO Transit commuters who can now use the TTC to and from a Toronto GO station (most likely Union) for the “city” end of their journeys. That $720/year saving translates to 240 round trips at $3 each. That’s 48 weeks’ worth of travel taking into account at least two weeks of vacation plus an equal number of statutory holidays.

To put this into context, the annual cost of commuting by GO from Oakville to Union is about $3,400. Someone who now uses TTC for their city trip (say from Union to Queen’s Park) would pay $1,440 in TTC fares at $3 each making a total of $4,840 for both systems. The new discount will save about 15%. Conversely someone who now walks from Union has the TTC option at a lower marginal cost than before.

This is a good deal, as far as it goes, for GO Transit riders, but the story is much different for other travellers.

Cross-boundary Travel on Local Bus Systems

Riders from Mississauga, Brampton, York Region and Durham Region transit systems will still pay two fares to cross the boundary to or from Toronto.

This will apply to riders entering the new Spadina subway extension, even if they travel to stops north of Steeles Avenue or to York University, now served directly by YRT buses.

Metropass Users

The discount only applies to riders who pay the full TTC adult fare via Presto ($3.00). Passholders will not receive any discount. This is a benefit to those who use GO a lot, and the TTC less so.

  • Cost of a monthly pass (on discount program): $134
  • Cost of 40 co-fare trips at $1.50 each: $60
  • Cost of 20 full fare trips at $3.00 each: $60
  • Total cost: $120

If the number of TTC-only trips goes up, say to 25, the combined cost ($135) would exceed the value of a Metropass.

Students and Seniors

This group of riders already travels at a reduced fare of $2.05 if they are using Presto. The discount to a $1.50 co-fare does not represent as much of a saving to them as it does to “adult” riders. This will also be true for any new group to whom reduced fares are offered such as ODSP recipients.

TTC-GO Trips Within Toronto

For riders who now attempt to make trips using both services inside Toronto, the co-fare will represent a discount over their current pricing. However, the high cost of travelling by GO will remain a large barrier to people who might move from an all-TTC route to a TTC-GO route.

For example, the monthly cost of travel using Presto from Agincourt to Union Station is $223.25 (based on 40 trips/month). Assuming that a rider will save $60 per month on TTC fares, this would still be an increase of over $160/month to commute from Scarborough to downtown via TTC and GO. That is not exactly the “equal to TTC fare” goal of John Tory’s SmartTrack, and it is unclear just who will step up to pay the subsidy needed to make it so.

Moreover, someone who is already a frequent TTC rider is also likely a passholder, and it may not be worth their while to trade in the capped price of a Metropass to “enjoy” the co-fare available on GO.

Because of inconsistencies in GO fares, the situation at Mimico is different because the monthly GO cost is only $177.70. Even so, this remains a substantial premium over a pure TTC fare, and  puts this option well beyond the means of many TTC riders.

Finally, many GO stations in Toronto are difficult to reach by transit or have only limited service. This is another barrier to “integrated” travel on GO and the TTC.

This co-fare and its subsidy are a beginning, but only a small one, toward the dual goals of reducing cross-border fare premiums and making GO more affordable within Toronto. A small cake and a few balloons may be an appropriate celebration, but hold the champagne.


Navigating the TTC’s Ten Year Capital Plan 2018-27

Recently I wrote a piece for the Torontoist site “TTC Budget Woes Deepen” to give an overview of the major issues facing the TTC and the City of Toronto as it goes into the annual round of budget talks facing a huge mound of transit spending.

This article is rather long, and is intended to go into more detail for readers who want to know how the budget works, and how the various reports and tables fit together.

There are three documents containing the initial version of the ten year plan:

Some of the information is not presented in the same format in each report, and this can be confusing even to a veteran budget reader. There are valid reasons for this, in some cases, because different information is excerpted to tell different parts of the overall story. Where this happens, I will try to sort out the numbers.

A major problem with the TTC’s budget and plan is the ever-growing list of “unfunded” projects. There are now at least five groups:

  • Projects that are officially in the “base budget” but for which no funding has been identified ($2.273 billion)
  • New projects that are not in the base, but which are shown in the chart of funding sources as a contribution to the shortfall ($1.05 billion).
  • Changes in scope of existing projects for which there is no funding ($128 million).
  • Additional projects that do not exist in any of the lists ($2.216 billion).
  • Projects listed in the detailed budget, but with spending planned (if it is shown at all) beyond the 2018-2027 plan’s window.

This backlog represents almost as much as the “funded” portion of the budget, and the absence of clear information on the need for, timing and priority of these projects is a huge gap in the information presented to the Commission and to Council. Changes in the timing of any of these projects and/or the need to move them into “funded” status will have a domino effect through the entire TTC and City budgets by bringing costs into years where funding is not now available.

This list does not include any major rapid transit projects such as the Scarborough Subway (SSE), the Relief Line (RL), SmartTrack (a City project separate from the TTC’s budget) or the LRT expansions on the Waterfront West or Eglinton East (once part of the Scarborough “package”). Only the SSE has “funding” in the sense that resources from three governments are earmarked to build it, but this project could still run aground if the costs at 30% design come in higher than the current estimate.

Note: In various places in this article, I quote the TTC’s responses to questions about details of the budget. These were supplied by Brad Ross, Executive Director of Corporate Communications, from TTC staff. Thanks to Brad for this.

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