Friday, January 08, 2010

Visions for the GTTA: Fares and Passes, Part I

Most experts agree that service, not fares, is what leads to high transit ridership. For the most part, this is true. Even if service were free, very few people will use a bus route if frequencies are hourly. But, fare policies can still have an influence on how people use transit in a city.

Now, people always complain whenever fares go up, but transit in Toronto is a bargain. $3.00 allows you to travel from far Scarborough to the Mississauga border, guarantees you a bus every 30 minutes, and ensures that a bus stop isn't too far away. In my opinion, price isn't the issue - the particular fare policies in use today have a negative influence on transit usage. These policy decisions were made in the best interest of the agency that made them, so we cannot fault them. However, we have to realize that there have been consequences. People are often confused as to what fare is due and what tickets and passes are valid. People often drive to park-and-ride lots in adjacent communities to avoid double fares, and people often choose the cheaper route over the faster route. In order to make transit in the GTA, we need to address these shortcomings.

[More after the jump...]

Recommendation #1 - Universal Adoption of Presto

My first recommendation to overcome these issues is the universal adoption of the Presto smart fare card, to allow transit riders to use a single card for all transit fares in the region. Currently, the #77 bus between Finch subway and Bramalea City Centre is operated jointly by York Region Transit and Brampton Transit. Questions on how fares work on this route have not been adequately answered for years and this has led to a very high level of customer confusion - especially given that Brampton's fare is $0.25 cheaper than YRT's. Do all buses accept fare media from both agencies? Does it depend on the location of the bus at the time of boarding? Does it depend on the rider boarding a Brampton bus or a YRT bus? With Presto, none of this will matter. The rider just taps their card and the system will figure out what to do. I've posted a run-down of how Presto will work on Metronauts, but there are opportunities to use Presto beyond transit fares. The Octopus Card in Hong Kong can be used at convenience stores, fast food restaurants, vending machines, parking meters, or even as library cards and keycards. In London, one can get a credit card with a built-in Oyster chip. While going beyond transit fares might not improve transit, it will improve convenience for riders. For the record, I believe that extending Presto to point-of-purchase devices should be revenue neutral or revenue positive for the transit agency.

Recommendation #2 - Integrated Fares

My second recommendation to overcome these issues is to, after implementing the Presto smart card, implement an integrated fare system for all public transit services in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. I recommend a system where transit riders pay a small base fare, followed by an additional charge for each kilometre travelled within a two hour period of paying the base fare. In addition, I recommend that a two-hour unlimited pass and a 24-hour unlimited pass continue to be sold for cash-paying customers. More information on my recommendations for integrated fares will be detailed in another post.

Recommendation #3 - Virtual Monthly Passes

My GO Transit student monthly pass costs $166.00 dollars from Union Station to Brampton, and a student 10-ride ticket costs $55.00. Essentially, if I plan to plan to take more than 30 trips in a single month, the economical decision is to buy a monthly pass. In order to figure out how many trips I will make, I have to count how many days I have class and estimate how many times I will have to come downtown to work on projects, how many times I plan to go cycling, and how many times I plan to enjoy a night on the town. This is a calculation we all do, and while it's easy to say "just buy a pass", we all want to save a few dollars if we can.

Now what if I buy a monthly pass, then fall ill and have to take a week off? I'm left with a pass that I have not fully used, and I resent not buying 10-rides. What if I buy 10-rides, but then have to travel downtown more often than I anticipated? I've paid more money than I needed to, and I resent not buying a monthly pass.. This dilemma can be solved by eliminating period passes and replacing them with progressive discounts or "virtual monthly passes".

Rather than purchasing a monthly pass on their Presto cards, riders will should only maintain a debit account. As they ride more and more, the Presto system should apply progressive discounts to the cost of each trip. Oakville Transit, during the Presto field trial, is using the following system for travel within a calendar month:
  • Trips 1 - 8 are charged at the cash fare of $3.00.
  • Trip 9 is charged at 50% of the cash fare.
  • Trip 10 is free.
  • Trips 11 - 35 are charged at the ticket rate of $2.55.
  • Trips 36 + are free.
This system ensures that after ten trips the rider has paid $25.50 - the cost of 10 tickets. After 36 trips, the rider has paid $89.25 - very close to the cost of a monthly pass ($88.00). By varying the point at which trips become free, the cost of a virtual monthly pass can be increased or decreased as necessary.

These discount programs deliver tremendous benefit the customer, as the monthly pass dilemma is eliminated. If the rider happens to ride less than usual, they only pay for what they have used. If they ride more than usual, they eventually reach a price cap. In addition, these passes make transit more affordable as a rider can refill their Presto account multiple times throughout the month. Many low income riders cannot afford to purchase a monthly pass in a lump sum and are forced to pay the higher ticket rate.

As I have recommended that fare-by-distance system calculated per kilometre travelled be used for all transit lines in the GTHA, GO Transit's Presto discount program should be used as a progressive discount model, Their use of relatively small fare zones approximates a per kilometre system. In order to deliver more value to riders, GO's model should be modified to add a provision for free travel:
  • Trips 1 - 10 are charged at the normal fare.
  • Trips 11 - 20 receive a 5% discount.
  • Trips 21 - 30 receive a 20% discount.
  • Trips 31 - 35 receive a 30% discount.
  • Trips 36 - 40 receive a 65% discount.
  • Trips 41 - 45 receive a 95% discount.
  • Trips 45 + are free.
Since GO Transit's plans are to consider origin to final destination as a single trip, regardless of the actual distance travelled, the integrated GTHA fare system should do the same.

Though I've made three recommendations that might seem revolutionary, I believe that revolutionary action is needed to bring higher quality transit service to the people of the Greater Golden Horseshore. I am not, however, going to recommend that actual price that riders should pay for transit service. I do believe that higher government subsidies are needed to keep prices as low as possible and allow transit agencies to improve service with less regard for financial performance, but the process of setting the price is best left to the agencies who will be running the service. In addition to that, we must always remember that better service is key.

Part II of this post will go into detail on my recommendation for an integrated fare system in the GTHA.

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At 1/10/2010 9:24 a.m. , Blogger DGA said...

Interesting idea indeed!

Dialog and consideration from the various transit authorities is very appropriate for these suggestions.

While service is more important than fare, I would suggest that service can be improved in how fare is paid.

Why can't a monthly pass, such as it is now, be bought at any time of the month, and last for 30 days from the date of purchase, instead of making people line up around too few stations selling passes in a window of a few days each month?

Why can't a pass be renewable, so that new ones don't have to be printed? Wouldn't that be both more environmentally and financially sound?

And, why can't every station sell passes? A station is where riders can buy fare. Is a pass not fare? Buying a pass should be more convenient simply because the revenue collected up front is higher than that of tokens, and there's no guarantee a patron will get their money's worth during the course of a month. That's found revenues.

Fare and service continue to go hand in hand. On Viva, fare can be bought at most if not all bus stops through a machine! That's civilized.

Further, as I've mentioned on my blog (, Go Train and Viva bus riders are dignified with an honour system enforced by personnel other than the driver, who's got enough problems operating the vehicle safely to risk their own personal security arguing with a group of young toughs over not having a student card to justify the discounted coinage dropped in the fare box.

The discussion of "fares" should be long, and in so many areas, TTC needs much improvement. Hopefully the increased integration with other
systems will drag the TTC (kicking and screaming, evidently) into the 21 century.

At 1/10/2010 12:37 p.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

A lot of the points you raise is why I have been a long-time supporter of the Presto smart fare card.

- Presto can be sold and refilled at any time of the month While the standard is to use the calendar month to simplify fare inspection (Is it January, Yes/No?), you could have a virtual monthly pass period of any number of days with Presto.

- Presto is reusable, and is probably only limited by the life of the RFID chip.

- Presto can be sold anywhere, even from the comfort of your own home.

- Presto, combined with the fare system that I've recommended (per-km/neighbourhood-sized zone) enables a proof-of-payment honour system. This will reduce confrontations and allow all-door boarding to speed up service.


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