We will eventually enter the late 20th century and begin using electronic farecards to ride the TTC. Exactly what those fares should be really isn’t up for discussion, as Steve Munro insists it should be. He’s right, of course, but as a thought experiment, how could we implement electronic farecards tomorrow with the fewest changes to today’s TTC fares?

Student and senior fares

They could still exist, but a card for such fares could not be issued by a machine or over the Web because a human being has to verify that you really are a student or senior. This in itself is an argument against completely automated stations.

Since only students or seniors can use these cards, they need to be visually and tactually distinguishable from regular farecards – changing the colour, imprinting STUDENT or SENIOR in raised type, and printing those words on the front would suffice. You have to make it unlikely to accidentally use the wrong card if you live in a household to which more than one fare type applies. If everybody in the house piles their farecards on the table in the front hall, granny’s card and junior’s card have to be difficult to grab by accident.

Single fare ($3/$2/75¢)

A single $3 fare essentially disappears under this system. You should be able to intentionally buy a single-use $3 farecard, as in the New York Metrocard system, but it should be discouraged. Single fares become an edge case for day and weekly passes.

If you have a farecard with a balance of $3 or above and make exactly one trip in a seven-day period after seven days of no trips, we would ding you the full $3.

Day pass ($10)

All travel within 24 hours caps at $10 if and only if no other travel takes place in the six following days. If it does, what you then have is a weekly pass.

Weekly pass ($36/$28/NA)

A weekly pass disappears in this system. Instead, if your number of trips over seven days is 12 or fewer, each of them costs $3. All further trips that same week, without limitation, are free.

Weekly fares begin whatever day you buy your pass (even if you buy it at 23:59 hours) and last six more days. (There are a couple of ways to define “six more days,” none of which affect our fare experiment here.)

What happens the next week? If you keep using it, your farecard by default becomes a Metropass.

Metropass ($121/$99/NA)

If a weekly pass is really just a cap on single fares, then a monthly pass becomes a cap on weekly passes. In effect, if you use the system every day or most days for a full month, instead of dinging you for four (or, uncommonly, five) weekly passes, we give you a discount on multiple weekly passes. The unit of currency here becomes weeks of travel, not individual trips.

The equivalent of a Metropass comes into existence on your 41st trip of the month if your usage takes place over eight or more days. (41 or more trips in seven days fall under a weekly pass.) This means you can take, say, 42 trips in eight days and none for the remaining 20, 21, 22, or 23 days and still pay only for a monthly pass.

My assumption here is that monthly passes no longer peg themselves to calendar months and always run a fixed number of days, which rationally should be 31, the maximum possible. We stop counting your trips for that month on the 32nd day; no matter what happens, your fare counters reset to zero.

Now, I said before a weekly pass becomes a de facto Metropass if you use it a second week. There is an edge case where that isn’t true. If you use the system for a full week then only once on the eighth day and never again for the next 23 days, we ding you a weekly pass plus one full fare, because that conforms to your actual behaviour.

Express fares (+$2.50/+1.65/+55¢)

They could still exist and would immediately ding you that fixed amount the moment you touched in. This would seem to be one of the several cases where the system needs to allow you to run a deficit until the next increment of payment; farecards are supposed to reduce or eliminate passengers hassling drivers over fares and vice-versa, so if you’re short by any amount the system should just let you on without any other indication and force you to pay up later.

The mysterious express sticker for one’s Metropass, which I’ve seen exactly once and which can be bought at an exorbitant $35 at exactly two stations for no more than about 120 days a year, could be modelled as a cap on express fares.

Timed fares

We have these already on St. Clair (go anywhere you want for two hours, though the exact boundaries have never been stated). The system could easily be programmed to provide zero-cost additional fares for 120 minutes when you touch in on any vehicle serving St. Clair (currently 126, 312, 512, 71, and 90[A]). Unless we develop an ironclad algorithm to determine when one trip begins and ends, it’s computationally simplest, and least niggardly, to simply tack on two free hours of travel no matter what.

There. What could be simpler?

I see now it borders on a waste of time to adapt a fare system that relies on single-use tokens and limited-time passes for which you pay up front. It may be simplest to configure the system for 24-hour, seven-day, and 31-day caps without calling them passes. Each increment rolls over to the next. Edge cases would still exist, like a full week’s travel followed by a single day’s then nothing for the rest of the month, as mentioned, but that edge case is nonetheless handled by the three-cap system.

The existing GTA Pass ($52, another mysterious creature) becomes conceptually difficult under a new fare system because we would have to synchronize fares across the TTC and neighbouring agencies, a topic this posting does not address. (The GTA Pass could be like a single-fare pass – something you buy deliberately up front. Farecards are supposed to reduce or eliminate upfront purchases.)

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.08.01 12:40. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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