Monday, 23 November 2015

TTC Fare Hikes: Too Much, Too Soon

Today, the TTC Board voted to take the following action in regards to fares:

CC BY-NC-ND: Stephen Rees 
  1. Freeze Metropass fares
  2. Increase tokens by 10 cents
  3. Freeze student/senior tickets
  4. Increase cash fare by 25 cents
I am fairly supportive of the way this unfolded in principle. There should be an increasing price in outdated fare media that requires regular administering at a certain cost; the TTC spends 8% of fare revenues collecting fares. The same can be said for Metropasses, but handling of coins and paper is a daily thing. The less frequent, the better. Especially cash, as this is a heavier security operation that has put TTC staff at risk. With the PRESTO card on the way, the incentive to switch to a lower-cost fare collection operation will be greater. Fare equity for students and seniors was also maintained.

The one part I don't agree with is the way PRESTO is equated with token prices. Adult PRESTO users will also see their fares go up by 10 cents, as confirmed by TTC Head of Communications Brad Ross. He pointed out there are administration costs to PRESTO as well, but electronic transactions from a fare card with a long lifetime are inherently lower, but also mentioned that changes are coming to the TTC's fare policy. Hopefully, this can be fixed.

Anyway, all of that is based upon principle. In reality, these increases are too much, too soon. 

The fare increases will take effect January 1, 2016. This is one year before the target the TTC and Metrolinx have set to implement PRESTO system-wide; all subway/RT stations, streetcars and buses. But this is not a guaranteed date. The project may be implemented behind schedule, which would be no surprise to anyone; see miscellaneous other TTC projects big and small. The manufacturer may produce behind schedule; see Bombardier's late delivery of streetcars. And there may be extra readers required above original estimates; again, see Bombardier's late delivery of streetcars.

That means that lower income adults that do not need the TTC every day (do not need Metropasses) got hit the hardest today. These individuals are more likely to live in northeast / northwest Toronto and other isolated pockets where designated Neighbourhood Improvement Areas and other lower income neighbourhoods are served by far flung bus routes. PRESTO is currently available at subway stations and on two streetcar routes, and while the TTC is committing to roll-out on buses by the end of 2016, it will be a uncertain patchwork until then, and if it is on time.

It is also after fares have outpaced inflation, at no fault of the TTC. Ridership has been surging, even as it has fallen short of forecasts since the system is getting too full. It is also matched by a lack of operating subsidies, which are the lowest in North America.

So while raising prices on physical fare media is a good idea in principle, any fare increases should have been held off for at least a year until PRESTO was fully rolled out, and full analysis and changes to the fare structure occurred. They also should have occurred after more operating subsidy from all three levels of government. Once again, the buck gets passed on, and its too much, too soon.