At left, and for your consideration, is the Octopus Card Torontoist uses during trips to visit mother in Hong Kong. It’s a stored-value dealy, meaning that you stop by the train station or corner store on your way to wherever, put like $500 on the card, and whizz around on public transit all day without actually handling any change. And while it’s increasingly easy to use Octopus at convenience stores and fast food outlets across the Special Administrative Region, it’s not like one of those stupid Dexit things they’re trying so desperately to flog in subway stations. First of all: it’s free to use; no fees for filling the damned thing up. Secondly, and most importantly: its main use is for transit.
Hong Kong, like the GTA, has a million different transit companies operating throughout its thousand square kilometres. There’re the subway, four commuter rail lines, a streetcar line, three large bus companies and countless independently-operated minibuses. And it used to be that you had to haul out your change purse and pay independently for each ride you took on each mode of transit. Change, especially the little ten- and twenty-cent pieces, became an uncommonly precious commodity, and Torontoist used to head down to Mongkok with the equivalent of about $50 Canadian in small coinage in his bag just to pay the subway piper.
Now, the situation’s not nearly so dire in the GTA, but it’s begun to occur to local transit nabobs that an Octopus-like prepay system may well suit Toronto to a… T.
City Councillor and TTC Commissioner Brian Ashton is finally beginning to submit to the idea that a system employed to very good effect in similar situations in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Washington, DC, among countless other cities, may represent the inevitable for Toronto commuters. GO’s been on board, as it were, for some time, but as chairman Gordon Chong told the Star today, TTC “had to be dragged kicking and screaming.”
If plans do begin moving forward, Torontoist will be the first to extend kudos. We only hope that the local transit operators follow their Hong Kong counterparts’ lead in starting their own prepay card company (thereby allowing them to plow the profits into improvements)and don’t farm the job out to those Dexit kids and their desperate ads.