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