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TTC will seek agreement with province on new fare card

State-of-the-art streetcars, designed by Canadian transport manufacturer Bombardier Inc., will begin entering service in 2013 in Toronto with the promise of a better customer experience.

Bombardier Inc.

Following months of intergovernmental wrangling over whose system would work better, the Toronto Transit Commission is moving forward on a new way for commuters to pay to ride the rocket - one it's hopeful can be integrated with the fare card the province is rolling out regionally.

The commission is preparing to put out a formal request for proposals for an open-fare payment system - one that would allow people to use contactless credit or debit cards rather than traditional electronic fare cards - and to select a successful applicant by the end of November.

But no contract will be signed before talks with the province to try to reach an agreement, the commission decided Thursday night. And a new, post-election commission will be the one that meets to discuss the issue in December.

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The TTC has three "pre-qualified" proponents preparing to bid for its proposed open-payment system. The city's transit body has insisted this system is superior to the PRESTO fare-card Ontario is already implementing across the GO train system and 12 TTC stations. The province on Thursday reissued its warning that the cash-strapped TTC - which would rely on provincial funding for the PRESTO system - shouldn't go it alone on a different method of payment.

"There are many ways we can make investments to improve public transit," Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne wrote in a letter to the commission Thursday. "Wasting money on duplication is not one of them."

TTC Chair Adam Giambrone has countered that an open-payment system would be cheaper to implement and operate and would actually save the commission money.

If the province and the TTC can reach an agreement, a pilot project for open payment could be rolled out as early as next year.

Derek Luk, a spokesman for Ms. Wynne, said the province would be open to discussions that include PRESTO as an option. "PRESTO will evolve to include open payments, and if the TTC is open to engage in a discussion that includes PRESTO, we'd obviously be open to having that discussion."

Leading mayoral candidates have been critical of the TTC's rush to get moving on an open-payment system - commission staff said Thursday that time constraints meant they were obliged to sole-source a contract for legal fees costing a maximum of $700,000, rather than putting it out to competitive tender. "The TTC is acting in an irresponsible and cavalier fashion, and if they do go ahead with their vote they'd better damn well build in an escape clause in the contract," George Smitherman said.

Fraser MacDonald, a spokesman for Rob Ford's campaign, said the TTC should "absolutely hold off until after the election to make this decision. Toronto taxpayers should not be on the hook for one last parting gift from Adam Giambrone."

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Rocco Rossi spoke out against both the sole-sourced nature of this latest consulting contract, and the city's efforts to pursue an open-payment system despite the province's preferences.

Mr. Giambrone has also come under fire for a $15,000 video produced as his end-of-year report from the chair. The three-minute, 50-second video flashes through images of TTC riders and drivers and time-lapsed images of the city's streets, accompanied by statistics on ridership. It depicts chair Adam Giambrone on various modes of public transit, texting on his mobile much of the time (the TTC has vowed to bring connectivity to TTC stations).

While mayoral candidates condemned the video as an unnecessary expense (Mr. MacDonald called Mr. Giambrone "the driver of the gravy train"), Mr. Giambrone noted the video came out of an existing office budget. He also compared it favourably to another YouTube appearance of his - a video promoting his run for mayor, which ended in February.

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