With a smart-card fare system still years away, Toronto's transit system is trying to make it more convenient for passengers to buy token or tickets.
Andy Byford, the chief executive officer of the Toronto Transit Commission, said he is pushing also for a faster rollout of the Presto smart-card system. And he suggested – while refraining from comment on whether the nearly $1-billion system commissioned by the Ontario government was the right decision – that it is not always worth reinventing the wheel.
"We should be looking to go out to buy proven products that work, going forward," he said after the fare announcement. "So we are where we are for now, but we should be looking for that in the future, I think."
In the meantime, starting next month, customers will be able to use a credit or debit card when buying at least 10 tokens or tickets. This payment option exists already for passes. And the TTC will explore next year a tap-and-pay system for single fares, allowing passengers to charge a ride to their credit card.
Mr. Byford was joined at Victoria Park station by TTC chair Josh Colle and Mayor John Tory, who complained often during the campaign about passengers having to pay cash for fares. On Tuesday, the mayor called the old system "almost prehistoric" and said the announcement was "a long-awaited step forward."
The move to expand credit and debit-card payment options will be welcomed by passengers. But it also highlights just how far behind other cities the TTC has fallen.
While transit passengers in many cities are accustomed to using a smart card to ride and transfer seamlessly – and in some cases to make purchases in local shops – about half of TTC riders use cash, tickets or tokens. The remainder have monthly or other sorts of passes.
The Presto system is being rolled out slowly in TTC streetcars as the new ones arrive, a five-year process. And it is scheduled to take three years to install it across the existing bus fleet and subway stations.
It's a timeline that clearly frustrates Mr. Byford. He said he has been urging the regional transit agency, Metrolinx, to find ways to speed up Presto's deployment in buses and stations.
"I have said to Metrolinx I'm looking to do this by the end of 2016," he told reporters at the fare announcement. "Now the only caveat that they have said to me, and I get where they're coming from, is we should not sacrifice or risk reliability."
Presto was accepted by the TTC as a condition of the province paying $8.4-billion for four proposed light rail lines. The first of these, the Eglinton Crosstown, is under construction. The Scarborough LRT is now planned as a subway extension and the future of the Finch and Sheppard LRTs remains unclear.
Critics have questioned the cost of Presto and the need for Ontario to have its own smart-card system developed. Supporters said the multiple transit systems in the Toronto area added complications that required the creation of a unique card.