Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fair Integration?

Apparently the report I've cited for this post has been removed from the agenda of this friday's Metrolinx board meeting. As a result, I hereby base my comments on the popular opinion of the TTC held by many pro-regional transit advocates and not on the report. That's my story and I'm sticking to it...

I have long believed that an integrated fare system will be a great tool to increase transit ridership across the 905 and help alleviate congestion. Eliminating the Steeles penalty will help people like my good friend who walks to Steeles despite a YRT stop being much closer to her door. Many in this situation drive to parking lots at Finch Station to avoid this second fare. Eliminating the "too far" penalty will benefit those who are bound for locations just beyond walking distance of the GO stations within the 416. It will also allow people to use GO for inter-416 trips, reducing the peak hour demand on the subways.

Unfortunately, a report from Metrolinx on the subject of fare integration [PDF] doesn't leave me with much confidence that progress can be made towards this goal:

At the January 25, 2008 Board meeting, a resolution was referred to staff for consideration, which directed staff to develop opportunities for fare integration and service coordination (referred to as “FISC”) on cross boundary routes operating between the 905 area and the City of Toronto. Subsequent to this direction, an earlier progress report was made to the Board, which can be summarized as follows:

• A review of the cross boundary travel market between the 905 municipalities and the City of Toronto indicates that, between 1996 and 2006, transit trips to downtown Toronto increased and auto trips decreased.

• There are several successful existing fare integration agreements among 905 transit systems that operate “open doors” across municipal boundaries without transit customers having to pay an additional fare through the acceptance of transfers between transit systems. “Open door” operation means that the out-of-jurisdiction carrier is free to pick up and drop off passengers as required. Waiting customers can board the first bus that comes along and no one is by-passed.

• Two key opportunities to improve transit service and reduce duplication are being considered. These are in the Burnhamthorpe Road corridor (refer to Appendix A, Figure 1), in Toronto, through having Mississauga Transit buses operate “open doors” in Toronto to Islington Subway Station and for VIVA (York Region Transit) Orange Route buses to operate “open doors” in Toronto between the Downsview Subway Station and York University (refer to Appendix A, Figure 2).

• The project study participants, comprised of two working groups, identified operational issues associated with fare validation, cost sharing agreements between the TTC and Mississauga Transit and York Region Transit and labour issues. Further work was required to evaluate and address these issues which would be part of a further Board report in the Fall of 2008.

It was not possible to make meaningful progress on these initiatives and report back to the Board in the Fall of 2008 because of labour relations issues which had to be resolved over the past few months.

With regard to the Burnhamthorpe corridor, an internal “discussion paper” has been prepared in close consultation with staff from Mississauga Transit and the TTC. It outlines the opportunity in much greater detail, such as, the potential benefits and costs, the proposed fare collection process and other operational issues to be addressed (summarized later in this report). For the Downsview Subway Station -York University corridor, most operational issues have been addressed by the TTC and York Region Transit staff. A cost sharing agreement between both of the latter parties was being discussed, but has yet to be finalized.

However, in December 2008, Metrolinx staff was advised that TTC senior management is not in favour of progressing any further, with the proposals related to “open door” service integration with Mississauga Transit and the YRT/VIVA Orange Route. This has essentially stopped any progress that can be made towards changing the current “closed door” policy (i.e. preventing transit vehicles from one municipality, from operating “open door” within a neighbouring “cross-boundary” municipality).

From the beginning of our discussions almost one year ago, Metrolinx has emphasized to working group participants that a basic principle to achieve integrated services is to design, schedule and operate transit services based on the needs of the customers regardless of municipal boundaries. During the current economic slowdown it becomes even more important to rationalize services and avoid duplication in the interest of the universal taxpayer.

Metrolinx staff was directed to develop opportunities for specific cross-boundary operations between Toronto and the 905, and the research, analysis and due diligence has resulted in recommendations that address system-wide barriers to improved cross boundary operations to the benefit of the traveller. In this report, Metrolinx staff are making several recommendations to the Metrolinx Board, to advance the objectives outlined in Big Move #6 (“region-wide integrated transit fare system”.) These proposals, “Implement a Metrolinx Integrated-Fares Pass for Cross-Boundary Services” and “Obtaining Provincial Legislative and Regulatory Authority,” outlined in section 6 of this report, are the preferred directions towards achieving fare integration and service coordination across the GTHA.

I have always believed that if the various transit agencies could cooperate and move towards regional goals then we would not need to address the governance issue. What did it matter if we had a dozen transit providers if the customer saw it and used it as one system? I have always believed that the economy, the environment and our society does not end at Steeles and that we need a regionally integrated system to ensure that the massive population increase we are expecting over the next 25 years can move around the region with relative ease. When one provider is not willing to hold a meaningful discussion about achieving these aims then perhaps it is time to address the governance issue.

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