The TTC's Fair Shot at Open Electronic Fares
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The TTC’s Fair Shot at Open Electronic Fares

Ossington Station fare collection in 2007. Photo by denmar from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Open electronic fare collection methods are an issue we’ve brought to TTC Chair Adam Giambrone and discussed before in our Rocket Talk series. But we felt the issue was worth examining again, especially after last night’s public information session on the subject at City Hall with Paul Korczak, the man behind New York’s MTA MetroCard and pilot open payment projects.
Open payment systems that allow customers to pay by tapping in with credit cards, debit cards, and even cellphones are nothing new and have been implemented in dozens of industries. But even though the technology is becoming widely available, it doesn’t look like Toronto will be adopting it any time soon.

On the TTC, Korczak told Torontoist, “it’s kind of shocking to see folks, for a single ride fare for example, exchanging money and getting change back and dropping it in this little box.”
Open electronic payments are “great” as they “eliminate a step,” he continued. “You simplify the customer’s process. You’ve also replicated what people know, as everyone knows how to shop…and a Visa or a MasterCard holder can shop anywhere.”
In Korczak’s experience, administration, rather than technical challenges or fraudulent use, is the biggest obstacle to implementing an open payment system. “Getting people to really understand this—changing people’s mindsets—I think that’s really been the most difficult thing,” he explained.
And while electronic fraud is important to recognize and combat, Korczak argues that it’s a problem that the retail market deals with every day and one that’s not as daunting as it initially seems. “Thieves think big,” he laughed. “If you’re a thief and you find a lost Visa card or American Express card, you’re not going to ride the subway with it.”
Even though the TTC is looking at new electronic payment systems and favours adopting an open system, it isn’t about to abandon Presto, its forthcoming smart-card technology. “We are working with the province to implement electronic fare payments,” Giambrone explained to us. “The province is pushing forward on Presto. It’s our belief that any electronic fare system needs to include open payments, because smart card technology is last decade’s technology. It still works, but it doesn’t look towards the future.”
Then there’s the issue of the TTC’s experimental fare boxes, which are currently being tested on several different routes, and whether their implementation might hinder efforts to move to an open payment system. According to Giambrone, though, the new boxes are just a “relatively inexpensive” way to stop fraud, and won’t impede the introduction of new electronic payment systems.
In any event, considering the TTC’s current funding situation, an open electronic payment system is probably still a long way off.
“Fare card/open payments requires somewhere around four hundred million dollars in capital funds,” Giambrone told Torontoist. “The TTC does not have the resources to do these projects and does not have the spare four hundred million dollars, so a lot of it is going to be up to the province to decide whether it has the resources to proceed…If everything were to come together for tomorrow, for example—and I’m not suggesting it will—it would still take three to four years to implement.”