Scrutinizing the new TTC two-hour transfer policy

While the policy seemingly benefits low-income folks, the PRESTO-only condition threatens structural violence against homeless people

Scrutinizing the new TTC two-hour transfer policy

While riding on the TTC is fairly straightforward, it is not necessarily enjoyable. Compare our transit system, for example, with Vancouver’s aesthetically superior SkyTrain system, which is a joy to ride and affordable for University of British Columbia students at just $41 a month. Meanwhile, U of T students are stuck with failed U-Pass deals, unaffordable transit costs, and transit officers with multiple complaints filed against them.

With the arrival of the two-hour transfer policy, however, it may seem that the future is bright for the TTC. In fact, we are receiving a benefit that is long overdue, and according to the only comment about the policy in Rocket-Riding Memes for Toronto-Oriented Teens — a Facebook group of over 1,000 members dedicated to TTC memes — the TTC finally “joins the civilized world.”

Discussing the policy, Mayor John Tory comments, “You can get on five times if you want to make five different stops, as long as it’s within the two hour period.” On the one hand, my immediate response is to ask where one could possibly go to make it to five different stops in two hours. On the other hand, I understand how being able to go to multiple stops in one transfer will lower the cost of living for low-income folks and students.

In this way, the policy is clearly a good thing: we no longer have to pay for briefly leaving a transit vehicle. For students, the main advantage is being able to commute to and from a one-hour class while only paying one fare. The more adventurous students could add extra tasks to that journey.

However, I’m opposed to the fact that the policy requires the use of a PRESTO card and is embedded in a plan to get rid of tokens by the end of 2019. This is not only because I’m suspicious of the increasing domination of technology in our lives, but also because I worry that the dominance of PRESTO is a manifestation of structural violence towards the homeless.

Simply put, phasing out tokens results in phasing out easy access to warm places to sleep for the homeless during winter. Being forced to have a PRESTO card, with its $6 start-up cost plus a minimum $10 initial deposit, puts a hamper on homeless entry into the TTC. Compound that with the difficulty in registering and confirming lost PRESTO cards when homeless, and we begin to see the insidious ways structural violence functions.

The policy, with its PRESTO-exclusive benefit, will not be the cause of these problems, but uncritical support of PRESTO-focused policies will normalize the structural exclusion of the homeless under the mask of progress. Fundamentally, the transfer pushes an ideology of individualism. While tokens can be and are distributed to those in need, PRESTO cards are not shareable. We would not drop our PRESTO cards into the cups of the homeless.

While the arrival of the transfer and the growth of the PRESTO system indicate that we’ve gained entry into “the civilized world,” we have lost the opportunity to share that world with others. If two-hour transfers are here, why can’t they be here for everyone? PRESTO users and non-PRESTO users alike would benefit from two-hour transfers, so why exclude service to one group of people?

In one sense, it’s not the TTC’s responsibility to take care of the homeless, but in another, a fundamental part of being human is to care about others. The two-hour transfer expresses the ideology that we are only responsible for ourselves. Public transit is in danger of becoming less and less public. So while the two-hour transfer improves serviceability, whom exactly the TTC provides their services to remains a vital question.

Eddy Wang is a fourth-year Cinema Studies and Computer Science student at Innis College.

UTSU investigates selling PRESTO cards in September

Cards to be preloaded with $20

UTSU investigates selling PRESTO cards in September

As the TTC transitions away from Metropasses and tokens in favour of PRESTO, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is also preparing to sell PRESTO cards.

The union hopes to sell PRESTO cards beginning in September as part of a pilot project. The cards will have $20 preloaded and the student rate preprogrammed into the card. The UTSU may offer reloading and registration in the future. Since PRESTO cards do not expire, unlike Metropasses that can only be used on certain months, the union plans to always keep cards in stock. The union will continue to sell Metropasses and tokens until they are discontinued.

When asked about the financial implications of this transition, vice-president, internal and services Mathias Memmel indicated that the UTSU, as an agent of the TTC, takes a very small commission of about one per cent from the sale of products, so the PRESTO card sales will not translate to a major revenue change for the union.

“Our arrangement with the TTC isn’t really about profit, and we don’t expect our arrangement with PRESTO to be especially profitable either. Our aim is to provide a convenient service to our members,” said Memmel.

The PRESTO electronic payment system, which was launched in 2009 and has since been implemented by 11 transit agencies across Ontario, is already available on all streetcars and in 31 TTC subway stations. The card will replace Metropasses, tickets and tokens to become the only available fare, other than cash, by December 2016.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that the UTSU would sell PRESTO cards in September. In fact, the union’s plans to sell the cards have not been finalized.