Mayor John Tory, councillors urge TTC to introduce time-based transfers

In an open letter to TTC CEO Andy Byford released Thursday morning, Tory and TTC Chair Josh Colle asked that TTC riders could enjoy multiple transit trips on a single fare.

Toronto’s transit advocates have long urged the TTC to implement time-based transfers, which are commonplace on other transit systems.
Toronto’s transit advocates have long urged the TTC to implement time-based transfers, which are commonplace on other transit systems.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

TTC riders could soon be able to enjoy multiple transit trips using a single fare.

In an open letter to TTC CEO Andy Byford released Thursday morning, Mayor John Tory and TTC Chair Josh Colle asked the transit agency to look into introducing time-based transfers, which would allow transit riders to hop off and on subway, bus and streetcar lines an unlimited number of times during a specified period after paying only once.

The policy would only apply to those who use the Presto fare card, who currently make up about 16 per cent of all TTC passengers.

Byford said he welcomed the request to look into time-based transfers.

“This is something we have long wanted to do, but the sticking point was always the available funding. I’ve instructed my team to expedite the work to meet the required deadline,” he said.

On funding, Tory told reporters Thursday that he will back the measures required to pay for the cost of introducing the new transfers.

“I wouldn’t have written the letter if I wasn’t to support, obviously, the funding in the budget to get this program underway in 2018,” he said.

Tory said starting with Presto users only will make it easier to implement time-based transfers and also encourage the use of Presto, which the TTC is in the process of migrating to.

The letter didn’t specify how long a window transit users would have to ride using a single fare, but the TTC has previously considered a two-hour window. According to the mayor’s office, a 90-minute period is also an option.

Tory and Colle are asking the agency to draft a report on the cost and other implications of the program later this month, with the goal of implementing the new policy across the entire system in 2018. TTC board member and councillor Mary Fragedakis is also supporting the initiative.

“I am dedicated to getting Toronto moving and making sure it is easier for people to get around our city,” said Tory in a press release. He added that the measure would “make life more affordable for our residents and further encourage transit ridership.”

The proposal is the second bit of good news announced this week that could benefit transit users in 2018, which is a municipal election year. With the backing of the TTC board, on Tuesday the agency proposed to freeze fares at current levels next year after six successive increases.

Current TTC transfer rules mandate that riders pay an additional fare if they’re not boarding another vehicle as part of a “one-way, continuous” trip. Transfers are also only valid at specific points of the network, which prevents riders from hopping off and on mid-route without paying again.

Toronto’s transit advocates have long urged the TTC to implement time-based transfers, which are commonplace on other transit systems. Earlier this week, non-profit advocacy group TTCriders held a press conference at city hall to urge the agency to endorse the idea. The group argued that the measure would particularly benefit low-income riders who rely on transit to do their errands, because it would allow them to avoid paying additional fares while making multiple stops to do shopping or pick up their children from appointments.

The group also said timed transfers could help attract more customers to the TTC, which is struggling with stagnating ridership growth.

In response to the mayor’s proposal Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of TTCriders, called time-based transfers a “no-brainer,” but argued the policy shouldn’t be limited to Presto users and should be implemented as soon as possible.

“We need it for all riders. The 50 per cent of riders who use cash and tokens would benefit from this greatly. We know that they’re more likely to be low-income riders, so that’s why they need these benefits too,” she said.

The TTC has previously estimated that implementing timed transfers for all riders would cost $20 million a year in lost revenue, which would have to be offset through a funding increase. It’s unclear how much it would cost to apply the policy only to Presto users, but it would be substantially less expensive, at least initially.

The TTC plans to stop accepting older forms of payment such as tokens, tickets and passes by the end of next year.

The TTC already released its initial 2018 budget proposal earlier this week, and didn’t include a proposal for time-based transfers. But the measure was expected to be included in the TTC’s long-delayed ridership growth strategy, scheduled to be released in February. That would make it too late to include any of its recommendations in the 2018 budget.

The report on timed transfers Tory and Colle are requesting would coincide with the TTC budget going before the agency’s board on Nov. 28, and would allow the proposal to be included into next year’s spending plan.

After the board, the TTC budget will be sent the city budget committee, the mayor’s executive committee and city council for final approval in February.

With files from Jennifer Pagliaro