TTC token phase-out worries advocates for the poor
A switch to Presto cards could mean big changes for drop-in centres, homeless shelters and other agencies that dispense tokens to marginalized clients.
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The Presto fare card system is supposed to help modernize the TTC. But what’s being done to make sure it doesn’t leave the transit agency’s most vulnerable customers behind?
By the end of this year, the TTC plans to finish rolling out Presto readers across its entire network. Sometime in mid-2017, the agency intends to stop accepting all other fare media, including tokens and tickets.
That could mean big changes for dozens of drop-in centres, homeless shelters and other social service agencies that distribute thousands of TTC tokens to their marginalized clients each year.
According to Elis Ziegler, manager of the Toronto Drop-In Network, community agencies have been left in the dark about how they will provide transit support to clients once Presto is in place and tokens are eliminated.
“The token system as distributed by non-profits is challenging enough. The problem is that we don’t know what that replacement is going to be,” Ziegler said.
It’s a concern for Ziegler and others because many low-income and homeless people rely on public transit to access vital services. Being provided with free tokens enables those who lack other means of transportation to get to medical appointments, employment programs, food banks and other supports.
“Token distribution is key for people to access services,” said Ziegler. “Because whatever income they have, particularly if they’re on social assistance, is just insufficient to meet their needs.”
Derek George said he takes the TTC to get to doctor’s appointments, to court and to meal programs. Up until six months ago, the 56-year-old was homeless, but now he lives at an apartment near St. Clair Ave. East and Victoria Park Ave.
He said he receives Ontario Disability Support Program payments that include a transit allowance, but “most of the time, my money doesn’t make it through the end of the month.” If he doesn’t have enough to buy a Metropass, he has to get tokens from a drop-in.
He said he’s concerned that “people who can least afford the Presto card are going to be pushed out of the TTC.”
The Toronto Drop-In Network, which represents 54 drop-in centres, has launched an online survey asking community organizations how eliminating tokens will affect them and their clients.
Concerns cited by agencies include the price of a standard Presto card, which costs $6 plus the transit fare. There’s also the fact that there are only a handful of locations where transit users can use cash to load their Presto cards. Customers can add money at customer service outlets or online using credit or debit cards, but that’s not an option for many marginalized people who don’t have bank accounts, credit cards, or regular Internet access.
According to TTC spokeswoman Heather Brown, however, community organizations have nothing to fear from the switch to Presto. That’s because in late 2017, the TTC plans to roll out paper Presto cards designed for single rides. The “limited use media,” or LUMs, could be distributed by social service agencies, and will also be sold at subway station vending machines.
“While many details are still being worked out, we expect LUMs will be just as easy to distribute (as) tokens are today,” Brown wrote in an email.
Agencies won’t be tasked with loading the cards on behalf of their clients because each one will be pre-loaded with enough money for at least a single ride, Brown said. The TTC might also have the ability to sell LUMs that would be valid for a round-trip or act as a multi-day pass, which could make Presto more efficient than handing out individual tokens.
Brown added that the TTC plans to increase the number of locations where customers can load standard Presto cards using cash.
Although some social service agencies are anxious about the dawn of Presto, advocates for the city’s poor also see the switchover as an opportunity to do more for the city’s vulnerable citizens.
Yvette Roberts, co-ordinator of the Young Parents No Fixed Address program at Oolagen Community Services, said the conversion to Presto is the perfect time to consider providing people who rely on social assistance with free monthly transit passes.
“It’s so incredibly important for them to have access to transit,” said Roberts, whose agency helps pregnant and parenting youth.
According to a 2013 TTC report, roughly 165,000 people in Toronto receive Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program payments. The TTC’s daily ridership is about 1.7 million.
Other municipalities, including Hamilton and Mississauga, already have programs that offer discounts to low-income riders, and Toronto has debated the idea for years.
In 2014,city council voted to consider discounted transit passes as part of a new fare equity strategy. City staff were originally supposed to produce a report on the issue by the end of 2015, but it has since been delayed. It’s now expected later this year.
According to Brown, the TTC spokeswoman, the transit agency is working with the city on a fare equity project that is designed “to provide low-income Torontonians with discounted fares through Presto.”
She said details of the project would be made public “in the coming months.”
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