Tokens are being phased out by the TTC

After multiple false attempts due to public concerns, the TTC retired tokens from general circulation on November 30th. TTC booths no longer sell tokens. Instead the TTC is encouraging the public to “move to a PRESTO card now to avoid potential line ups”. The move was delayed several times due to a myriad of problems with PRESTO. The TTC itself is going after Metrolinx for costs related to PRESTO’s for millions and the troubled pay system has created problems for customers from day one. 

Tokens were simple and their functionality is still years away from being replaced by PRESTO. This affects all transit users, but more so those that face barriers to get around. The design of the PRESTO system was never user friendly, from its retrofit of stations that reduced payment points for the sake of efficiency, to cards that take 24 hours to charge online, to the lack of payment points outside of subway stations. 

The public paid hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a system where it is harder to find a place that can charge your card. Whereas before, you could go into a number of small stores that sold tokens and tickets, now only Shoppers Drug Mart carries them and they are not everywhere. In buses and streetcars, every single user of the PRESTO card has run into broken equipment. The problem in development may be the lack of foresight into how people use transit and what their needs are. 

Case in point are the criticisms of the change from social and community workers and schools. There were people out there that needed free tokens to bridge gaps that allowed them to go to a job interview, attend school or receive health care services. For someone out of a job, going to 5 interviews with the price of tickets for adults being what it is, can add up quickly and prevent them from trying. Some students sometimes skip school because they cannot afford a bus ticket every day and this can lead to lower grades. Schools know this and always have bus tokens on hand. The new PRESTO system does not allow for an easy exchange of a single trip fare. 

This again is a design problem that other transit systems have already figured out. Since we are behind here in Toronto, an exception is being made for some of the social agencies and school boards. They will continue to have access to tokens until the system is more functional. The TTC thinks it has lost $3.4 million in fares due to the pay system. The app itself is still being upgraded and several years into it, there are many functionalities that are still a work in progress.

Needless to say that the consensus is that this was not an improvement, as much as moving towards a regional payment system was necessary. Tokens will be missed. 

Reflections on the federal election: Next time, let’s choose something other than the blue and red team

On October 21,  Canada and Downsview voted for a new Federal Government. After a very messy election, the result was a Liberal Minority government and the Conservatives as the official opposition, with the NDP and Bloc Québécois  holding the balance of power.

Every time there is an election in Canada, Ontario voters seem to be given two picks. With one exception 30 years ago, since Confederation in 1867 voters have only made one of two choices at the ballot box in Ontario: red or blue. We vote Liberal when we cannot stomach the cuts that the blue team is promising to carry out. We vote Conservative when we cannot stomach the corruption and waste of the red team. In this riding we lean red federally for decades. 

Here is a list of what bouncing between the blue team and the red team have gotten us: 

  • Housing that is unaffordable in the GTA because the government stopped building cooperative housing and affordable rentals in the 1990s. 
  • Nearly 30 years of unfulfilled promises for a Universal Childcare Strategy.
  • Rising medication costs, because pharmacare is not a priority for the two main parties. 
  • The most expensive phone bills in North America, and bad internet coverage.
  • The most expensive monthly metropass in North America, and bad bus service. 

These issues affect all of us day in and day out. Whether we are stuck in traffic because public transit is not an efficient way to get around, or we are jammed in a hospital where there are not enough nurses to treat us when we need help the most. Many people have to choose between buying their prescriptions and paying their rent on time, even if they work more than 40 hours per week.

These are all things that governments in other places have tackled and worked on. Collectively, people in Ontario seemed to feel that we avoided the cutting of programs from another Conservative government. But same as the blue team – the priority of the red team on the first day after the election were tax cuts for the rich and to build a pipeline for Alberta. 

There is very little difference between the priorities of the blue and the red teams. This is why when we vote for the same people, we get the same results.

All of Toronto’s representation is from the red team. It is as if we threw a red carpet over all of the GTA to cover up all that is wrong from the last decision we took in Ontario – hoping it would make up for it.

The good news is that minority governments tend not to last the full term, so there might be an opportunity to demand more and to demand differently sooner rather than later. The same old decision to go back and forth between red and blue is not moving us forward as a society.

Our buses are overcrowded and bus tickets are expensive

Waiting for the 36 Finch bus can make one ponder the meaning of life. It is never quick or an efficient use of time. Bus service is so unreliable, that if car insurance premiums were not so expensive in our area, most people would choose to drive instead of taking public transit. 

The majority of bus routes in Downsview are unreliable and overcrowded during the morning and afternoon rush. This reality leads to more cars on the road and more congestion. In case you have not heard about this update in local news, Toronto has the longest commute of any City in North America. [1]  

If taking public transit was more affordable, that would at least make the experience of longer than normal wait times more reasonable. However, Toronto is also known for having one of the most expensive bus fares in North America. An individual bus ticket in Toronto is one of the top five most expensive fares in general and our monthly transit pass is the most expensive option in the continent. [2]

Even though more commuters are added to our roads each year, it is not surprising that the growth of TTC riders has slowed down recently. Commuters will always choose another option if it’s offered to them for a fair price. People downtown, for example, have taken to cycling in very large numbers. A bicycle is the fastest mode of transportation for short trips in the city’s core. That being said, up here in Downsview cycling is not a realistic way to get to school or work year-round if you have far to go.

The way to get more cars off the road is not complicated, even if a series of successive governments have made it seem so. Building more reliable transit networks and making it affordable has worked everywhere an appropriate investment has been made.

That being said, here in Ontario successive Conservative and Liberal governments have reduced their share of transit funding, downloading the cost to rate payers and municipalities. Toronto gets the smallest share of higher level government funding out of every major city in Canada. That is the real reason why we take so long to build any new transit lines, nobody is paying for them. 

It took over 20 years to build the York University subway extension. By the time it’s finished, it will take a similar amount of time to build the Finch LRT. The improvements are coming too slowly and without the adequate funding required to make them work properly. 

Municipalities do not pay the bill for public transit expansion on their own. In other cities, higher levels of government step in to pay for the big projects and subsidize the trips for commuters. That type of investment makes transit more accessible, creating an incentive for people to leave their cars at home. The less cars we have on the road, the better. Helping people get to work more efficiently improves their quality of life because they can reallocate those wait times towards other priorities, like spending time with family.

Accessible and affordable public transportation options eases gridlock and boosts the local economy. In Toronto, we have not had a higher level of government involvement for decades, and you can see the lack of investment every time you are out there waiting for the bus. 

[1] https://www.cp24.com/news/toronto-has-worst-commute-in-north-america-sixth-worst-in-world-study-1.3983200 

[2] https://www.blogto.com/city/2019/01/how-ttc-fare-compare-toronto-north-america/