A Lakeshore GO train waits to pick up passengers in Union Station, image, James Bow, Transit Toronto

This week, the Metrolinx Board of Directors approved a plan to reduce fares for passengers riding its buses or trains and Toronto Transit Commission vehicles during one trip. It's introducing a 50-percent discount for PRESTO fare-card users who transfer between GO Transit or Union Pearson Express and the TTC.

If Toronto City Council endorses the deal, starting in January, adult, senior and youth riders will pay a half-price TTC fare of just $1.50 when they use a PRESTO card after changing from GO or UP Express. TTC passengers who connect with GO or UPX will also enjoy lower fares--the PRESTO system will reduce the cost of their trips by $1.50. This step will save passengers whose regular commute includes transferring between systems about $720 per year.

This is a tentative first step by Metrolinx toward achieving a long-term regional fare structure. As Andrew Johnston recently reported in UrbanToronto, in the shorter-term, Metrolinx aims to "'immediately begin to focus on removing barriers to fare integration one step at a time while working with transit operators to mitigate divergence within the GTHA fare system'. The barriers that Metrolinx specifically points to are double fares (GO/TTC & 905/TTC), adjustments to GO's fare structure to increase the attractiveness of GO for shorter-distance trips, and fare policy harmonization."

Metrolinx has presented four options for integrating fares over the long term, image, Metrolinx

Metrolinx says that passengers currently make 50,000 Monday-to-Friday single trips using both Metrolinx and the TTC. It estimates that about two thirds of these passengers tap their PRESTO cards to pay their fares.

Since the TTC is the largest municipal transit agency in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, paying two fares to switch from regional to local transit in Toronto creates a major barrier to seamless travel in the region. By reducing the total fare amount, Metrolinx hopes that more GTHA residents will consider transit trips that combine GO/UP and the TTC, potentially changing behaviour and increasing the number of riders for both systems.

The government of Ontario has approved funding to as much as $7.15 million in 2017-18, and $18.4 million in each of 2018-19 and 2019-20 to support this initiative. PRESTO will deliver the GO / UP-TTC discount in largely the same manner as it has for many years for other GTHA municipal transit systems.

(Most local transit agencies in the region allow riders to pay a lower fare–generally from about 60 to 80 cents – when they tap their PRESTO card or show the driver a GO or UPX ticket that would allow them to travel on the same day.)

Premier Kathleen Wynne, Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca and Mayor John Tory visited Union Station earlier this month to announce the plan. Since then, the Toronto Transit Commission, the City of Toronto's Executive Committee and, now, the Metrolinx board have agreed to the proposal. Toronto City Council will consider whether to implement these discounts during its meeting in early November.

If council approves the double-fare discount plan, it would also cancel two other pilot projects to integrate fares between the two transit agencies:

  • Special transfer rules between GO and TTC at Rouge Hill GO station for those travelling to the University of Toronto's Scarborough Campus, affecting about 30 daily trips.

  • The GO-TTC sticker pilot program that offers TTC Metropass holders the option to buy a pass sticker for $60 per month. The sticker enables to travel an unlimited number of trips each month on GO trains operating between Danforth, Union and Exhibition GO stations. According to Metrolinx, fewer than 100 passengers buy the sticker each month, and the program would become significantly less attractive after the TTC and Metrolinx launch the new double-discount fare, which offers a similar level discount without passengers needing to pay up front for a period pass.

    Presto reader on a TTC bus, image, Craig White

Will the plan help improve transit inside Toronto? Certainly, residents living far from the core—for example, in Scarborough, which has more GO stations than any area in the city—who can afford an extra $3 daily to commute might find the idea of faster rides to and from downtown Toronto attractive, although they'd also have to get used to far less frequent service than the TTC buses or rapid transit trains they usually ride.

Instead, the chief direct beneficiaries would likely be those who live beyond the City limits who need to travel within Toronto some distance from GO stations on their daily commutes.

However, if that results, indirectly, in more passengers for the TTC that, in turn, will provide more fare revenue for the TTC and all transit riders will benefit from that.

What do you think? You can join the discussion in our forum thread, or add your comments in the form on this page.