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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

The time for time-based TTC transfers is now: Elliott

Sure it may be politically motivated, but the move to time-based transfers makes sense.

Commuters run towards a newly placed TTC stop at Bathurst and King St. As it stands now, even if they just hopped off for an errand, they'd need to pay two fares.

Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Commuters run towards a newly placed TTC stop at Bathurst and King St. As it stands now, even if they just hopped off for an errand, they'd need to pay two fares.

Before I wrote my column last week on the King Street transit pilot, I rode the King streetcar from Jarvis Street to Bathurst Street. I got off my streetcar to take a few photos, have a few laughs and watch a police officer yell at drivers. Then I got back on another streetcar and travelled back to Jarvis.

A short trip, but I paid two fares. Six bucks.

I paid twice because those are the rules, and I ain’t no transit scofflaw. But it was a clear illustration of the problem with the TTC’s current transfer system: there is no way to make a short transit trip without paying twice. And forget about running errands with multiple stops — unless you’re a Metropass holder, it will cost you a bundle.

But there’s some good news. Last week, Mayor John Tory wrote a letter to TTC CEO Andy Byford in support of instituting time-based transfers, to be considered as part of the TTC’s 2018 budget process. Under time-based transfer rules, riders would be allowed unlimited travel for a 90 minute or two-hour window on a single fare.

Even better news: the groundwork for instituting this change is already in place. In 2014, the TTC commissioned a report examining time-based transfers and the associated costs. So there is zero reason to study this issue at length again — the TTC can and should jump straight to implementation.

But what about those costs? The 2014 report pegged it at about $20 million per year in lost revenue, assuming the transfer window is set at two hours. Set it at 90 minutes and the cost drops to $12 million.

Not cheap, but the report notes that the TTC is unique amongst most local and international transit systems in not offering time-based transfers. And the TTC’s 12-year experiment with time-based transfers on the St. Clair streetcar route — which just ended in September — was a huge success, with businesses along the route saying the transfer system helped boost profits.

The report also says this: “With the exception of this revenue loss, all other aspects of a time-based transfer system would appear to be positive for both customers and employees.”

That’s one hell of an endorsement, and one that suggests cost should not stand as a barrier to implementation. The benefits of time-based transfers far outweigh the drawbacks of a modest residential property tax increase.

In fact, given that Tory suggests limiting time-based transfers to Presto card users — about 16 per cent of total TTC ridership — the cost of doing this in the near-term is very likely cheaper than the 2014 estimates.

That does underscore a potential pitfall of this change, however. If time-based transfer benefits are going to be exclusively tied to Presto, the fare card system needs to get better — no more technical snafus.

It is, of course, easy to be cynical about the timing of all of this. Though the benefits of time-based transfers have been clear for years, Tory’s support conveniently comes just as the city gears up for another mayoral election.

But good ideas are good ideas, even when they look politically motivated. So, sure, acknowledge the cynicism, but don’t let that stand in the way of a change that will benefit a whole lot of transit riders.

Politics aside, the time for timed transfers is now.

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