Visions for the GTTA: Fares and Passes, Part IMost 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.
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.
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.