In May 1980, the TTC introduced the Metropass giving riders the option of paying a flat fare for one month of unlimited travel. Management had resisted the idea of a pass with the classic “it won’t work here” argument. Toronto was finally embarrassed into implementing a pass when Hamilton (a working-class burg at the west end of Lake Ontario always seen as inferior to Toronto) brought in a pass. The idea that passes were some sort of unintelligible, unenforceable foreign scheme collapsed under its own stupidity.
The TTC was really fighting the idea that riders should get a discount for using transit more. For decades afterward Metropasses became the workhorse of TTC fares, the idea persisted that passholders were freeloaders on the system. This attitude continues to infect debates over flat fares versus distance or zone-based ones when the real issue is to get more people out of cars and onto transit. “Paying your fair share” rarely includes the avoided cost of building and operating a road network, let alone the economic benefits of a mobile population.
It is ironic that GO Transit, founded in 1967, was established on the premise that carrying people on trains avoided massive expressway construction as well as the personal cost and time of driving into the city. This was a rare time when the cost of providing transit was seen as a way of avoiding the much higher cost (in dollars, physical upheaval and the inevitable future congestion) of continued road-building. Debates over transit funding, fares and service have rarely been this enlightened.
The Metropass now becomes part of TTC fare history with its replacement by Presto.
Metrolinx should have begun the migration years ago to “open payment” (accepting any media), but the government and management of the day preferred to hobble along with their existing structure and attempt to fit new functionalities into a “next generation” of Presto. They are now experimenting with a smart phone app providing equivalent functions to their card, and talk openly of a move away from a proprietary card to the use of any identification system such as a credit card or app. This will require a complete rethink of Presto’s “back office” functions, but will bring much more flexibility in fare plans and billing if the political will ever exists to implement this.
The problem of pricing and of fares generally is much more than a technology issue although both the limitations and potential of electronic fare collection have been used to argue for and against various schemes. Incentives and barriers to transit use exist in the tariff region-wide, but changes have much more to do with the eternal question “who pays” rather than the fare technology. Years ago, Toronto abolished its two-zone fare structure valuing the ability to travel anywhere for one price over the premise that riders between the suburbs and the core should pay more because they “used” more of the transit system. More recently, the move to the “two hour transfer” on Presto recognizes that a transit “trip” legitimately may be broken up in small segments and riders should not be penalized for hop-on, hop-off travel as they have been for over a century.
This post includes a selection of Metropasses over the years. Recently, the Star ran a piece on Nathan Ng who is working on a site to present all of the passes from May 1980 to December 2018 drawing on my own and others’ collections. (He is missing three years in the mid-90s when I was buying annual passes.) Ng’s other sites include Station Fixation which details every station on the TTC system, Historical Maps of Toronto and the invaluable Goad’s Atlas of Toronto — Online! in which one can quickly become lost for hours exploring the city as it once was.
At its debut, the monthly pass was priced at the equivalent of 52 token fares which gave us a $26 pass. This price quickly escalated as the TTC’s fares and finances faced the stresses of the early 1980s. This was a period which saw the first Gulf Oil crisis, and the economic downturn brought an end to a long period of effortless growth of ridership on the TTC. Management had never dealt with a system where riders stopped showing up, and this brought the onset of “adjusting service to meet demand”, a polite way of saying “cutting service to the level we can afford”.
Despite repeated fare freezes as well as shifts in the “multiple” for pass pricing (the number of token fares represented by a pass), the actual price has risen over four decades at a quite uniform rate as the chart below shows. Fast growth in pass prices in the first decade follow the same overall trend through pricing right up to 2018. Each freeze has been followed by a jump in pricing that returns the line to the same slope it has been on since 1980. The price today, at $146.25, is 5.63 times the 1980 price of $26.
Fares rose quickly as the samples of 1980 to 1984 show (the usual price change was in February following the adoption of a new budget and fare scheme in December of the previous year) with an increase of 40% in just four years.
The escalation continued and by 1989, the price was up to $49, almost double in the course of a decade.
In 1990, there was a change in the format of the pass. Previously passes had been slips of paper that a rider would insert into a plastic sleeve accompanied by photo id. The spaces where “ME7944” appears on most of the passes above holds the ID number from the photo portion of the pass.
In 1990, the format changed and the pass was made with the plastic sleeve integrated and this made for an oversized pass that only lasted a few years. The February 1990 pass (the first of its kind) was manufactured before the price was set, and this was added later. By April 1990, the preprinted media caught up with the tariff. The same sort of thing happened in 1991.
1992 brought a visual change while retaining the photo insert pocket, but the huge change was in the price when, in May 1992 the cost went from the 1991 price of $56.50 to $67. This was a triumph, albeit not a permanent one, of the idea that passholders were ripping off the system, and the fare multiple was pushed up to 56 (against a token fare of $1.20). From June 1992 onward, the price rarely appeared on the passes, and space for this vanished with the new format introduced in 1993.
1993 brought a shift to the credit card form factor used for Metropasses ever since. The pass was not transferable between riders and still required a photo id.
In 1994, the forerunner of the Monthly Discount Plan, or MDP, arrived with the availability of an annual pass. These were not popular as riders had to shell out for a full year’s travel up front, and there was no way to reclaim the value if the card was lost. A somewhat younger version of your intrepid correspondent appears on these passes.
The format stayed quite similar for several years except for a change in numbering in August 1999 to identify passes sold under the MDP.
July 2001 saw the motto “Service Courtesy Safety” replaced with “Ride the Rocket / The Better Way”, but otherwise nothing changed in the format.
The pass format changed again as an anti-counterfeiting measure in April 2004. In September 2005, the need for photo ID disappeared, and the Metropass became transferable between riders with the proviso that only one person should use it at the same time. The text explaining the rules changes from time to time over following years.
November 2011 brought the corner cut intended to give a tactile reading of the orientation for holding a pass to swipe in through a reader.
When the 2016 passes were designed, the TTC expected that this would be their final year. The layout was such that they formed a continuous image with a slight overlap from each pass to the following month. The Presto project didn’t quite hit its target, and the Metropass lived on to the end of 2018.
2017 passes included photos of sites around town, and 2018 brought a series of murals from different neighbourhoods, arguable the most visually interesting of all the passes back to their origin.