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Ceci n’est pas un token

ttc_token.jpgThis is what you won’t be mistaking for a dime in your pocket anymore: the TTC’s new token. While the old token was incredibly easy to counterfeit and felt of a lesser quality than a Chuck E. Cheese coin, the new one looks a little more official and is virtually impossible to counterfeit, according to the TTC.
The Commission won’t tell us exact details about the token’s constitution, but since the coin is recognized electronically by turnstiles, this would lead us to believe each one contains an RFID identifier similar to the ones now used by some casinos in their gambling chips.
The TTC also reported that there are two metals involved, but wouldn’t say which ones. The most likely metals would be brass and a nickel-aluminum alloy.
20 million tokens were ordered, which are costing the TTC $1.7 million. The Transit Commission estimates that token fraud has already cost them $10 million in losses. The old tokens will still be valid until the end of January, and in the new year, old tokens can be exchanged at Bloor, Warden, Kipling, and Finch subway stations.
In February, a massive transit token counterfeiting scam was uncovered after a two-year FBI investigation that also included the Toronto Police. The scam involved three brothers who allegedly contracted a U.S. mint to stamp the fakes. In 2004, 307 people were also arrested for manufacturing fake paper tickets, according to the charges.
The TTC stopped accepting the older paper tickets in April because of rampant fraud pegged at around $7 million per year, which includes fake Metropasses and turnstile-jumping.
UPDATE (Tuesday): The Star reports this morning that the tokens do not contain RFID. We now believe that the tokens are employing a technology manufactured by IDX Casino Products called X-Mark where an optical code is minted into the token surface that is read at certain angles by a receptor within the turnstiles. The TTC has mentioned that the coins also carry a unique compositional identifier, which would indicate bi-metal alloys that have a particular electromagnetic signature — already a technique employed by the company that is stamping the tokens, Osborne Coinage of Ohio.


  • jerrold

    CBC says it’s made of brass and silver :)

  • Marc Lostracco

    Silver’s likely too expensive, and the nickel and/or aluminum alloy is the most common these days (the alloy is usually predominantly copper). The TTC won’t say what they’re made of, so the CBC is speculating, just like moi.

  • steve

    I think they look quite stylish.
    It’s just a bonus if they actually work to cut back on the counterfeiting.

  • Andy

    Dammit, my American dimes won’t work anymore.

  • Phill

    While the RFID thing would be cool, it would be needlessly expensive (you’d need to make each machine a faraday cage; you’d have to account for tokens that just got broken; you now have to account for a database filled with millions token authentication data and it run it across the token’s RFID, in a second or two; etc etc – I’m not even majoring in electrical engineering)
    Less fancy but just as effective is to have the machines test each token with an electromagnetic pulse and read back it’s composition accordingly; this can be done without any outside world verification, is a lot harder to fake than a radio signal and it’s so common it’s been used in Coke machines for over twenty years.
    If you want to get fancier, it’ll also test it’s weight and, maybe but unlikely, it’s texture as well.
    Just giving my educated guess :).

  • kevin bracken

    just get fare cards already… *sigh*

  • John Duncan

    Oooh! Pretty.
    And my money’s on it being copper and zinc. Zinc is dirt cheap.

  • mongo

    Oy, Phil, calm down man. What are you hepped up on at 12.51 in the morning to be cranking out all that educated verbiage (faraday cage?). I think YOU are the counterfitter. Yes I do.

  • Ben Wendt

    The dime/token mistake is such a pain in the ass. That is why I stopped riding public transit.

  • Marc Lostracco

    The only thing good about the dime-token mistake is when I’ve received tokens back as change from stores. Score!
    Phil: It seems like your electromagnetic signature speculation was probably right (the article has been updated). The other technique they seem to be using is within the grooves around the edge. The grooves are minted at a particular angle, both as a pattern around the edge and each individual groove’s facet. This readability combined with the electromagnetic signature seems to be what the TTC is employing.

  • Gloria

    I actually like it. They combated counterfeits AND solved the dime/token mistaken identity problem. I am flabbergasted the TTC did not mess this up.
    Copper/zinc sounds right. Does this mean they’ll have more heft to them too? Whatever the previous tokens were made out of (plastic?), they were too light, didn’t really make any noise when they fell on the ground, and I was always afraid they’d fly away in the wind and I’d never notice.

  • Marc Lostracco

    I believe the old tokens were aluminum alloy, as much as they felt like plastic!

  • rachel

    Kevin Bracken has it right, just get fare cards already. Follow the lead of New York and London and develop a refillable metro card – we’re almost there with the weekly and monthly metro passes, just add a new one; I can’t imagine that being more expensive than introducing new tokens.

  • mathew

    I agree. Screw this new token crap; update the system to use refillable fare cards. How freaking hard would that be, seriously?
    And change the day pass so it’s a card too, for christ’s sake, so I can use it from those entrances that are “token or metropass only”.
    And *then* they should fix the stupid transfer system that leads to the same kind of irritating problems.
    The TTC needs to look at what makes other subway systems in the world good for the customer, instead of NOT PAYING ANY ATTENTION AT ALL.

  • Marc Lostracco

    I think the TTC is paying attention, but they’re a slow-moving beast with — until recently — crippling operating budgets when it comes to these types of issues. Things like track repair, vehicle maintenance and overhead cable replacement costs are way more likely to get attention before an upgrade of “creature comforts” like passes and tokens.
    Of course, on a customer level, those are the kinds of things that are important, especially when we see other transit systems doing it effectively for a long time. Hamilton’s buses have had automatic coin counters since I was a kid (the talking kind that they used to unimaginatively call “Fare Fred”) and like on GO buses, the drivers can make change.
    New fare cards would most likely be chipped, the costs of which to implement include upgrading or adding the card readers from the magnetic swipe kind. There also might be union issues and bureaucratic hurdles. Not that it’s an excuse, though.
    Now, we all know how customer-end participation is not on the TTC’s radar (see our posts on the transit shirts), but if someone in the marketing department was thinking, they’d already be planning how to make fare cards collectible like phone cards. Refillable cards could be purchased in a whole bunch of limited-edition designs, which would be a hit for students and collectors alike. Perhaps even designs like on the t-shirt mockups! TTC: you know where to find me. Or even David Topping’s “69 Stations” photos or Spacing‘s subway station tile patterns.
    Hmm…I smell another Torontoist post idea…stay tuned!
    The one thing that the TTC has absolutely no excuse for is having token machines that don’t accept $5 bills. That’s one of the biggest WTFs of all.

  • rek

    Why does anyone use tokens? I never have.
    Anyway, there’s no such thing as “impossible to counterfeit”. Give them a few months and it’ll be done.

  • Marc Lostracco

    I like tokens a lot when I don’t have a metropass because it’s not always easy to have $2.75 exact change, there are no change machines in subway stations, the lines at the booth are long (especially at the end and beginning of the month) and because every time I ask a booth person to make change, they tend to act as if it’s one of the biggest impositions I could ever request, all the while barking something intelligible through that speaker and getting testy when I can’t understand what they’re telling me to do.
    So, in a nutshell, it’s to avoid the booth. Tourists like them too because they’re collectible souvenirs.

  • Gary

    The TTC stopped making paper tickets because of rampant fraud…
    Really? I use the paper tickets all the time. I read through the TTC news release and there was no mention of them discontinuing the tickets. Is this change something they snuck in with the new tokens?
    I prefer the tickets because I can just keep them in my wallet, rather than having to remember to specifically bring tokens if I’m planning to ride the TTC, and having them mix in with my coins and end up at the bottom of my change bucket, etc.

  • Marc Lostracco

    I believe the TTC is phasing-out paper tickets and where they’re being sold. I thought they had stopped accepting them after April 30th, but that was apparently for the old, easy-to-fake versions.
    The newer ones (which are going to be phased-out too upon the implementation of the smartcards) have to be sold by a TTC-authorized ticket agent with a decal in the window.

  • rocco

    OMG, wait til they figure out how to forge the paper tickets!!!!!

  • drew

    why is everyone going into such depth to figure out what chip is in it, what alloys are in it… you’re just giving it all away to anybody who wants to counterfeit these ones.

  • rek

    Drew – If you’re in the counterfeiting business, you coan probably figure out the metals used without the help of a blog.

  • Marc Lostracco

    The technology used in the new tokens has been used for years in thinks like slot machine chips, so it’s no mystery, nor would explicitly explaining how they work help counterfeiters since they’d easily figure that out anyway. The Bank of Canada is very clear about what security features are in their banknotes, albeit for a different reason (they want people to be aware of what’s missing in a fake bank note). Either way, it wouldn’t affect a serious counterfeiter.
    I was on the subway this morning and noticed they had ads up for the new tokens already.

  • matt

    Fare cards are great if the transit system is integrated. The TTC, GO, Mississauga, and VIVA are not there yet. So it would be useless to go the smart cards.
    It has to work on a regional scale to make the purchase of the technology less of a burden. It would be even worse if GO bought a system that didn’t work with the TTC’s. This could happen so it si worth the wait for the smart cards.
    It is easy to say “go get smart cards” but if you don’t want your fare to rise by 25 cents again, you’re going to have to wait for the GTTA to force it on all of the transit systems.

  • rek

    At $3, cabs would start to look a lot better to me.

  • Paige

    TTC= Take The Cab
    But anyways, I use tokens because unlike tickets, you can buy them in bulk and not have to worry about their value changing within a few months. Last year’s tickets can’t be used, but that token purchased 5 years ago is still good to go.
    (So, if you’re like my dad, buying $100 of tokens is an investment of sorts, haha)
    And also mainly for the line-bypass aspect too. Like hell I want to wait behind buddy counting out nickles to make fare at the subway ticket booth.

  • Clide

    I wish Moscoe and the TTC would ask themselves: “How does this improve the TTC experience for the average user?” It doesn’t, this does nothing for the average user and is therefore not progress. It only highlights that the TTC has been using the same token design for 52 years and low and behold, someone has been able to counterfeit it in 2006. I wish they would get off their ass and implement fare cards and wireless readers, why is this such a problem for them?
    Here’s what they should have done: Take the $1.7 million and issue an RFP for fare card technology in conjunction with the GTA systems. A private company will design, build, supply, and maintain the fare system in exchange for being able to put as much advertising on the cards and within the stations. (Of course, this assumes we can get out of the current contract.) Do I care if my fare card says Starbucks on it, not really.

  • kevin bracken

    Fare cards definitely do not require integration within the GTA to be useful. How many times have you seen somebody try to use a transfer outside the station they got it at? Or how about shown a questionable transfer? Or how about deposited a fistful of change that might add up to $0.95? Or how about pretended to put something in a subway fare box?
    All of these problems are eliminated by the use of a fare card, which stores your transfers on the card electronically. It can be used on the subway, bus and streetcar, and would make transferring between the three much simpler.

  • Marc Lostracco

    I don’t think Moscoe is particularly doing a bad job. The TTC is a historically dysfunctional entity that is often mired in bureaucracy, aging infrastructure, and volatile and unpredictable public funding, and it’s very hard to unravel that while keeping the service running at the current level.
    The TTC has studied smart cards for years, but they’re not going to implement an expensive system when we can’t even get basic answers out of either the provincial or federal governments about future funding or fare amalgamation.
    Nevertheless, I would have expected the TTC to have electronic fare counting boxes and day/week/metropass vending machines long before now.