TTC recruits staff to help ease burden of heavier tokens

UNNATI GANDHI

Weighing in at 1.4 grams, the Toronto Transit Commission’s shiny new token comes with heavy implications.

As 30 million of the old, lightweight aluminum tokens are taken out of circulation, the weightier new generation — introduced to fight counterfeiting — has prompted the cash-strapped transit system to hire four permanent, full-time employees to help with daily delivery and processing.

“If you have 10 in your pocket, you’re not going to notice it. But when you’re delivering hundreds of thousands of these things, the weight is really significant,” TTC general secretary Vince Rodo said yesterday, the first day patrons could trade in old tokens for new.

The double-alloy token, roughly the size of a dime and resembling the gold- and silver-coloured toonie, is about 2½ times heavier than its old counterpart. Four new jobs were created to help deliver the tokens to the system’s 69 stations because of health and safety policies dictating how much weight an employee is allowed to carry. Each delivery bag will now hold about half the number of tokens as before.

Aside from extra trips TTC employees have to make because of the new weight, the transition from old to new has been smooth, said Mr. Rodo, who added that there are complaints of malfunctioning token receptacles trickling in.

Yesterday at the Bloor-Yonge subway station, one of four locations where tokens can be exchanged, eager Torontonians kept the line long all day. “I don’t really use tokens. I prefer tickets. So I thought I would come in to get rid of these today,” said Patrick Kelly, 60, who keeps his tokens in a dispenser he got in the early 1980s.

Quyen Lam, 44, doesn’t like tokens — she uses a Metropass — but she wanted to get the errand out of the way, “otherwise I will forget.”

The move toward new transit tokens was prompted by last February’s bust of what was called the largest counterfeit scheme in the transit system’s history. It involved five million high-quality tokens, in circulation since 2004, which police say were made in the eastern United States and smuggled into Canada. Toronto police and FBI agents arrested three brothers in Canada and a woman in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Even though the TTC is moving toward a smart-card system, — like those already in place in Hong Kong, London and New York — an interim, high-security token was “necessary” for the Toronto system, which loses about $7-million a year through fraud, including gate jumping and the use of fake tokens and Metropasses, TTC chairman Adam Giambrone said. That loss is just under 1 per cent of the system’s total revenue.

“This [new token] program has probably ended up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, but keep in mind that the fare revenue we lost from counterfeit tokens was estimated in the $5-million to $6-million range.”

The TTC is still trying to crack down on counterfeit Metropasses that look genuine but have fake electronic stripes on the back. These counterfeits cost the system about $300,000 a year.

The $250-million smart-card system, in collaboration with other GTA transit systems, will replace all tickets and tokens, and is expected to roll out some time between 2010 and 2012, Mr. Giambrone said. Prototypes are being tested right now.

Until then, booth operators will be vigilant for spikes in fake token returns, Mr. Giambrone said. So far, the number of counterfeit tokens coming in during the exchange period has been “consistent” with the past year. “If we had someone come in with, oh, I don’t know, 10,000 of the old tokens, we would be asking some questions,” he said. “But it would be hard for someone to come in several times with even 100 tokens. It’s going to be hard to make a lot of money, or make it worth the risk, at this point in the game.”

As for the old tokens, which were first cast in 1975, they’ll be sold for their scrap-metal value. The TTC is also considering putting some into museum collections, Mr. Rodo said. “We’ve got a lot of time, and a lot of tokens, to look into that.”

Beginning Feb. 1, only new tokens will be accepted on TTC vehicles. Exchanges can be made until Feb. 28, at the Bloor-Yonge, Finch, Kipling and Warden subway stations. After that, exchanges can only be made at TTC headquarters at Davisville station.




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