Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[URBAN NOTE] "Test Drive a Metropass"

Fittingly enough for a time of turmoil at the Toronto Transit Commission, Jamie Bradburn's most recent Historicist post at Torontoist takes a look at the genesis at one of the signal achievements of the TTC, the unlimited use of the TTC enabled by the pay-by-the-month Metropass.

During an April Fools’ Day TTC meeting in 1980, Metro Toronto Chairman Paul Godfrey became the first person to purchase a Metropass. Like the first batch of actual users, Godfrey had a two-part pass: a laminated photo ID card (passholder number 000001) and a portion replaced monthly. Perhaps sensing the spirit of the day, he asked those in the room, “Does this mean I have to turn my chauffeur in?”

While Godfrey’s chauffeur didn’t apply for unemployment insurance, the Metropass enabled some of its early users to reduce their driving time. Buyers were also relieved to no longer fumble for cash fares, tickets, or tokens. Early user feedback proved positive, with many users wondering why the TTC hadn’t implemented a pass sooner.

The answer is easy—change takes a long time at the TTC. As the commission’s August 1978 report A Study of Monthly Passes noted, “Many transit operators have implemented passes without any study whatsoever. It would be irresponsible for the TTC to do so, because of the amounts of money involved. What is appropriate for other cities may not be appropriate for Toronto.” Throughout the late 1970s, the TTC studied the feasibility of a user pass in relation to increased ridership, infrastructure costs, and potential revenue losses. A survey conducted in 1976, which likely used more scientific methods of questioning about public transit than employed by our current mayor, showed that the public was receptive to using passes.

Bradburn's history of the genesis of the Metropass underlines the extent to which the monthly TTC pass helps generate communities, by removing barriers of cost to movement from one point to another (to another, to another). Transit builds cities.

A test project conducted at Sherbourne Station sold passes to 107 riders that were good only for the month of April 1978. The test data showed that these pass users increased their number of trips by 15 to 20 per cent. The resulting report outlined pros (public demand, increased annual trips, user convenience) and cons (disruptions to the system, start-up costs, revenue losses, lack of trackable ridership info) if a pass was implemented. For a time, the TTC contemplated selling passes solely through employers as was the practice in Boston and Chicago. In the end, a pilot project approved by Metro Council in January 1980 approved a $26 pass for public sale that would go into use as of May 1, 1980. Estimates suggested that the $1.9 million implementation cost would generate 3.5 million more trips per year.

[. . .]

People quickly forgot the Metropass was technically still in its testing phase. Sales continued to rise throughout 1981 despite a $3.75 per month price increase. Revenue losses were lower than projected ($1.5 million as opposed to $3 million). According to the report The Metropass Experiment, issued in December 1981, the typical Metropass buyer lived in East York, Toronto or the City of York. They were commuters “who used the TTC for more than just work-related trips. Most do not have the opportunity to increase their peak period use of the system and so the pass encourages increased off-peak travel for entertainment, shopping and other purposes.”

And yes, for the record since I've moved to Toronto in June 2004 I have owned a Metropass for every month, save for those unfortunate months where I've lost the card and opted instead for the costlier but still cost-effective weekly passes.
Tags: cities, history, mass transit, toronto, ttc, urban note
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