On Thursday, September 14th, Metrolinx will hold its fall board meeting, at which one of the items that will surely attract a significant amount of attention is the issue of fare integration, a topic that UrbanToronto has covered extensively this year, including a seven-part series that (temporarily) concluded back in March. The four options presented at Metrolinx's February board meeting included Modified Status Quo (Option 1), Zone and Hybrid Systems (Options 2 & 3), and Fare by Distance (Option 4), all of which are covered in detail in the linked-to articles.

A summary of the four fare integration options presented back in February, image courtesy of Metrolinx

The biggest change between the February and September updates is the increased amount of pragmatism that has found its way into the fare integration process. While the February update laid out the four options in their purest, most idealistic forms, this September update places greater emphasis on the political and bureaucratic challenges that fare integration faces.

The September update has made a clear delineation between shorter-term goals and longer-term goals. The update makes it clear that the longer-term goal is some type of fare by distance structure for the GTHA, but it acknowledges that there are significant hurdles in the way of that goal (more on those below). 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.

One of the issues that Metrolinx has paid specific attention to is what it refers to as "divergence". The problem, as Metrolinx sees it, is that "without more co-ordinated inclusive decision making, agencies’ fare systems are continuing to evolve independently of one another leading to greater inconsistency and divergence." The intent behind including this in their presentation seems to be a message to other transit agencies that 'the longer we don't deal with this issue, the worse it's going to become'.

A graphic explaining the concept of "divergence", image courtesy of Metrolinx

Currently, the only commitment to the longer-term fare by distance goal is to establish "a formal and inclusive decision making process... to establish the long-term GTHA fare structure vision". Essentially, talks surrounding fare integration have boiled down to 'let's fix the relatively easy stuff that we can agree on now, and agree to discuss bigger picture changes after those have been implemented'. This change in tack is welcome news for those who have been perturbed by the seemingly lofty goals of fare integration, but the lack of concrete changes to come from it.

In this latest update, Metrolinx has identified five specific types of challenges to achieving fare integration:

  • Payment Requirements: Specifically, the use of "legacy media" (i.e. Metropass cards and the like), and the tap on/tap off issue, both of which were covered in detail in this article.
  • Fare Structure-Based Factors: Ensuring that the fare paid reflects the distance, mode, and time of day travelled, and isn't excessively distorted by things like double fares or co-fares associated with system boundaries and multi-provider trips.
  • Concessions: GTHA transit systems have a plethora of concessions for any number of groups, including seniors, K-12 students, post-secondary students, and low-income individuals, each of which vary by agency. For example, Brampton has $1 senior fares, while Hamilton provides free travel to people over 80.
  • Products & Loyalty Programs: Some agencies have monthly passes (like the TTC), whereas some have monthly caps (like GO). Each of these passes or caps has a different "break-even" point, ranging from 22 monthly trips in Milton to 49 in Toronto. In addition, select post-secondary institutions have agreements with specific agencies. 
  • Pricing: Each agency sets their own fare, for which the Presto fares range from $2.30 in Hamilton to $3.63 in York Region, with the majority being around the $3.00 price point. The exception to this is GO, whose base fare of $4.71 is significantly higher. In addition, the difference between Presto fares and cash fares varies significantly between agencies.

While some of these challenges, including those dealing with double fares, are planned to be dealt with in the shorter term, many of them are systemic differences that can only be resolved by in-depth negotiations between multiple stakeholders, which is exactly what Metrolinx is proposing. That they have decided to not tie all of these improvements to the outcome of those negotiations is a positive step, as there has been a perception by some of a lack of action on this issue. By focusing on key issues such as double fares independently from the larger fare integration discussions, it will hopefully lead to some tangible action.

Metrolinx staff is scheduled to provide a further update on fare integration at the next Board meeting, scheduled for December 14, 2017. In the meantime, you can join the discussion on fare integration by visiting our forum thread, or by leaving a comment below.