Where is The Campaign For Fair TTC Fares?
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Where is The Campaign For Fair TTC Fares?

Price fairness must be part of discussions on integration between TTC and GO Transit.

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Photo by MrDanMofo via Torontoist’s Flickr Pool

“Thirty-five rides or fight!”

It hasn’t quite got the ring to it I would like in a slogan. But it will do for now. (Suggestions welcome.)

We need some kind of campaign to lobby for fairer fares for the TTC, particularly in the context of any discussion of “fare integration.”

If you use Presto on GO transit, after the 35th ride in a month, subsequent rides are deeply discounted; after 40 rides they are free. 

For example, if you take the train from Unionville to Union Station, regular fare is $8.20 one-way. With Presto, it’s $7.28, a discount of 11 per cent. Your 35th ride on that line, using Presto, will cost you 99 cents, a discount of 88 per cent. More than 40 rides, and you ride for nothing.

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TTC riders deserve the same.

Regular Monday-to-Friday commuters are rewarded for making all their trips on GO Transit.

On the TTC, regular Monday-to-Friday commuters are better off using tokens than getting a monthly pass—which means they pay the same price as anyone else who rides only occasionally, and there is no incentive to travel more often.

To pour a bit more salt in the wound, the TTC’s cash fare is only 25 cents more than the discounted fare riders get by using tokens or Presto. That’s a reduction of 8 per cent. There is very little reward for being a loyal customer.

Want some more salt? GO Transit will refund your fare if the train is more than 15 minutes late.

One reason for Presto’s existence is to smooth transfers from one transit system to another within the Greater Toronto Area—and beyond: you can use a Toronto Presto card on Ottawa’s system.

Presto is a key aspect of efforts at fare integration, because using the one payment system creates possibilities for custom arrangements. On the surface, it looks good.

Even without binoculars, anyone paying attention to such things could see Metrolinx’s plans for fare integration involved pushing the TTC to a fare-by-distance system, which they finally mentioned outright at a recent meeting.

Let’s look at that Unionville to Union Station trip again. The distance is 33 kilometres. At the regular Presto fare, the distance costs the rider 22 cents per kilometre.

A commute from Eglinton to Union is 7.2 kilometres. At the GO Transit rate, that should cost $1.58, or about half of what it currently does.

It gets worse. The longer the distance, the more your GO ride is discounted—or, to think of it another way, the more it is subsidized by the provincial government and other riders. The trip from Oshawa to Union is 52 kilometres. Its Presto fare is $9.64, or 18.5 cents per kilometre.

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Protesting TTC fare increases. Photo by Damien D. via Torontoist Flickr Pool.

At that rate, only trips over 16 kilometres would exceed the $3.00 TTC fare. Most TTC trips would cost less. On average, TTC riders pay more per kilometre per ride than many GO Train riders.

Fare integration is the main obstacle to SmartTrack fulfilling its optimistic ridership projections, which are based on riders using TTC fare to get on GO Trains.

The Mayor promised SmartTrack at TTC fares. He didn’t promise TTC fares would remain the same as they are now. Metrolinx seems to think the solution is to harmonize fares by creating fare-by-distance on the TTC.

The difference in fare right now, from Kennedy to Union, is the TTC’s $3.00 to GO Transit’s $5.02. The City has also flagged the problem of high GO Train fares on shorter trips within the city.

Framed through a discussion about SmartTrack, that makes it look like the TTC has the better deal. But if that 18-kilometre GO trip had the Oshawa rate, the fare would be $3.33.

I don’t begrudge subsidizing surburban transit riders. It is better for them and for us all to have more commuters on the train or the bus than in their private cars.

There is a problem, however, with having a conversation about “fare integration” that fails to recognize it as a starting place, that the subsidization of suburban riders is greater than of city riders.

That applies within the TTC system, too. With a flat fare, those who move within the central city subsidize riders coming in from the city’s own inner suburbs. But in the case of Toronto, there are important equity issues addressed by a flat-fare system, as many of those inner suburbs are the home of residents with lower incomes than the city’s average.

A fair conversation about “fare integration” across GTA systems ought to result in comparable rates of per-kilometre costs, and thus, lower fares for TTC riders.

At a minimum, the transition to Presto should give TTC riders the same discounts for regular commuters. After 35 rides in a month, the next five rides should be 99 cents. After 40 rides, additional trips should be free.

The Presto fare system on GO Transit is a good one for turning part-time riders into regular commuters. It is also good for turning regular commuters into all-occasion riders, people who use transit not just for work or school, but for personal and recreational trips. It becomes their default. That’s the kind of habit we want to encourage.

Without clearer, fuller information, the “fare integration” discussion could easily produce a better deal for GO riders than TTC riders, when in fact it is TTC riders who need and deserve fare relief.

“Thirty-five rides or fight.” It’s not catchy, but it’s fair.