Photo by Ben Spurr.
A proposal to switch the TTC to a time-based transfer system is about a lot more than making transit more convenient.
The plan, which will be debated at the commission's board meeting on Tuesday, would give riders either a 90- or 120-minute window to hop off and on TTC vehicles after paying a single fare.
The report going before the board says that the timed system, which is standard in many Canadian cities, has been "requested frequently by customers to aid them in making stop-over transit trips." It would also be easier on transit operators, who are tasked with enforcing the current continuous-ride transfer system.
But likely the new transfers' most important effect would be to make public transit more equitable, by providing fare relief to the vulnerable groups who rely on the TTC the most.
In Toronto (as elsewhere) low-income earners are the biggest users of public transit. According to a 2010 study, 56 per cent of households earning less than $24,000 a year did not own a car, compared to 29 per cent of households making $40,000 or more.
Women also use the TTC at disproportionately high rates. A 2006 U of T survey found that 58.2 per cent of Toronto public transit riders were female.
Dr. Kara Santokie, project director for the Toronto Women's City Alliance, says that low-income and single mothers depend on transit to run daily errands, like taking their children to medical appointments, daycare or recreational activities.
Under the current system, a round trip for such an outing could cost a mother and two children at least $11.50, depending on the kids' ages. That price is too high for many low-income women to pay regularly.
"The cost of transit can actually be quite a barrier," Santokie says. "I have personally met women... who actually have had to give up accessing recreation because of the cost of transit."
Santokie says that timed transfers would ease the burden on low-income women, who are disproportionately new immigrants or from racialized groups, by allowing them to make round trips on a single fare. That's especially important as fares continue to rise year after year.
Santokie's concerns are backed up by recent research conducted by the city. Citing information collected by the Fair Fare Coalition, a 2013 report by Toronto Public Health noted that "the cost of public transit limits [poorer residents'] access to essential programs and services (e.g., doctors' appointments, food programs, employment services) by restricting when and where they can go. For many respondents, decisions can come down to purchasing food or taking the TTC."
The report listed timed or "open" transfers as one way to make transit more accessible.
Professor Murtaza Haider, director of the Institute of Housing and Mobility at Ryerson University, also supports the timed transfer proposal. He argues that it would serve "the very purpose of public transit," which is "to help facilitate commuting not for just the privileged few, but for all."
Although instituting the new transfer regime could cost the commission up to $20 million in lost fares, Haider hopes the price tag won't scare anyone off. He sees it a drop in the bucket compared the billions of dollars being invested in questionable projects like the Scarborough subway.
"That is not [considered] a waste of money but somehow when we create a program that would benefit low-income households, suddenly we become money cautious," he laments.
The new system would be implemented in 2015, and its cost would have to be offset by an increased subsidy to the TTC. Although the commission board appears supportive, council may be reluctant to give its approval given the current investment-averse climate at City Hall.
But Santokie argues that if funding for the TTC is going to be increased to change the transfer system, the commission should also look at using additional money to reduce fares or even give discounts to low-income riders.
"We can't look at the time-based transfer in isolation," she says.