Better integrated transit services can't come soon enough for these GTA commuters
Oct. 17, 2022
The first-year student gets on a York Region Transit (YRT) bus in Richmond Hill, then hops on a separate YRT or GO Transit bus that takes him to Bramalea terminal in Brampton. From there, it's on to a third bus, this time operated by Brampton Transit. Some days, he goes part of the way on Toronto's TTC.
In total, it costs him around $6 each way and takes up to four hours per day.
"It's quite a hassle," Bakhtiarizadeh told CBC Toronto in an interview at the campus bus terminal earlier this week.
Bakhtiarizadeh is just one of the thousands of people taking public transit across the Greater Toronto Area every day who have to transfer between different systems and pay multiple fares.
While there have been efforts to improve fare and service integration across municipal boundaries over the past several years, transit riders and advocates are calling for faster progress ahead of the provincewide local elections on Oct. 24.
Multiple buses, multiple fares: What would it take to integrate transit systems across the GTA?
Does the issue of transit move people to the ballot box on election day? With many projects underway, Linda Ward looks at an issue that continues to annoy, and cost, many riders: the lack of fare integration across transit systems.
Most transit agencies in the communities surrounding Toronto in York, Peel, Halton and Durham regions have some degree of fare and service integration.
Riders like Bakhtiarizadeh who start on a York Region bus and transfer to one in Peel Region operated by Brampton Transit or Mississauga's MiWay, for example, only have to pay one fare. Many 905-area transit providers also share terminals and they can pick up and drop off riders outside their municipal boundaries.
For riders connecting to GO Transit from a 905 service, the province has also made those transfers free.
A young student is standing on the platform of a bus terminal and smiling.
Aria Bakhtiarizadeh's commute from Richmond Hill to Humber College's Etobicoke campus requires transferring between two or three separate transit services and paying two fares. He is pictured here at the campus bus terminal. (Linda Ward/CBC)
But the lack of integration between these agencies and Toronto's service is a major stumbling block.
"The big nut to crack is getting TTC involved, both with regards to some sort of a co-fare with GO and some sort of a co-fare with the 905 agencies," said Peter Miasek, president of advocacy group Transport Action Ontario.
Riders transferring to the TTC have to pay another fare -- something that affects approximately 8.8 per cent of all TTC customers who begin or end their trips in the 905 on a local service or GO Transit, according to TTC data.
Until recently, buses from neighbouring transit agencies bringing passengers into Toronto could only drop passengers off at stops within city limits, and those headed outbound could only pick passengers up.
Amanpreet Kaur lives in Brampton but works in Etobicoke, forcing her to take Brampton Transit and the TTC.
"Etobicoke and Brampton -- they are not too far ... so it should not be a difference, especially if the person is going for work or school and taking two to three transits," Kaur said. "There should be one [fare]."
Bakhtiarizadeh said more bus routes, less transferring and integrated fares would all make his life easier.
"I [wouldn't] have to waste time getting around stations, getting off buses, getting on separate buses," he said. "It would also save money in the long run."
TTC pilot project
Better integration among regional transit agencies in Ontario has been in the works for decades. The Presto fare card is but one example.
Then-premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory agreed in 2017 to reduce fares for transfers between GO Transit and the TTC by $1.50, but the Ford government let that discount expire.
Miasek said part of the reason for the lack of integration is that it's expensive.
"Every time someone travels across a boundary and doesn't pay a full double fare, one of the transit agencies loses money," he said. "Transit agencies are careful not to lose revenue."
With TTC ridership, and therefore revenue, yet to fully recover from the pandemic slump, and the City of Toronto facing an $857-million shortfall, that money has to come from the province, Miasek said.
There has been some movement recently.
In February, the TTC's board approved a plan that will focus on integrating cross-border service with 905 agencies first, while maintaining the existing fare structure until a long-term solution is developed.
The first phase will see a pilot project allowing YRT and MiWay to pick up and drop off passengers within Toronto proper on Burnhamthorpe Road and the northern part of Dufferin Street. The project will eventually scale up to all 24 cross-border routes.
The TTC said the plan will cut costs, increase bus frequency and allow it to redeploy buses to other areas of the city. According to TTC staff estimates using pre-pandemic ridership data, about seven million out of 34 million annual cross-border trips would use a 905 transit service instead of the TTC because it would be more convenient.
"The plan will bring the same level of cross-boundary cooperation to routes operating into Toronto as already exists on routes operating between 905 agencies," the report said.
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Despite those benefits, the plan doesn't have the support of the union representing TTC workers.
ATU Local 113 said it would "threaten the integrity" of Toronto's transit system and "provide the TTC with a convenient excuse to cut TTC routes and outsource service to other transit agencies."
Province supportive of integration
The Ontario government is also chairing a provincial-municipal table on fare and service integration.
In a statement, the Ministry of Transportation said it continues to work to advance those goals across southern Ontario and the GO Transit network, adding that the province recently amended the City of Toronto Act so the TTC's cross-border pilot project can go ahead.
"Better integrated cross-boundary travel and transfers will make transit more affordable and simplify the rider experience," the statement said.
When passing its plan, the TTC board also voted to encourage the province to pay the costs incurred by the 905-area transit agencies to implement the service integration, although the ministry told CBC it hadn't yet received the TTC's request.