A new way to pay transit fares is coming, but many details remain to be worked out.
The first part of a $250-million “smart” fare card project will be unveiled in a few months by the provincial government, allowing some riders in Mississauga to use a single card to get on certain local buses, GO Transit trains and the TTC at Union subway station. After this pilot project, the plan is to allow transit riders across greater Toronto to pay for any bus, streetcar or train ride using one fare payment system.
For the TTC, the region’s largest transit agency, there are a lot of pros and cons to switching from cash, tokens and passes. Commission chair Adam Giambrone says, “The brilliance of the TTC system is it’s easy to use, it’s intuitive … and it doesn’t break down very easily.”
On the other hand, he says, a new payment method would be “exciting,” adding, “People prefer a fare card, in general, and it has the ability to give us some very significant advantages, and make our system more modern.”
But, he warns, “We have some very serious concerns,” including how much it will the TTC cost to implement and maintain a new payment technology.
“The question is, do you want to spend 16 to 20 million dollars — which could be the price tag for a new fare card each year in operating costs. If you want to balance that off against increased (transit) service, well, you can get a lot of service for $20 million a year.”
Giambrone says the ongoing cost of the project is likely to go up considerably from current estimates, stating, “We expect that the TTC system would have to hire 85 to 100 people to administer it.”
Jamie Rilett, spokesperson for Ontario transport minister Donna Cansfield, says the ministry couldn’t comment until it receives an expected business case overview from the TTC.
There are still many decisions to be made before the initial Mississauga test begins, such as what the card will be called or exactly how people will add money to it. Along with a pay-as-you-go system — where a customer’s card would be debited for each ride — Rilett says fare payment would eventually include options similar to the unlimited-use Metropass.
Fare cards in other cities will also cover non-transit purchases, like parking fees or items in stores. Although there are many questions about the GTA’s future card, such as what it’s to be called, you’ll have to wait for an official website to be unveiled.