Toronto City Council wants to help low-income riders but is looking in all the wrong places.
Toronto City Council has taken its first official step in offering low-income transit riders a break on fares. On Tuesday Council voted in favour of having the TTC and other city departments develop a “Policy Framework for Toronto Transit Fare Equity” and report back to Council by 2015.
What the discount will look like and how it will be implemented are both unknown, but the city says that the pending launch of Presto – the electronic fare system developed by Metrolinx – should be the foundation for any discounted fares.
Yet City Council is missing the point – and, more importantly, a chance to truly help low-income TTC customers. The best way to make fares more equitable for low-income riders is to eliminate the current flat fare – as CPI has argued previously. It’s this flat-fare system that is disproportionately harming low-income customers.
There is already ample evidence from transit agencies around the world that flat fares hurt low-income riders most, as they tend to travel short distances more frequently and end up subsidizing high-income riders that travel over longer distances.
In a study using data from the U.S. National Household Travel Survey, researchers found that low-income riders “make transit trips that are only about half as long as those by the most affluent transit riders.” The study also showed that low-income riders were far more likely (8 times to be exact) to take the bus, which is predominately used for short distances. Commuter rail and subway rides both had a higher percentage of high-income riders travelling a longer distance.
“That suggests that distance-based fares would generally favor the poor, since they make shorter trips,” the paper concluded.
Another study on distance-based fares in Salt Lake City also found that lower income individuals use transit more frequently and for shorter distances. “Looking at socioeconomic status, compared to individuals in high-income households, individuals in households earning less than $35,000 per year were more than twice as likely to ride transit, but had average distances of nearly half the length,” the study showed. It also found that “27.3% of those living in carless households reported using transit, taking 2.26 transit trips per day with a mean total distance travelled of only 11.94 miles per day. This is all in comparison to 1.87% of two-car households, averaging 1.89 trips per day but travelling 38.14 miles.”
“According to these averages, it is quite apparent that distance-based fares progressively provide price-reductions to those who need it most, and ask those in higher socioeconomic positions to pay more for their travel,” the study argued.
The launch of an electronic fare system provides Toronto City Hall and the TTC with the perfect opportunity to scrap its regressive flat fare model. Sadly, they seem to be completely ignoring this opportunity.
Brady Yauch is an economist and Executive Director of the Consumer Policy Institute (CPI). You can reach Brady by email at: bradyyauch (at) consumerpolicyinstitute.org or by phone at (416) 964-9223 ext 236.