Setting up a region-wide integrated transit fare system across the 11 transit agencies of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) has been a goal of transit planners for over a decade. Metrolinx’s 2007 Regional Transportation Plan (The Big Move) proposed Big Move #6 as “Implement a region-wide integrated transit fare system by 2012 that allows users to pay a seamless, integrated fare for all transit systems across the region”.
The work to meet this objective has not gone well. The first five years were largely spent on getting the Presto card and hardware up and used by riders, and ensuring that all transit agencies, especially the Toronto Transit System (TTC), used the system. Serious policy work on fare integration did not start until late 2013. The key barriers to integration were identified as:
- Different fares for similar journeys in different parts of the region
- Double fares resulting from lack of fare integration between GO and TTC and between TTC and neighbouring transit providers
Various fare models were developed and analyzed over the next three years, including
- Modify the existing system (reduce barriers)
- Create new zone-based system
- Create new hybrid system – fares by distance and flat fare
- Fares by distance
- Fares by mode
- Fares by time (eg 2 hours travel on one fare)
In September 2017, Metrolinx concluded that modifying the existing system captured considerable benefits and was least disruptive/least complex, by avoiding the need for centralized fare setting and revenue allocation. Four specific “step-by-step” strategies were set:
- Discounts on double fares (GO-TTC)
- Discounts on double fares (905-TTC)
- Adjustments to GO’s fare structure
- Fare policy harmonization
Transport Action Ontario agrees with this incremental approach to removing obvious fare irritants.
Limited progress on these strategies has occurred since that time
- In January, 2018, the Wynne government initiated a $1.50 co-fare between TTC and GO, representing a discount of about 50%, and committed to a subsidy of about $40M for a three year period to compensate for lost revenue by GO Transit and TTC. This July, the Province announced it would halt the subsidy in 2020. Metrolinx has stated it will continue to offer the discount on TTC transfers to GO and has urged TTC to match the transfer discount to the TTC. TTC has indicated that a detailed cost benefit analysis will be conducted prior to a decision in September.
- In Spring, 2018, the Wynne government announced a $1.50 discount between TTC and adjacent 905 transit providers, and provided a 3 year subsidy of $70M to account for lost revenue. This promise died when the Liberals lost the election.
- In Spring, 2018, the Wynne government also announced a reduction in the fare for short GO trips, providing a subsidy of $90M over three years. This promise also died when the Liberals lost the election. However, in Spring 2019, the new provincial government did reduce GO fares for shorter trips to $3.70 minimum, while raising them for longer trips. This more closely aligns fares to local transit fares and may provide some relief to the subway network. In this case, Metrolinx has indicated that no additional provincial subsidy was offered, meaning that GO just “ate” any revenue loss.
- In Summer, 2018, TTC implemented a two hour transfer policy, consistent with that offered by 905 agencies. This is the first concrete example of fare policy harmonization.
In addition to fare integration, there is the related problem of service integration. Currently there is a frustrating absence of a “customer service” attitude when more than one transit agency is involved. One bad example is where a 905 transit agency (eg YRT or Miway) bus route goes to a subway station within Toronto (eg Finch or Islington). There is a “closed door” policy wherein riders boarding within Toronto cannot use the 905 bus to go to the subway, even if convenient and available. They must wait for a TTC bus, even if inconvenient.
We recently met with Metrolinx staff to review the events of the past few years. On fare integration, staff indicated that it was their belief that the Province would not be providing any more fare integration subsidies. Any reduction of double fares would come from the affected agencies, either asymmetrically (unilaterally) or bilaterally. For example, it would be possible for York Region Transit to unilaterally accept transfers from TTC at a lower rate, independent of whether TTC would reciprocate. Staff also indicated that umbrella agency working groups were studying service integration and policy harmonization ideas, and to expect announcements soon.
Transport Action Ontario is disappointed with the slow progress of fare and service integration and urges all agencies and governments to commit funds and resources to this important area.