Friday, October 21, 2011

Is OC Transpo's fare structure too complicated?

Is OC Transpo's fare structure too complicated? Officials at OC Transpo believe so. As part of the Presto smartcard program, which is slated to launch in the spring or summer of 2012, OC Transpo also wants to revamp the entire fare structure.

The current fare structure may be complicated to tourists and first time users, but it is still easy to learn. A regular transit user in Ottawa isn't still trying to learn the fare system, which haven't drastically changed in at least 15 years. While not difficult to understand, the strangest OC Transpo fare category is the O-Train fare. It is more expensive than the regular fare of two tickets. This means that it is cheaper to pay two tickets on a bus and use a bus transfer for the O-Train than it is to buy an O-Train ticket and use it as a transfer on a bus. There are no separate fares for rail vehicles or subways in Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver, so why does Ottawa have a distinct rail fare category?

Apparently, the new fares will be more simple and equitable. For simplicity, one would think that express fares would be gone, but that likely will not occur because that would lead to a trunk and feeder system, which has been scraped until the new LRT begins operation. Maybe, it's the actual fare itself that will make it easier. Presto cards handle all types of fares including passes. If you don't know whether to put in two tickets or three, Presto should be able to make that decision for you.

As for making this more equitable, age related fares already exist. So, the only other equitable issue is the travel distance and this issue is partially solved by express fares.

Transit fares in Ottawa aren't much more complicated than other Canadian cities. Calgary and Montreal's fare system is a bit more simple since they do not use "express" service to the suburbs. Toronto has a few express routes from downtown to residential areas, which require a separate fare similar to ours. Vancouver uses zone fares, which could be confusing if you are a tourist. Your fare would cost more if you were to travel through multiple zones in Vancouver.

With the new Presto card, it is understandable that OC Transpo may have to make some changes to its current fare system. But, if the issue is the complexity of present fare system, we should have seen a revamped fare structure many years ago.


Andrae Griffith said...

You're quite right when you say that Ottawa's fare system is very easy to understand, and you're also quite right to say that the O-Train's separate fare breaks an otherwise easy to understand system.

However, I do not see a need to change the fare system once PRESTO comes online (aside from the O-Train issue). As long as the driver sets the computer to correctly identify what fare should be charged (regular vs express vs rural), the correct fare should be deducted every time, be the rider a child, an adult or a senior. In addition, PRESTO should make transfers easier. The card will know how much you've already paid and only charge you the difference when you transfer onto a more expensive route.

The only problem I can see are with monthly passes. If someone puts a regular pass on their card, they will still need to keep a balance around in case they choose to take an express home one day - in effect they'll need to maintain two accounts. To fix this, I recommend OC Transpo look at what GO Transit is doing: Each trip counts towards a loyalty discount, so people only pay for what they use until they gain free travel at some point. These are much better than monthly passes as you no longer have to figure out which pass you need to buy, no longer have to worry about wasting money if you happen to take a week off work, and no longer have to worry about buying a separate ticket if you decide to take a side trip.

My deepest apologies if this comment it too rambly.

Wes Chu said...

Since simplicity is what OC Transpo is aiming for, the GO Transit PRESTO fare model should be considered. When PRESTO is introduced, I'm sure there will be confusion from passengers initially, especially since the current fare model hasn't changed significantly in the past 15 years.

Ottawa is the last city in Ontario to implement PRESTO. In a way, this may be a good idea because we can closely watch how the system works in the Greater Toronto Area and spot any potential problems before introducing it in Ottawa.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I use the O-Train at Greenboro I get on a bus with two bus tickets at South Keys and use the transfer to take the O-Train.

Dean said...

Why not just use the presto cards as a replacement for cash or tickets. Occasional users just load the card with value and use a necessary. Monthly pass users continue to pay monthly and swipe the card instead of showing it.

Similar to the oyster card in London and the we get the added benefit of much better statistics about use of the system. The express and rural busses are only really used by regular riders. A presto card would make it easy for tourists to purchase multi day passes for their stay. And allow occasional users to load a card and never really be to concerned about do I have the right colour ticket.

Todd said...

“ why does Ottawa have a distinct rail fare category?”

You are only looking at half of it. You say an O-Train ticket costs more than 2 bus tickets but forget that an O-Train ticket costs less than regular fare. It dates back to when the O-Train was introduced. As the system was meant to be a temporary pilot project they wanted to keep costs down. One of the ways they did this was by installing very basic ticket machines at the stations (similar to what was being used in pay parking lots at the time). These machines were only able to accept cash and not able to make change. They couldn’t read or process tickets. So OC Transpo decided on a compromise and set the fare half way between the regular fare and the discounted ticket fare - hence why we have a different O-Train fare.

With the introduction of PRESTO I would expect this to disappear. As they will need to install readers at the stations anyway (removing the ticket accepting problem), the old machines will only need to sell the equivalent of regular cash fare, and hence can be set at the full rate.

WJM said...

To answer the question: no. Other than the O-Train anamoly.

Doesn't OC Transpo have more important problems to solve?

Anonymous said...

Just a general comment Vancouver does have a seperate higher fair for the West Coast Express a commuter rail service. The skytrain (light metro) is part of the regular fare structure. I also believe commuter rail has seperate fares in both Toronto and Montreal as well.

Wes Chu said...

The different fare applies to commuter rail because that type of rail serves the suburbs or commuter cities and costs more to operate than having rail exclusively in the city. Plus, commuter rail is typically operated by a different transit agency than the urban/city one.

If I'm not mistaken, West Coast Express is a separate company from Translink that operates SkyTrain, while GO Transit in the Toronto area is run independently from the TTC. The O-Train isn't considered commuter rail and so, in terms of the fare structure, I wouldn't compare the O-Train to GO Transit or West Coast Express.

Jay B. said...

My whole family lives in Toronto, so I have been having some long discussions with them about the upcoming changes in the system. As with all big changes, people are being worried about how exactly this will affect their lives at first. The PRESTO card has been implemented into many lines with slightly different fare systems in the bigger Toronto area such as GO Transit, Hamilton Street Railway, MiWay, Oakville Transit and TTC Downtown Express. So you see, it can be done quite successfully even if it seems complicated at first.

After the initial uncertainty, people will see the advantages of this transition. Personally, I am more than happy that there is such a thing as PRESTO, there is no need to be waiting in lines and getting on train is quicker with just the one tap on the pay machine. The only problem I am concerned about is the question of reloading the money online - there seems to be quite a delay in the payments because of the time to process the transaction so you might need to plan a bit ahead. There is a function to solve this problem, the AutoLoad, but the application process isn't exactly what you would call user friendly.