Serviceless seats and shitters

Posted on November 4th, 2009 6 great comments. Room for one more!

With everyone and their dog belly-aching about a lack of money, the global recession, etc., I guess it’s not surprising that the Toronto Transit Commission should be next at the public trough with hat in hand. Too bad they didn’t realize how poorly matched those two metaphors are; like all bleeding-from-every-orifice municipal group these days, they got the hand in the face.

And they kinda did it to themselves.

I know that I spend a good chunk of my time despairing over the future of transit, especially now that I’ve contracted a rather nasty strain of lazy and the cold outside has settled in for the season. But I had a chance to ride the regional rails during a visit with my financial guy, and all those awful, tearful memories of the daily GO train commute came flooding back.

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I’m not referring to the actual trains themselves; those are fairly modern, quiet, comfortable, and if you can get a seat, a nice way to travel. Each car has a toilet for when your business just can’t wait, electrical outlets for when the feature-length porn flick starts to eat into your laptop’s battery, and getting carted around in a heated space is also very nice when the snow starts to fall.

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The problem I’m talking about is one of simple math. For GO people, the cost of a monthly pass to one of the regional stops (the only real reason to take GO), can actually be more expensive than driving a car. For example, my pass used to set me back around $230. That didn’t include the follow-up hop onto the TTC at Union Station, so even at a few extra trips per week it would soon add up. For most commuters, the TTC’s a must to continue into the city since the GO train line is right up against the lake. So that’s an extra $100 for the TTC monthly pass. $109, whatever.

All together, a $300 monthly public transit travel budget is not uncommon.

In contrast, a car ride of the same distance costs about $5 in gas ($10 if we include things like occasional oil, windshield washer fluid, repairs, etc.) With an average $5 a day for parking, a trip to work by car runs about $15. The same trip on the GO train, transferring to TTC, will also be $15; and that doesn’t include the drive just to get to a GO station — most passengers still need to drive a car.

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It’s true that the train beats sitting in traffic … until the day when someone commits suicide on the tracks and you’re left sitting there for four hours while they scrape the bits off the front of the train. Or if there’s a signal failure. Or something’s wrong with the engine. Or someone pressed the emergency alarm strip. Or it’s the third Wednesday of the month.

For the TTC it’s a problem of bone-headedness. If you buy the monthly Metropass and take the rails / wheels 20 times a month (to and from work), you’ll just about break even compared to the cost of tokens or just paying cash.

The equation is simple:

Metropass = $109

Workdays per month = 20

$109 / 20 = $5.45 (per day)

$5.45 / 2 trips per day = $2.73 per trip ($2.75 regular fare)

Here we have a whopping savings of $0.04 per day, or the awesome sum of $9.60 per year. If the price doesn’t change, you’d be able to add $96 to your kid’s college fund in 10 years — *almost* the cost of one Metropass. I’m not sure if that includes taxes.

But whatever, it’s still technically cheaper and more convenient (plus weekends), so what’s the problem?

To begin with, the Metropass is apparently losing money for the TTC. By the end of the year, they’re expecting to be about $22 mill. in the hole.

Yup. They came up with something that’s losing them money. What that means is that the Metropass is only artificially saving $0.02 per trip; it’s actually subsidized through taxes so we still pay for it. And that’s despite record high ridership numbers this year (or maybe because of them?!)  I would just love to see the business model behind this.

So I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that the latest move by the TTC to provide deeply discounted Metropasses to businesses who purchase in bulk is just totally out to lunch. I’m trying to imagine the thought process: “The current 0.7% discount is a real money pit. Hey, I know! Why don’t we go up to 12%?” However it really went, I have to ask why the TTC’s head honcho would be pitching it to the press as a good idea.

A TTC fare hike now seems to be the only solution because the thought of cut-backs and reductions in service is taboo. And while I agree that the TTC should remain in full service, I happen to think we could probably save some money by getting rid of some of the ineffective ladies and gentlemen who put the Commission into this situation. In fact, I’m all in favour of a coup d’etat at GO too because I happen to know I’m not the only one that finds their service lacking; nice seats and shitters, but how often did I get stranded by GO’s policy to just shut down when something breaks?

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The city may not be for everyone, but I don’t think anyone would argue with the advantages of being able to get around on foot. I remember not having that freedom; how beholden I was to the transit authorities. A fare hike always felt like a slap in the face. Not so much because I couldn’t understand that, possibly, the cost of running things had gone up too, but because it was another missed opportunity to avoid that same feeling in the future.

6 Comments on “ Serviceless seats and shitters ”

  • Christopher Poulsen
    November 6th, 2009 12:09 pm

    Great resource for information on Toronto~ Thanks for sharing!


    Read more from Christopher Poulsen at:
  • Patrick
    November 6th, 2009 2:26 pm

    My pleasure, Christopher.


  • mike
    November 6th, 2009 1:40 pm

    I've had friends gripe to me about the weird logic of T.O. metro pass pricing. I'm a Montrealer, and our passes do offer real savings when you buy a monthly bus/metro pass (65$) as opposed to 'a la carte'

    $0.02 savings…the people who designed the business model are definitely smoking the crack.


    Read more from mike at: http://www.weworkforcheese.com
  • Patrick
    November 6th, 2009 2:27 pm

    Haha! You're 100% correct, Mike. Crack that they bought with my tax money!


  • RE - EntrePOD
    November 6th, 2009 1:47 pm

    torontos' trains and trams are still quite convenient and probably in the end move more people in the course of a day than individual cars. I like the train, but I still had to have a car when I lived in toronto. either way, you will pay.


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  • Patrick
    November 6th, 2009 2:36 pm

    You're right too, BadGal. Doesn't matter how you get around, the taxman will make sure he's got his hand in your pocket either way.
    The TTC I actually like. Fares aside, the system runs quite well and they deal with problems effectively. The GO system, while comfortable, is a horror when it comes to dealing with problems. As I mentioned, if something goes wrong, they simply shut down. They don't run any shuttle buses, they have no arrangement with taxi companies, etc.; you're left on your own. And after the second hour of waiting for a canceled train on a frigid platform in the middle of winter (for the third day in a row), it starts to get a bit frustrating. Add to that the fact that, compared to the TTC, you pay more than double for a comparable GO fare for trains that run at a tenth of the TTC schedule, and the car starts to seem like an oasis.

    I agree with you that all of Toronto's transit services are critical and should be nurtured. But that should be done by competent people who can count and don't have their heads firmly up their own backsides.


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