Sunday, November 07, 2010

Thoughts on co-fares

Most of GO Transit's parking lots are full during the day, and many fill up long before the last train of the rush hour has departed. At my home station, Brampton, demand for parking is so high that one has to arrive before 7:10 am in order to get a parking spot even though the last train departs for Union for nearly another hour. GO Transit has expanded lots at many stations and has even entered into the business of parking structure construction - including one massive one planned for Erindale GO - but many planners believe the land around GO stations would more productive if they were developed into transit-supportive communities. If this becomes an urban development goal, then we'll have to find other ways to get people to the station.

One way to do this is to encourage passengers to take local transit to the station instead of driving. While this isn't an option for everyone, maximizing this potential can reduce the demand placed on parking lots to manageable level. To sweeten the deal, GO administers a co-fare program that gives riders a discount on local transit when they are transferring to or from local transit. Usually the passenger pays 65 cents cash for the local portion of the trip, but the program may also come in the form of a deeply discounted monthly sticker for the GO ticket.

While the program is quite popular, I have a few critiques. First of all, it is very easy for cheaters to use the program to evade paying full fare. In Brampton, I can show my GO pass and pay 65 cents to use Brampton Transit to get to the GO Station, and if I need a transfer to complete the trip then I am entitled to one. But, once I have that transfer this is nothing to stop me from going anywhere in the city. One legendary evader is said to have purchased the cheapest ten-ride possible and ridden up and down Yonge Street on YRT for weeks without being challenged. Second, the program is generally only available to people going to rail stations. This means that riders traveling to GO bus terminals (like Bramalea City Centre, Trinity Common Mall) aren't eligible for the discount. In some cases, riders who use local buses that pass by (but don't actually enter) a GO station aren't eligible. While the rules are specifically designed to reduce demand on rail station parking lots, those heading to bus services have to go to greater lengths to get the same discount.

The PRESTO fare card will solve the first problem - the cheating - since the discount is only applied when the transfer is made. Today, the rider shows their GO pass, declares that they are going to the station, and pays the discounted fare. Using PRESTO, the card knows that the rider is transferring from one system to another and discounts the fare appropriately. While cheating will be virtually eliminated, the second issue remains.

Consider someone who lives in the Springdale area of Brampton and wants to go to either Bramalea GO station or to North York. There is a direct GO bus from Trinity Common Terminal to Yonge and Sheppard via Bramalea GO, but since this isn't rail station the rider has to make a choice. Do they pay full Brampton Transit fare to get to Trinity Common and ride the GO bus along Highway 410 to reach Bramalea GO, or do they take a local bus across town to be eligible for the discounted fare? In some cases, riders have tried to solve this dilemma by parking at the mall next to the terminal, but the mall owners have responded by threatening to tow the cars of non-shoppers.

One way to rectify this no-win situation is to expand the co-fare program to offer the discount to riders heading to any GO Transit service at any GO stop. This would be impossible under the current method of fare collection because any trip in any direction could be an eligible trip - the local transit driver would have an even harder time judging who is cheating and who isn't. But, since the PRESTO fare card will soon be fully implemented, an expanded program will police itself because the discount will not be applied until the rider finally makes the transfer.

For GO, this makes bus service more attractive and reduces stress on parking lots. For passengers, this means faster travel times, less stress and a greater choice in boarding locations. For mall operators, this means fewer commuters parking illegally and more room for paying customers. For those advocating for a GO bus between Bolton and York University, this means taking the Highway 50 bus to Highway 7 and then transferring onto Züm for 65-cents. For our greater policy goals, this means fewer cars on the road and unattractive transit trips becoming more attractive.

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2 Comments:

At 11/10/2010 3:22 AM , Anonymous "Mr. DeLarge" said...

The GO co-fare can be annoyingly stupid. If you're heading back from Union to Bramalea City Centre on the GO bus and need to transfer to a BT bus there, you can pay full fare at BCC, or get off at Bramalea GO and go through the trouble of taking an extra BT bus to BCC for the co-fare.

Paying GO fare to Trinity Common is in a way valid, since one might be transfering to the 23 which goes to a GO station (Mount Pleasant).

YRT has a few routes that don't enter GO stations outside of "train hours", and thus some drivers won't let you get on their bus with a co-fare if you're travelling to or from a station. I'm not sure they (YRT) realize that GO buses operate outside of peak hours from those stations in place of trains, and that most station parking lots are full after the morning rush.

At any rate, for my usual route taking the GO bus it's more practical to board at a closer stop serviced by GO. But, I can't use a co-fare to get there since I don't travel the extra distance to the station, and paying a full YRT fare to go 3km is costly, so I opt for a ride (or drive) when possible.

And I know what you're going to say...Presto will fix most of those problems. Well, hopefully.

 
At 11/10/2010 3:26 AM , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

I'm not that predictable, am I?

But actually, I'm not going to say "Presto will fix it" unless they plan to change the underlying fare policies.

Those changes are what I'm advocating for.

 

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