Metropass, Two-Hour Transfer and Presto

With the shift of TTC monthly passes from a dedicated swipe card to the Presto fare card in January 2019, I decided to track usage in detail as a sample size of one rider.

Presto provides tracking data on its site, but I was intrigued to discover:

  • How accurate is the tracking data?
  • What would my riding have cost under three scenarios: monthly passes, two-hour transfer rules and single fares?
  • How often was I unable to tap because readers were not working?

My travel pattern places me firmly in the category of a heavy user of transit. Living at Broadview and Danforth, I have the choice of the Bloor-Danforth subway and several surface routes, most with frequent albeit sometimes unreliable service. Almost all travel is within the “old” City of Toronto where there are many closely-spaced routes. This is very different from the environment riders in the suburbs face for choice, frequency and trip length.

For the first three months of 2019, my travels are summarized here.

Although I travel on an Annual Pass, I have tracked how many fares I would have paid under two transfer rule schemes:

  • In the “New” rules, any tap made within two hours counts as one trip/fare on a Presto card.
  • In the “Old” rules, TTC prohibits stopovers and changes of direction. These would trigger a separate trip/fare.
Month         Taps    Transfer Rules
                       New      Old

January        93       58       75
February       99       68       83
March         120       76      100

Total         312      202      258

The tap count is based on actual taps on fare machines and gates, and does not include transfers within fare paid areas.

Overall, the two-hour fare reduced my “trip” count by about 20%, although some of those “saved” fares are a result of my knowing that I do not face an extra fare, something I have been accustomed to since the Metropass was introduced in May 1980. In other words, I would not have “paid” all 258 fares were I paying by tokens/tickets, and so the reduction to 202 would not represent a “loss” of 56 fares. Moreover, careful choice of transfer locations would shave the single fare cost by adjusting travel to minimize the need to pay a new fare.

Similarly, as a long-time pass user, I have been paying a monthly equivalent of fewer fares than I would have paid with tokens or tickets. Using the fares in effect for this period, the break-even rates for passes versus tickets/tokens are shown below. The “multiple” is the number of tokens/tickets represented by the pass price, and is the trip count at which a rider “breaks even” with a pass.

Pass Type     Adult                     Senior/Student
              Cost     Token  Multiple  Cost    Ticket  Multiple
Annual        $134.00  $3.00  44.7      $107.00  $2.05  52.2
Monthly       $146.25  $3.00  48.8      $116.75  $2.05  57.0

The effect of the severe winter weather is clear above, and my riding increased in March. Three days in January and February were “snow days” where I made no TTC trips. Even so, during the worst month and with the new two-hour transfer rules, I took more trips (measured as fares) than the multiple for any of the available passes. I have a senior’s annual pass and easily crest the break-even point of 52.2.

In TTC budget discussions, some board members (not to mention management) railed against pass holders as freeloaders whose riding was subsidized by other less-frequent travellers and the city. What they completely missed is the fact that were someone like me on a pay-as-you-go basis, many of the trips shown here would not have been taken, or would have “artfully” been made without paying another fare. Optimizing one’s travel is easier where there is a dense network of routes and more choices to credibly use a transfer (e.g. for a stopover), and this technique predates all-door boarding where inspection at entry can be avoided.

If the point of a transit system is to encourage travel and make it more attractive for those who were penalized by the traditional transfer rules to use transit, then the fact that I or anyone else would pay a lower average fare (calculated against those rules) shows that the policy is working. For example, a common weekend shopping outing I make would be, at a minimum, a three-fare trip under the old transfer rules using ticket or tokens. It is now a one-fare trip because it is accomplished within two hours. Moreover, I have the option of additional stopovers and greater flexibility in route choices.

As tokens and tickets are replaced by Presto “Limited Use Media” (LUMs), tickets with one or a few TTC fares rather than a full-function Presto card, the two-hour fare will be available to almost everyone. All that will remain is the ability to issue a receipt for cash fares that confers a two-hour ride to bring this convenience to everyone.

In all of this discussion, the core argument is that paying for transit is changing, and has been changing for years. The system moves away from the nickel and dime approach of charging as often as possible to making transit attractive as a service that is simply “there” to be used, much as auto owners regard their vehicles. Some riders will pay more, some less, and frequent users will probably be better off than those who ride occasionally.

The complementary part, still to come in our low-tax obsessed era, is that transit service across the city will be truly attractive to those who wish to use it as a first choice.

Presto Reliability

The reliability of Presto equipment has improved quite substantially in recent months, and I encountered few cases where I could not “pay” a fare, or as a pass user, get an updated timestamp on my Presto card.

  • On two occasions, subway fare gates were locked open because the entire station’s system appeared to be “down”: Bay Station on January 21, and Union Station on February 2.
  • On one occasion, there was no working Presto device on a vehicle (a CLRV on Queen), but my trip was picked up when I transferred at Humber Loop.
  • On a few occasions, the reported location did not match where I tapped, although these were usually only off by one stop or city block. The most extreme example was a tap near Broadview and Danforth that was reported as being on Roncesvalles Avenue. In another case, a tap reported a location as if the vehicle were still in Leslie Barns. These would have been a problem for “old” transfer rules or for any distance-based fare scheme.
  • On two occasions, there was a forced transfer due to service problems, and one of these required a “walking transfer” from Queen to Dundas. These could have triggered extra fare charges under the old transfer rules, or challenges to the validity of the fare paid if I were not using a pass.

My Presto card was inspected on a few occasions, but at predictable locations: Broadview, Spadina and Union Stations. Only one of these registered as a transaction in my Presto activity summary.

The database of locations for stops, mainly on 504 King, only knows of stops by number, not by name, presumably as these are “temporary” locations for the King Street Pilot. The fact that these have not been updated with real location info over a year after the stops were moved says something about the dedication to clear customer information.

Finally, in all of my travels, I have not seen one rider “tap on” to a vehicle in a paid area. The TTC was pushing the idea of “always tap on” as part of the Metropass/Presto roll out, but riders behave just as they always have in subway stations. The claim is that this would give better planning data, and make fare inspection (if it ever actually occurred on surface vehicles) simpler, but the TTC will just have to make do with the “taps” they do get.

Postscript: A Long Journey on One Fare

Many years ago, before the abolition of “Zone 2” in Toronto’s fare structure, a friend and I set out to test the limits of transfer rules that allowed for a continuous trip in one direction. This rule had an exception that allowed one to avoid payment of an extra fare by staying within a single zone even if this meant travelling out of the way on one’s journey.

We began on the Port Credit Bus, then a TTC operation, a few stops west of Long Branch in Zone 3. There was a zone 3-2 combo fare, and this gave us Zone 2 Port Credit transfers, about as far remote from downtown as possible. Our goal was eastern Scarborough.

The journey took us to Humber Loop, then up to Jane and Bloor, up Jane, across Wilson and York Mills (staying clear of the zone boundary at Yonge and Glen Echo), then down Birchmount to Kingston Road. At that point, many hours after we began, our transfers were finally rejected, and we paid a new fare to ride out to West Hill.