Friday, January 08, 2010

Visions for the GTTA: Fares and Passes, Part II

This post is a continuation of this post.

Recommendation #2 - Integrated Fares

Currently, the TTC does not accept transfers from 905 transit agencies, and this is a policy decision that we cannot fault them for making. This decision increases fare revenue, and since very few Toronto residents use the TTC to travel to the 905, there has been no political drive to change it. We often argue that our politicians do not make decisions in our best interest, but this is one of the clearest examples of Toronto politicians making decisions in the best interest of Torontonians. However, there are several unintended consequences of this policy. Residents of York and Peel Regions, even if they have access to transit a short walk from their homes, often opt to drive to Park and Ride lots at the subway to avoid paying a double fare. This contributes to congestion in North York and western Etobicoke when these riders could be using local transit to reach the subway. At the same time, GO Transit uses a completely separate fare system from local transit, and transfer privileges are limited. A trip from Rouge Hill GO Station takes 90 minutes on the TTC, and 35 minutes on GO Transit. However, the latter carries a $2.00 premium, plus the cost to use the TTC to finish the trip if necessary. Increasing GO train capacity will be covered in another post, but modifying the fare system will give Toronto residents much more choice in how they speed across the city.

[More after the jump...]

In general, there are four types of fare systems in use today that could be considered for the Greater Toronto Area:
  • Fare-by-Distance (Zone)
  • Regional Flat Fare
  • Fare-by-Distanee (per KM)
  • Hybrid System
Any new fare system has to be founded on four guiding principles:
Any increase in price should be logical and gradual - not based on arbitrary boundaries.
The boundary at Steeles may make sense from a municipal governance perspective, but not from a regional dynamic perspective.
Any new fare system should not discriminate by mode or agency so as to encourage riders to take the faster route.
While many cities use faster regional rail lines to supplement more locally-oriented subway lines, I believe that these lines could be used in the same way as subways are used today.
Any new fare system should be simple to understand for the rider.
A rider should be able to estimate their fare just by looking at where their origin and destination lay on a map, and should be able to pay for that journey with their Presto. Any complex calculations should be done by the Presto system, not the rider.
We, the people of Ontario and Canada, must be willing to accept higher subsidies for our transit system.
Transit systems in Ontario must be relatively financially efficient because they do not receive a subsidy from higher levels of government. With stable and predictable funding from higher levels of government, transit systems would be able to improve service with less regard for financial performance.

It must be stated that there are a growing number of communities that are served by GO Transit but are not part of the Metrolinx regional transportation area. Agencies outside of the GTHA should continue to be responsible for setting their own fare policies, but should have regard for the guiding principles. They should also be able to negotiate fare integration schemes with GTHA agencies on a voluntary, case-by-case basis.

Fare-by-Distance (Zone)

This fare system should be considered, as there is already a functional precedent for local zone fares in the GTHA. York Region Transit uses a three-zone system, where riders have to pay an extra dollar for travel completely through 4-5 km wide transition areas. This works because only VIVA BLUE and integrated GO Transit route 69 pass completely through the transition zone - all other routes terminate within the zone and force a transfer. (except for 98 NORTH YONGE, which terminates just beyond the transition zone). This makes it easier to police, as VIVA BLUE is subject to random fare inspections and GO drivers enquire as to the passenger's destination. The YRT boundaries are logical because the edges of the transition zones generally correspond to the development boundaries. The southern transition zone, for example, corresponds to the edges of the protected Oak Ridges Moraine. Closer to Toronto, there is no break in development or major geographical barrier. Using YRT's principles, the only logical fare zone boundaries are the Oak Ridges Morraine, Richmond Hill; Lynde Creek, Whitby; and Bronte Creek, Oakville. These boundaries should be buffered by a transition area approximately four kilometres wide. Travel that completely passes through these transition areas would be considered two-zone trips, while travel that does not would be considered single-zone trips. In summary:
  • Zone 1
    • Oakville, Mississauga, Brampton, Toronto, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham, Pickering and Ajax
  • Zone 2
    • Hamilton, Burlington, Milton, Halton Hills, Caledon, King, Aurora, Newmarket, Whitchurch-Stouffville, East Gwillimbury, Georgina, Uxbridge, Whitby, Brock, Oshawa, Scugog and Clarington

A rider should receive two hours of unlimited travel from the time they pay their fare. If the rider pays a zone upgrade fare, the two hour timer should be reset.

A zone fare system is not flawless. As mentioned, York Region Transit routes VIVA BLUE and 69 are the only route that crosses the YRT zone boundary. VIVA riders, for example, are subject to random fare inspections and have to consciously purchase a two-zone fare or a zone upgrade to an existing fare. Fare inspectors know where the ticket was purchased, so a scofflaw would not be able to successfully pas a one-zone fare in the wrong zone. Though YRT will implement Presto in 2011, it is unclear how the fare zone boundary will be handled. Having riders select the fare product they wish to purchase undermines Presto's objective of making the process simpler, while requiring some VIVA riders to tap-on and tap-off introduces customer confusion if the policy is not universal for all of YRT and VIVA.

Regional Flat Fare

A fare system which essentially combines the zones proposed above eliminates the uncertainty over how to pay for transit. Riders will only have to tap-on with Presto, then tap-on again when transferring. Currently, Presto will require GO users to tap-on, but tapping-off will only be required in specific circumstances. Eliminating the need to remember when to tap-off works towards Presto's mandate of making paying for transit easier. A regional flat fare does not discriminate by mode or by agency, but there is the potential for serious economic and planning problems arising from its implementation (and, to a lesser degree, the implementation of a zone fare system). The growth of the suburbs was made possible by inexpensive greenfield land and inexpensive transportation. A family could purchase a larger property in the suburbs than in the city, and inexpensive fuel made such a lifestyle economical. If transit to the far reaches of the suburbs is made relatively inexpensive compared to transit within the city, we risk replicating the conditions that gave birth to urban sprawl. In addition, a regional flat fare is less equitable than fare-by-distance models.

Fare-by-Distance (per KM)

This model is based in international and local precedent, and has the power to eliminate the perceived inequities associated with the current system. Currently, a Toronto resident would pay $3.00 for a 41 km trip from Starspray Loop in the extreme southeast to Albion and Claireport in the extreme northwest. That same Toronto resident pays $3.00 for the 150 metre trip from Bay and King to Bay and Adelaide. In effect, the short-haul rider subsidizes the long-haul rider. Under a fare by distance model, each rider's fare would be based upon the actual distance they travelled, greatly reducing the need for cross subsidies and appearing more equitable in the customer's mind.

As an example, consider a system where the average rider pays $1 for every 10 kilometres travelled. A rider making the 40 km trip would pay $4, while a rider who travels 5 kilometres would only pay fifty cents (or whatever the minimum fare is set at). Currently, a rider who travels from Yonge and Steeles to Yonge and King (18 km) pays $3.00, while a rider who boards at Yonge and Clark (only 1 km more) pays $6.00 due to the Steeles boundary. This may cause the rider to drive to a Park and Ride lot in Toronto rather than pay $3.00 for a 1 km trip. Under the example fare-by-distance system, these trips would cost $1.80 and $1.90, respectively. Removing the penalty for short trips that cross borders will introduce an incentive to take transit from home.

An analysis of GO Transit's fare-by-distance system shows that there is a minimum fare, followed by linear increases. This could serve as a mathematical model for a region-wide fare-by-distance model.

Linear increase are also supported by international precedent. Amsterdam's transit provider, GVB, charges a base fare of €0.78, plus €0.10 per kilometre travelled. In order to preserve free transfer privileges and allow for short stopovers, the rider should receive two hours to complete their travels. A new base fare should not be charged until two hours have passed since the last base fare was charged.

A fare-by-distance system requires Presto, as all transit users will have to tap-on when they enter a fare-paid area (such as a subway station or a vehicle), and tap-off when they exit a fare-paid area. While subway riders currently have to pass through turnstiles to exit a station, bus and streetcar riders may exit through any door at any location. As a result, tapping-out will be a major paradigm shift over the current pay-as-you-enter system. There is, however, international precedent for such a move. The OV-chipkaart, used across Holland, requires users to tap-in and tap-out on all vehicles, including buses. With ridership levels of 260 million each year in Amsterdam alone, the concept can be implemented successfully in highly-used systems. As is standard with most fare-by-distance systems, a penalty fare will be used as a placeholder until the rider taps-out. Failure to tap-out will result in the penalty fare being charged, while a successful tap-out will refund the difference between the penalty fare and the actual fare. Of course, the penalty fare could be waived on a case-by-case basis.

In order to implement a tap-in/tap-out system, Presto card readers will have to be installed on every turnstile, at every Proof-of-Payment transit line station/stop, and at every bus door. In addition, the Presto readers will have to be tied to the bus' GPS system in order to calculate the correct fare. However, this will facilitate all-door boarding on all vehicles, which speeds up service by reducing dwell times.

The shortcomings of the per kilometre system lies in its inability to, at a glance, tell riders how much their trip will cost. GO Transit, which uses a system with nearly 100 small fare zones, has a "fare finder" on their website where users can lookup a fare by selecting an origin and a destination. Since GO only lists the rail stations and major bus stops - not every single signpost - finding the desired points is relatively easy. If every possible station and stop were displayed, as would be required for a per-km system, the web application would be extremely cumbersome. Web-based trip planners like Google Transit do display fares for the Hamilton Street Railway, and could be adapted for distance based fares. In addition, system maps could use a grid system to give walk-in riders an estimate how much a trip will cost based on the number of gridlines to be crossed. In addition, and trip planner consoles could also be installed at stations to give more accurate results. These measures will mitigate the inability to display fares at a glance, and will improve customer service in general.

Hybrid System

Using the guiding principles, a hybrid system (where buses and trams charge a flat fare and subways and trains charge a distance-based fare) should not be considered. This system is used in Greater London, and while it is more equitable through higher fares for longer journeys and for faster trains, this is too close to the system we have now - a system which has several shortcomings that need to be overcome.


A Regional Flat Fare system is used in New York City, and is preferable to zone fares because of the simplicity from a customer's perspective. However, this fare system may not support the objectives of the Places to Grow Act, 2005, and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006. The Plan, among other things, seeks to revitalize downtowns, create live-work-play communities and curb urban sprawl. If the transit fare from the far suburb to the employment district is the same as the fare from the urban residential district there will be almost no incentive to settle in urban growth centres. This is also true of zone fares with zones the size required for this region.

Fare-by-distance, calculated per kilometre, discourages settling in the far suburbs by increasing the cost of transportation to the far suburbs. Increases are logical and gradual, and arbitrary boundaries are eliminated. In addition, riders will be encouraged to take faster, more direct routes to their destinations, as these will offer more value than a slower route - but they will not be penalized if the slow route is better for their individual situation. With trip planning software, better system maps, and prices rounded to every five cents, it can be made simple for transit uses. Because of these considerations, a fare-by-distance system calculated per kilometre is recommended for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

As stated in Part I of this post, I am not recommending the actual price that fares should be set at. They should be set as low as possible, but believe that the details are pointless if we cannot settle on a framework. This blog was never meant to be about micromanaging the transit system - my intention has always been to create frameworks for planners to help deliver what we, the riders, want and need.

The next Visions for the GTTA post will cover my recommendations for improving mainline railway services to make them more convenient.

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At 1/08/2010 3:07 p.m. , Blogger Michael said...

1 other additional confusion with fares.

Go Transit still provides some service on Yonge Street between Newmarket GO Bus Terminal and York Mills Subway Station. This mirrors York Region Transit's VIVA Blue system (VIVA ends at Finch though).

So a passenger currently purchases a VIVA Ticket and may watch a GO Bus going the exact same direction and past their destination go by. The passenger cannot get on that GO Bus without purchasing an additional fare.

This becomes frustrating to us YRT Monthly Pass holders because sometimes VIVA Service may be disrupted for whatever reason (e.g. mechanical, weather, etc.) and watch a GO Bus heading in our direction go by. There is nothing more frustrating than watching that GO Bus go by your stop when the VIVA Station real time information shows your bus won't show up for another 10 to 15 minutes. In those 10 to 15 minutes you could be on the GO Bus and off happily at your destination. But becuase of the YRT/GO's incompetance on fares, you are left there standing wishing you had purchased another fare media.

Hopefully PRESTO will address this issue so that no matter "what colour the bus is" you can hop on board!

At 1/08/2010 9:39 p.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

The situation that you describe is exactly what I'm talking about when I say that I want a fare system that doesn't discriminate by agency.

At 1/09/2010 12:28 a.m. , Blogger John Duncan said...

While most of this sounds good and I truly look forward to a more integrated, sane transit system for the region, I think you've managed to combine a lot of bad qualities in your proposed per km and zone systems.

What you're proposing seems either so large-scale as to be essentially pointless (two zones covering the entirety of the GTAH?) or so technically complex as to be confusing to use and expensive to implement (a per km charge).

For a per km approach, how would virtual passes work? From your description, it seems like I would need to know both how many trips I'm going to take in a month and exactly how far I'm travelling to have any idea what my expenditures would be--a more complex situation than today. And as an occasional rider who doesn't own a smartphone, I'd pretty much be clueless about what any trip would cost me.
Will the charged distance be as the crow flies (large though fairly simple table lookup), or do you really want to broadcast and track GPS routes for every system rider? What about situations where the most direct route is slower and heavily crowded while a longer route is underutilized and faster--would we charge people more for using excess capacity instead of worsening known bottlenecks?

Why not use a larger number of smaller zones, and allow a base fare to cross through e.g. three zones with a surtax for zones beyond that? It's simpler than per km, much easier to illustrate to people, and probably cheaper to implement.

Or simply use a flat time based system? A time-based system that starts from the assumption that the majority of trips in the region shouldn't take more than 45 minutes might even work better than a blanket 2 hour pass. It would certainly get most long-haul riders off the subway and onto the commuter system where they belong (something that an integrated fare system will need to do to get the TTC onside). And it would effectively penalize transit-hostile development in the outer suburbs like the two-zone system you mention. To be fair or effective this would of course require local routes to be realigned in a less parochial layout and the future GO service improvements.

At 1/09/2010 2:09 a.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

If we were to use a time based system, I would not support anything less than 90 minutes to 2 hours because I believe that we need to allow riders to make short stopovers during their trips. In a Toronto Star article a few years ago, many people who drive to Oakville GO station choose not to use the available local bus because they have to make stops along the way home. I might not be able to stop off at the grocery store on the way home if I only have 45 minutes to make the trip, but I might if I know I can get back on the transit system without paying a second fare. In addition, the Metrolinx RTP predicts that only 52-56% of commuters will be able to get to work in 45 minutes or less in 2031. Assuming these numbers come true, 90 to 120 minutes would be a more appropriate time.

As for using smaller zones, I think that such a system is fairly similar to the one I'm proposing - the only difference being that the word "zone" is being used instead of "kilometre". The virtual pass system would still work as I've proposed, and is detailed at:

Click on the information about fares.

Riders would still have to know how far they are going to know the fare (like GO Transit of today and of tomorrow), but no system would be able to predict the monthly fee because the rider would have to accurately predict every trip they plan to make. The key is that after 45 trips, I recommend that they not pay another cent. How much they actually pay will depend on those values of the trips they make, and no two people will be alike.

Under a per kilometre system, the distance would be calculated as the crow flies. Under a small zone system, it would depend on the route taken. Otherwise, the transit agency would have to publish every possible fare combination. Washington DC posts such tables in Metro stations, and it is quite daunting.

When you talk about cost to implement, I'm assuming you're talking about the cost to manage the calculation process. If that's the case, then I'm not sure if one is more or less expensive than the other. The software will still have to know where the bus is, and the computer will still have to make a calculation. If you were talking about the cost to the consumer, then it would depend on the finer details of the system - something that is beyond the scope of this post. I am not recommending the fare structure, just how we will interact with the fare system. "$X for the first three ____, then $Y for every _____ after that", as you suggest, is just one possibility.

At 1/09/2010 3:39 a.m. , Blogger z said...

We need 3 or 4 zones for the GTAH, with overlap areas, of course.

At 1/09/2010 10:44 a.m. , Blogger Iljitsch van Beijnum said...

Note that in the Netherlands the new OV-chipkaart is only mandatory in the Amsterdam and Rotterdam metro systems, on busses you can still opt to use the old "strippenkaart" zone system. As of February 11, the OV-chipkaart will be mandatory in the Rotterdam region for all local busses and trams too, as well as regional busses. Only then we'll be able to see how well the new system works in trams and busses, where riders have to "check out" when leaving the vehicle, or they pay a 4 euro fee rather than the actual per kilometer fee. I read that about 0.6% of riders forget this and thus pay extra.

I disagree that a per kilometer system is problematic. The Dutch railways have been using a per kilometer system for a long time (well, more or less, there are some exceptions) and with a progression in the per kilomter fee so a 200 km trip is less than twice the price of a 100 km one. So the only practical ways to learn the price between any two stations is either buy the ticket or look it up on the online trip planner. I have never heard anyone complain about that.

Trams, busses and metros used a national zone system with the strippenkaart, where you invalidate as many strips as zones that you travel (plus one). I'm glad we're leaving this behind because it's always a headache to find out how many zones you're traveling between two unfamiliar places. However, with the new system routes that stray from a straight line are more expensive, which may be a perverse incentive to travel authorities to avoid straight lines to increase revenues.

At 1/12/2010 9:38 p.m. , Blogger Clara Tee said...

First time visiting this blog, what a brilliant idea for a blog - it encourages conversation and ideas!

So anyways, while many are skeptical of the tap-in-tap-out system (possibly spearheaded by the implementation of the PRESTO card), it should give riders incentives to embrace the tap-in-tap-out.

Read: fare adjustment, and it better be going down for most riders/trips.

With the introduction of the PRESTO card, why not consider the possibility of a time-based fare system? On increments of 15-minutes or even 30-minutes, the fare would increase base on a similar model as the fare-by-distance, only the variable is time.

So a trip that is 15-minutes or less (which can probably take one around the downtown core) would be, say, $1.25, a two-fold increase in time, say 30-minutes, would be $2.00, a four-fold, 1-hour, $3.50, up to a limit of say $4.50. Note that all figures are arbitrary, but the idea is that to encourage short trips and to encourage riders to ride during non-busy hours, which usually means shorter trip time.

Of course, there are finer details to consider such as the wait time for a train or subway, but how about the tap would be given grace period of 5-10 minutes depending on the wait time for subway (when riding on the subway - because the operation actually KNOWS how long it takes for a subway car to arrive)?

I think that, given a cheaper base-cost to ride, an all-you-can-ride pass should be retired to ensure non-polarized ridership - more short trip and infrequent riders added to the regular riders who takes transit to work/school. Stopovers would no longer be a point of contention because stopping over at the grocery store (where you can stay as long as you want) would only add the base-amount (of up to $1.25, in my example) to the transit cost. Again, the numbers I came up with were arbitrary but the idea is to encourage short rides or breaking longer rides to multiple short rider without incurring too steep a cost to the rider.

Note: When I was finishing off my comment I realized that my numbers were rather GTA-based, thus the idea of capping the travel time at 2-hours, but similar model can be applied to the GTHA, for example:
15-min = $1.25
30-min = $1.75
45-min = $2.25
1.0-hr = $2.50
1.5-hr = $3.00
2.0-hr = $3.50
2.5-hr = $4.00
3.0-hr = $4.50
The heart of this idea is the price the fare at a rate that is best reflect time spent on transit like the graph you quoted for the fare-by-distance system.

Thanks for reading.


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