Integrating Information and Fares

There is no comprehensive, integrated information or on-line “journey planner” for the entire GTHA. There is also no comprehensive integrated fare system. If people cannot easily get information about how to make a multi-modal cross-boundary journey, and how much it will cost, they are likely to drive instead, if that option is available to them.

Timetables for most services can be found using Google Maps or other websites; however, they do not provide any fare information and do not always work effectively where there is a walk or interchange required. Some municipal operators have developed their own journey planners, offering more information however, they do not include regional trips involving other operators.

Each of the regional systems operates its own fare system, usually with a flat fare allowing free or discounted transfer between buses or trains, but passengers using two or more systems usually need to purchase two or more fares. There are many integrated fares available, but the rules are complicated and are mostly useful for regular commuters. For example, the $55 weekly “GTA Pass” is valid on TTC, York, Brampton, and Mississauga transit, but not on GO or other regional systems. It can be purchased in person only, at a limited number of locations.

Metrolinx is introducing PRESTO, an electronic smartcard payment system. This will mean passengers do not need to stand in line to purchase tickets. It will also make it easier to offer multi-operator fares.

For example, a person who wants to travel from Square One in Mississauga to the Toronto Zoo can use Google Maps to determine that the trip can be made by various combinations of Mississauga Transit (MiWay), GO buses and trains, and TTC buses and subway. Journey time can range from 2 hours 5 minutes to almost 3 hours. The fare can range from about $10 to $20, but to determine this, the traveller would need to study the websites of all three operators, and would probably give up in confusion. Passengers travelling from, say, Scarborough Centre to Mimico must purchase separate fares if they want to use the faster GO train as well as the TTC, although TTC has now introduced a “TTC Times Two” policy which allows use of TTC, then GO, then TTC without requiring payment of a second TTC fare.

Features of an integrated fares system include:

  • A single fare for a journey, even if it involves travel over two or more operators;
  • Fares set at a level that are competitive with alternatives for most passengers, which thereby maximize ridership and revenues, within public subsidy constraints, usually achieved with a zone fare system;
  • Premium fares for higher quality and faster services (and, conversely, lower fares for passengers who use only slower surface routes);
  • Fares which help to manage demand, for example with lower fares for off-peak and non-radial trips;
  • Easy payment, now usually achieved with a smartcard that can be “topped up” either at a machine or by direct bank or credit card payment;
  • Regular fare adjustments in line with average incomes, to support continued system investment, renewals, and service improvement without increased subsidies and without the “shock” of large, less frequent fare increases.

For comparison, see the London regional journey planner at http://journeyplanner.tfl.gov.uk. This online service offers various public transport route choices at any time of the day between any two points across southeastern England. Origin and destination can be specified by street address, postcode, station, or other identified place. Information is current, reflecting any special service changes or suspensions, and is available on the web and on smartphones. Users can also specify whether they are seeking the fastest overall journey, fewest changes, or routes that do not require using stairs or escalators. They can even specify their own walking speed; on some complex routes, it is faster to walk rather than transfer to a bus or train for a part of the trip, and sometimes a very different route is then suggested.

The Transport for London (TfL) Journey Planner does not give fare information for each journey, but the website does provide comprehensive information which makes it fairly simple to calculate the fare for any journey. This is because TfL has implemented an integrated fares system. Passengers can use the Oyster smartcard for almost any journey across the network, changing between modes and operators without paying a separate fare. The fare is set for the total journey based on an easily understood zone system.[1] Short feeder bus trips to rail are, in effect, free to the user. Revenues are shared between bus, underground (subway), light rail and commuter rail operators, according to actual usage. While passengers can purchase daily, weekly, monthly, and annual passes for specific zones, the Oyster system automatically “caps” payments each day.

Oyster users don’t need to know the fare before they travel, because the system automatically gives them the benefit of the cheapest applicable fare, for each trip, up to the value of the day pass. TfL has used the capping system to manage crowding, and also to address social needs. Higher daily caps apply if the Oyster Card is used before 9:30 a.m., or in the central zone, or on rail services (including the Underground). By giving passengers a financial incentive to avoid travelling in the morning peak on the busiest parts of the network, TfL can reduce crowding and avoid spending money on additional trains that will be required only for one trip each day.

TTC seems to believe that fare integration inevitably means a loss of revenue.[2] We think this view is mistaken. While simply providing free transfer onto TTC from GO might result in a loss of revenue to TTC, international experience is that a carefully designed integrated fare structure can increase overall system ridership and at the same time increase total revenues. 


Notes
[1] The main exception is Heathrow Express, which charges a special (and much higher) fare. The Riverbus, Emiriates Skyride (cable car), and Kent High Speed trains can be used with Oyster but there are surcharges on top of the normal zonal fares.
[2] See “Integration of TTC and GO Fares – Update”, TTC, November 18 2013.  http://ttc.ca/About_the_TTC/Commission_reports_and_information/Commissio...