Limiting Tokens Prior to a TTC Fare Increase

This TTC token is now rationed to only 5 per purchase. What a pain in the ass. Shame on you TTC.

This TTC token is now rationed to only 5 per purchase. What a pain in the ass. Shame on you TTC.

It is inevitable as the seasons: a Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) fare increase. Here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, our three levels of government (federal, provincial, and municipal) do not subsidize mass transit as much as other cities, so the TTC is forced to increase fares more frequently. So be it. The trouble, however, starts long before the fare increase. Prior to City officials approving the fare increase by a vote, riders buy up adult tokens, making them more scarce. The TTC tries to control this by putting limits on the number of tokens purchased at any one time. This time the limit is 5. When you use 2 per day, this limit is a huge inconvenience on all riders. Goodwill towards the TTC goes down the toilet because riders spend an inordinate amount of time waiting to buy tokens rather than carry on with their lives, or worse still is not being able to buy tokens at all.

The rate increase was approved yesterday, November 17 2009, but will take effect January 6 2010. This means that riders need to scrounge for tokens and tolerate this huge inconvenience for about 1.5 months.

Of course no riders want a fare increase. The more money we spend paying for our commute the less we have for other items. Still, is there a way to lessen the inconvenience of the transition? A couple of years ago the TTC printed tickets, which were good up until the fare increase effective date. Purchasing tickets was a good transition option. Alas tickets were easily counterfeited and was eliminated due to cost.

All large city mass transit systems are subsidized. This gets most people off the road, allowing those that do drive faster commutes, decreases air pollution and makes commuting more economical for most riders. This is untrue for Toronto:

By the late 1980s, the annual cost of keeping the TTC afloat was now up to a quarter of a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money, although at 32% of all revenues, this was the lowest subsidy required of any city in North America. source

It seems every time the TTC has a fare increase, there is a run on tokens, resulting in shortages. The TTC resorts to rationing, which infuriates the riders. Whereas prior to the fare increase riders could buy a pack of 50 tokens, rationing forces riders to buy a maximum of only 5. If you take the TTC daily you need 2 a day, which means you’ll need to repurchase tokens within 2.5 days. Lineups ensue as riders quickly run out of tokens, followed by mayhem and anger against the TTC. One could lament that if riders simply did not horde tokens there would be enough for all, but logic dictates otherwise. When you know a product will increase in price and you will need it in the future, a prudent shopper will buy more today in order to spend less tomorrow. This is natural and expected human behavior.

The TTC is not set up to quickly and efficiently sell tokens. Even in the best of times the TTC works on cash only. Your choice is to buy from a ticket seller at the station, or from a vending machine at the station. Both are slow. Outside of subway stations, certain stores sell TTC tickets, but they are hit and miss, are not well marked, and often run out.

In contrast, the Hong Kong subway has fancy debit cards. They look great and serve as tourist freebies when they are finished. Fast and efficient, you buy a fixed amount of money from a vending machine and choose your design. They speed up getting on the subway. So efficient is the debit card system in HK that I am embarassed to say that their system has been in existence for going on 20 years, and Toronto has no such technology. I can’t help feel that we are so vastly underserved by the TTC.

A debit card system would greatly assist in combating the hassle regular riders face when fares increase. They would almost eliminate the need for tokens. Buy a card, put money in it. On a bus or subway, swipe and the fare will be deducted. There would be no physical object that one purchases that denotes a set fare. A rate increase would mean more will be deducted at the effective date, but the rider would not experience any inconvenience prior to this date.

Another solution would be that rate increases would be effective immediately. Though this would catch many riders by surprise, maybe a week of grace could be used, after which all fares would increase. This would greatly decrease the inconvenience experienced by riders today. This solution is akin to the “rip the bandaid off quickly, experience immediate pain, but less pain as time goes on”.

Trying to hide the fact of a rate increase would be impossible. There would also be a possibility that those in the know could make lots of money with this information.

Whatever solution is used, the current one of rationing tokens to 5 simply inconveniences and infuriates TTC riders. This solution shows just how backward thinking the TTC really is. The void of creativity cannot be covered up. One possible solution that many riders will employ is to simply not use the TTC and drive their cars to work. After all, with another 1.5 months of hell ahead of us and no solution in sight, driving would solve many problems. I would rather live my life my way and not worry about where to buy TTC tokens.

1 thought on “Limiting Tokens Prior to a TTC Fare Increase

  1. David Ing

    I thought that some progress should have been made on an electronic alternative to subway tokens — a really quaint method of payment in the City of Toronto. I found that the Presto Card is being rolled out by the Province, but don’t see it being used on TTC buses even by 2011.

    I see that Steve Munro blogged with a TTC Presto Update on November 17 about a report to move forward. A quick browse of the report reveals that it’s really all about who will pay for the infrastructure.

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