Friday, September 14, 2007

TTC ponders zoned fares - Toronto Star

TTC ponders zoned fares
Other options to raise transit revenue include higher parking fees and more advertising
September 14, 2007
Tess Kalinowski
Transportation Reporter

Could more advertising on the subway, a distance-based fare system or higher parking fees dig the TTC out of a financial hole or help expand its stretched services?

Maybe. But many of the suggestions emerging around Wednesday's decision to raise transit fares to generate $34 million in new revenue for the TTC have already been tried or considered, says TTC chair Adam Giambrone.

Others risk punishing some of the system's most vulnerable riders or driving people back into their cars.

Zoned fares

TTC commissioner Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre), suggested charging riders more for travelling longer distances might be a way of raising fares more fairly.

"If I take the TTC from Scarborough to Etobicoke, I pay the same as if I'm going from Midland to Lawrence," he said in an interview with the Star.

The idea of a zoned fare system, in which riders pay graduated amounts based on distance travelled, might also fit with the new regional fare card being tested in the GTA, which will eventually work on any transit vehicle or station in the Toronto area.

The downside, says Giambrone, is it would penalize many of Thompson's own constituents in far reaches of the city and mean less expense for increasingly affluent downtown residents.

"Vancouver has a zoned system and it really hits the people who are further out," he said.

From an environmental standpoint, "If you're going to Etobicoke from Scarborough, we don't want you to make that trip in the car," Giambrone said.

More advertising

At a public meeting in Scarborough to discuss the TTC's projected 2008 budget problem, TTC officials were told they could raise $1 million a year selling subway wall advertising that appears as a moving picture when the train passes.

The TTC sells about $15 million of advertising annually, including bus and subway station wraps. Even if the whole system were opened to ads, adding 50 per cent more revenue, that would bring in only $7 million – a relatively small sum given that transit officials are looking for $94 million next year, Giambrone said.

David Topping, a writer for Torontoist, a website whose survey on the TTC raised 2,200 responses, says he's not against advertising.

"It's a necessary part of the way a lot of things work. But anything more and it would start to put people off," he said.

Parking fees in all lots

Regular TTC observer David Fisher may have hit a winner when he asked commissioners Wednesday, "Why are we still charging free parking at our parking lots?"

The TTC is looking at raising more revenue through parking fees, possibly offering a new Metropass that would include a $2 or $3 daily parking charge in addition to the transit fare, Giambrone said. But the idea is still being studied. Transit officials don't know whether there would be a market for such a pass or if more parking fees would see some riders driving on past the station and into the city.

The TTC has nearly 14,000 parking spaces in 16 lots, most near suburban or outlying stations. Some lots cost $6 a day; others can be accessed by Metropass. In many, parking is free on weekends and evenings.
Free parking for transit is a necessary evil unless we have an expensive community bus network to pick up every resident a few steps from their homes. Our suburban street design makes it difficult for neighborhood residents to walk to high-frequency lines on the major arteries, and many, like myself, do not have a transit route anywhere near their house. If a bus ran along my street, I would gladly board and ride it gallantly downtown - but it's a three mile walk.

When it comes to advertising, I am a proud supporter of illegalsigns.ca. Even though I've learned to tune out the TTC advertising, I'm not a big fan of having more - unless the price is right. The TTC is plastered with advertisements already, but the revenue offsets less than 10-cents of every ride. Unless the TTC got a much better share of the advertising revenue, the visual pollution wouldn't be worth it.

Finally, Steve Munro makes an excellent argument against zoned fares for local transit - the same argument Chair Giambrone alluded to. Simply put, we want to encourage people to take longer trips by transit instead of by car, so we should keep longer transit trips an inexpensive as possible. For express trips, fare-by-distance makes sense, but not for trips which stop every block to pickup passengers.

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