Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Two City Hall stories that aren't about Ford scandals or Scarborough transit

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Canada Published on Wed Aug 07 2013

Writing about Toronto city hall can sometimes feel pretty repetitive.

Take this crack cocaine thing. This alleged crack cocaine thing. After a brief layover, this city is once again talking about the allegations against Mayor Rob Ford this week, due to some revelations about the identity of the guy who tried to sell the video at the centre of all this. Whether this story will actually go anywhere this summer is impossible to say, but I can guarantee this won't be the last we hear of it.

And then there's the Scarborough transit debate, which dominated the month of of July but ultimately decided very little. One of the worst things about that experience is that it's almost a lock that we'll be hearing the same debate again before the year is out.

It's almost enough to make you feel like nothing really happens at city hall aside from transit indecision and mayoral scandal. But, hey, I promise, there's other stuff going on too. Here are two important stories to watch this summer.

1. The future of BIXI bikes

Though columnists at the Toronto Sun seem to have it out for Toronto's tiny but well-liked bike share system, BIXI should absolutely remain part of Toronto's transportation plans going forward.

Even setting aside arguments that bike sharing has value as a public good, there's still zero financial reason to shut it down. Yes, BIXI has debt — $3.9 million worth — but that's debt related to the cost of setting up the system, and it's offset by BIXI assets worth between $800,000 and $1.2 million. Operationally, the system is running at an annual deficit of just $118,879, and trending toward profitability. And shutting it down, city staff say, would cost $2.8 million to $3.2 million.

2. Presto Fare Cards to kill TTC tokens

In a 2010 interview with John Lorinc and Spacing Magazine, former mayor David Miller noted that he had read reports noting that the implementation of the provincially developed Presto fare card system — the thing that is supposed to finally kill TTC tokens once and for all — could bankrupt the TTC.

So, hey, good news: the TTC is set to roll Presto out across many of its stations and vehicles over the next couple of years.

I don't think it'll bankrupt the TTC, though it's unfortunate the city never received much in the way of provincial funding for implementation. At this point, though, we badly need to transition away from our archaic fare system, and Presto is the only readily available option. (And, after some initial struggles, it is working pretty well for GO Transit customers.)

But will the TTC take the opportunity offered by Presto to actually examine its fare structures? I'm beginning to worry that the answer will be no. Instead of embracing the possibilities offered by the tech, Presto implementation in cities like Ottawa have disappointed by asking customers to 'load' — in advance — monthly or weekly passes onto their Presto cards. I'd rather see transit agencies dispense completely with the idea of monthly passes that need to be purchased in advance and instead simply credit riders with discounted or free rides after a certain ride threshold has been met within a 30 day period. That kind of system is way less hostile to customers because it doesn't require you to do math in your head to decide if the full cost of a pass is worth it on the first of the month.

Presto is an opportunity for the TTC to really think about things like that, and make changes to the better. The same goes for possible reforms like reduced costs for seamless transfers between TTC and GO and timed transfers. Let's use Presto as an opportunity to stop living — and moving — in the past.

This post was originally published at on 2013-08-07T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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