Metrolinx proposes fare-by-distance,
and other models for integrating fares

More than 55,000 transit passengers a day in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton currently pay two fares for each trip, creating, Metrolinx says, a “barrier” that discourages people from using public transit. As rapid growth continues in the region, trips between municipalities form an increasingly large share of total travel.

Since local and regional transit agencies and their passengers are increasingly using PRESTO fare-cards, Metrolinx sees more possibilities for new regional fare approaches. Expanding rapid transit will be better with an integrated fare system, it claims.

In a report to its board of directors meeting this Friday, February 17, Metrolinx staff suggest that charging passengers for the distance they travel might be one way to improve the fare structure across the region.

Over the past year, Metrolinx has been considering three other models for charging fares, particularly when passengers travel on vehicles from more than one transit agency. All models depend on all regional and local transit passengers fully using the PRESTO fare-card system.


The three models that it’s already been reviewing:

1.) Modifying the current fare environment to address the most significant issues

With this model, most fares would remain the same, except for passengers who cross municipal boundaries. Instead of paying double fares, as they do now, these passengers would receive a discount for the second (or third) fare.

This would be the simplest model for Metrolinx and the local transit services to set up and would require no change to the current PRESTO system.

However, Metrolinx notes that discounts can’t fairly price the variety of trips across municipal boundaries and that “municipal boundaries still have arbitrary impacts on trip price”. (Staff are referring to passengers who may only travel a short distance - from East Mississauga to Etobicoke by MiWay and TTC, for example - but still have to pay extra because they has to transfer from one transit agency to another.)

2.) Re-introducing fare zones

With this model, Metrolinx would develop a new regional fare structure with passengers paying extra fares as they travelled from zone to zone.

This model would allow transit agencies to charge less for short trips. However, similar to municipal boundaries, zone boundaries have arbitrary impacts on trip price, depending on the position of the trip start and end points with respect to the boundary.

The TTC previously used fare zones until 1973. York Region Transit still uses zones for passengers travelling between north and south York Region.

Fare structure concepts.jpg

3.) Using a hybrid model

With this model, Metrolinx would develop a new fare structure with a region-wide flat fare for local trips while charging fare by distance for trips by rapid transit and regional trips. Fares would better reflect the value of each trip, Metrolinx says, independent of location or municipal boundaries. This model would require little change to how passengers use PRESTO to pay fares. However, staff have concluded, it introduces a price discrepancy between long trips on local transit and those on rapid transit and has limited ability to lower pricing for short trips.

It also provides a limited range of practical pricing options to address the loss of fare revenue resulting from region-wide flat fares on local transit.

With this report to the board, staff introduce the new fare-by-distance model for all fares in the region. (GO Transit uses a version of this model in its pricing, but it also adds a premium for express travel.)

4.) Charging fares by the distance that each passenger travels

Staff say that this model provides the greatest consistency in fares across all services and has the potential for high ridership due to lower-cost fares for short trips.

Fare concept summary.jpg

Metrolinx continues to complete a business case for integrating fares. Its vision is to increase passenger mobility, while maintaining the financial sustainability of transit services. When it fully establishes an integrated fare system, Metrolinx says, it intends for commuting costs to be no more than they are today. Integrating fares will remove barriers and enable commuters to perceive and experience transit as one network of multiple systems or service providers.

You can view the full staff presentation on fare integration here. (.pdf)