Discounted transit fares for PRESTO users may be cancelled due to lack of funding

Jul 9 2019, 10:57 pm

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A discounted transit program that has been running since January 2018 may soon come to an end due to lack of funding from the province.

The Discounted Double Fare was launched last year for PRESTO users, introducing a cheaper fare for riders of GO Transit and TTC.

PRESTO users could combine GO trip, or UP Express trip to or from Pearson Airport, with TTC, and can save $1.50. Meanwhile, students/youth and seniors can save $0.55. The discount is applied automatically as transit users travel, and all they need to do is tap the transit card.

When it was first introduced, the provincial government, under Kathleen Wynne, said “for people whose regular commute includes GO/UP Express-TTC transfers, this step towards regional fare integration and more affordable transit options will save about $720 per year.”

And this week, in the TTC’s CEO Report for July, the TTC revealed that the funding for the discount program may be ending this year.

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“On June 18, 2019, the TTC and the City of Toronto received a letter from Metrolinx concerning the Discounted Double Fare (DDF) Agreement. Executed in 2017 by the TTC, the city, and Metrolinx, the three-year agreement provides discounted fares for customers transferring between GO/UP and the TTC,” said Richard J. Leary, TTC’s chief executive officer, in the report. “Under the agreement, the revenue loss to Metrolinx and the TTC from the reduced fares is fully subsidized by the province up to a cap of $18.4M per year.”

Leary said the purpose of the agreement was to increase the use of GO/UP services within Toronto, and to enable seamless customer trips between TTC and GO/UP systems.

“Metrolinx advises it now estimates that the program will exceed this financial year’s provincial funding cap by up to $10M and that funding may be exhausted as early as October 2019, well ahead of the Agreement’s expiration date of March 31, 2020,” states the report.

According to Leary, Phil Verster, president and CEO at Metrolinx, is proposing a “sustainable strategy for the continuation of this fare integration initiative, one that does not use a subsidy from the provincial government.”

Metrolinx also told Daily Hive that “the current funding agreement was designed to be temporary for the initial transition period, which is why a new agreement is needed between Metrolinx and the TTC.”

Verster is proposing GO Transit and TTC continue to offer the Discounted Double Fare without provincial subsidy starting this October. Metrolinx said it has proposed a revised strategy where both Metrolinx and the TTC “share the cost in providing the discount and mutually benefit from the revenue generated through increased ridership.”

But the TTC said that if the program does continue that way, “there could be unanticipated budget pressures for the remainder of 2019 and all of 2020 due to the loss of the provincial subsidy.”

TTC staff is currently in discussion with the City of Toronto and Metrolinx, and will be conducting a detailed cost-benefit analysis, according to the CEO report.

Staff will report to the board in September with their analysis and seek direction on the future of the program.

NDP Transit critic Jessica Bell said that the Ford government’s cancellation of the transit fare discount will cause fare hikes, which isn’t the way to encourage ridership.

“With this Doug Ford cut, people who commute in to work in Toronto using a combination of GO and the TTC could soon face a fare hike of $1.50 for every commute. Fare hikes are not the way to encourage ridership, and forcing commuters to dig into their pockets for an extra $1.50 per round-trip is going to hurt the monthly bottom-line for already-squeezed working people,” said Bell in a statement.

“The province should have been planning to make those fares fully integrated, because no one should be charged two fares for a single trip to work. But now, due to Doug Ford and the Conservatives’ funding priorities, the entire discount could be scrapped… Ontarians deserve public transit that is streamlined, reliable and affordable — not delays, overcrowding, and endless fare increases.”

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