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Why TTC Metropasses and tokens are so expensive
Torontonians must ride 51 times to make a monthly pass worth the cost. That's more than New Yorkers, Berliners or Parisians.
Jan. 21, 2015
By Marco Chown Oved

With the new fare hikes announced earlier this week, Torontonians will have to ride the TTC more than 50 times per month to make the Metropass worth its price.

That’s one of the least generous discounts for a monthly unlimited-rides pass at any of the major urban transit systems in the world, according to numbers compiled by the Star.

New Yorkers have to take the bus 41 times per month to get their money back, while Berliners only need to ride 30 times. Londoners, however, need to ride the tube 53 times to account for the cost of a pass.

The TTC says this is mostly because it receives the smallest public subsidy in North America. The TTC’s data show that despite having the continent’s second biggest ridership, it is more reliant on the fare box than any other.

In other words, the TTC would offer a bigger discount, but it can’t afford to.

“It’s straight funding,” said TTC spokesperson Chris Upfold, adding that the average Metropass user takes 70 trips per month. “Every time we either raise the price of a Metropass or the number of trips you need to take, it comes down to funding.”

Most major metro systems receive operating funds from the provincial or federal government, or both.

The province stopped giving the TTC operating funds in 1996. Since then, the system has relied on a subsidy from the city and fares to break even. (In 2006, the TTC, via the city, did begin to benefit from about $50 million in gas tax funds toward its operating budget, Upfold said.)

More than twice as many people ride public transit in Toronto as in Boston or Philadelphia, yet both U.S. cities provide their transport system with a bigger subsidy.

The TTC receives a $479-million operating subsidy for 545 million trips, but that covers a mere 29 per cent of its operating budget. Boston’s $531 million (all figures Cdn.) covers 62 per cent of its costs, while Philly’s $548 million covers 64 per cent. Both transport about 250 million riders a year.

The biggest system by far, New York’s, carries more than four times as many people as the TTC and has a subsidy more than five times larger.

In Canada, all other transit systems serve fewer people and receive more public money per ride than the TTC.

Montreal and Vancouver transit receive $1.21 and $1.63 per ride from the public coffers. Closer to home, Durham Region transportation is subsidized to the tune of $4.06 per ride; York Region at $4.34 per ride.

At only 88 cents per ride, the TTC is the only system surveyed that receives less than $1.

But financial straits aren’t the only factor in Toronto’s expensive bulk-fare prices. Tokens, which are only 6.6 per cent cheaper than cash fare, aren’t heavily discounted like London’s pay-per-ride Oyster card (similar to Toronto’s Presto), which offers a 52 per cent markdown.

“Deep discounts in ‘bulk purchase’ are intended to incentivize a move to their smartcard system,” Upfold said.

“There is no dramatic difference between tokens and cash on the TTC. London simply jacked the cash price to make that difference.”