Transit systems get their fare share

Rickety public transit systems are a prime target for multi-jurisdictional pooling of IT investments to develop gleaming new networks. In Ontario, the One Fare project was launched in June to develop a common contactless payment card system, dubbed Presto, which will allow transit users in the Greater Toronto Area and outlying areas to seamlessly travel across transit authority and municipal boundaries.

“We can only build so many highways,” says Jeffery Young, director of integrated ticketing systems at the Ministry of Transport of Ontario (MTO). Of the three million people who travel daily to their jobs in Toronto, only 30 per cent use public transit. And many of the riders cross two or more transit systems.

“The government wants to attract more transit users, and the catalyst is a common fare card that can deal with different fare media and reduce fishing for passes, transfers and tokens.”

Major cities grappling with urban sprawl have similar systems. London has its Oyster card, Hong Kong has its Octopus, and Montreal is also running a pilot.

In Ontario, eight entities are involved in the project in addition to the MTO: the interregional GO Transit system, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and various municipalities and transit authorities in the Golden Horseshoe around the GTA, from Hamilton in the west to Whitby in the east.

A pilot is currently underway in Mississauga to test the Presto card and get feedback on the user experience, says Young. The roll-out is slated for the end of 2008 starting in Hamilton, and then adding successive Go transit lines and their interconnecting bus and subway transfer points until 2010. “That’s when we’ll look at the TTC and full-blown implementation,” he says.

Since the correct fare for each segment of a ride is automatically deducted from the card’s value, it will eliminate much of the human labour around counting cash boxes, transfers, and so on, he says. And the system’s flexibility will enable more innovation that will increase ridership. Planners are thinking about the introduction of a loyalty program that automatically reduces pricing with increased use of public transit and for trips taken during off-peak times.

The Presto system will cost about $250 million over the course of 10 years, says Young.