If it’s axiomatic that attention to pocketbook issues is key to any successful municipal election campaign, Mayor John Tory has been hitting all the right notes this week on transit policy.
On Thursday, on the heels of his call for a transit fare freeze in the election year of 2018, Tory urged the Toronto Transit Commission to implement time-based transfers across Toronto’s entire transit system for PRESTO card users.
It’s an idea whose time has come, and a right already effectively enjoyed by those able to afford Metropass cards.
Time-based transfers — allowing riders to hop off and on TTC vehicles within a specified period on a single fare — would address several TTC needs by increasing ridership, reducing fare evasion, increasing PRESTO use from its current 14 per cent of riders, and, most important, make transit more affordable.
Such schemes are widely used on other transit systems and transit advocates have long called for one in Toronto. The measure would especially benefit low-income riders who commonly rely on transit to run errands. It would allow them to make multiple stops to shop or get children to various appointments. As it stands, a second fare is required for other than one-way, continuous trips.
Small businesses have also supported a timed-transfer system, saying it would increase foot traffic, business and tourism on streets close to TTC routes.
Timed-transfers — temporarily used on the St. Clair streetcar route more than a decade ago — would cost the TTC an estimated $20 million annually. But that would be an investment in improved accessibility for poorer commuters in a city already prone to income-based segregation.
Besides, transfers are currently the biggest contributor to fare evasion that costs the TTC about $15 million a year and timed-transfers would be expected to reduce that loss.
For Tory, it’s a one-for-the-little-guy initiative likely to make him a little closer, pace the late chief magistrate Nathan Phillips, to being seen as “mayor of all the people.” More importantly, it’s a good idea.