It’s always interesting seeing unexpected consequences play out in government policies. It’s almost like the old story about the monkey paw, where every time something is wished for, it goes horribly awry (including trying to fix previous wishes). The TTC recently embarked on a series of foolish decisions when they wanted to raise the fare.
Prices go up, and I don’t have any problem with them raising the price. The cash fare went from $2.75 to $3.00 and a token or ticket increased from $2.25 to $2.50. While the fare increase was still under consideration, some enterprising commuters decided that it would be worthwhile to stockpile tokens (since they’d use them anyway and if the price went up, they’d have gotten them cheaper).
For some reason, the idea of this *REALLY* annoyed the transit commission. People were only getting a 10% discount, the commission would get the payment upfront (for services that wouldn’t be provided until the future – possibly the far future if people bought a ton of tokens), and there’s a decent chance that a proportion of the stockpiled tokens would get lost over time. Behind all this, the TTC was terrified of the possibility that the citizens of Toronto would get this discount, the very people the service was provided for and who pay for any shortfalls in funding (through municipal taxes).
I’m 100% in favour of fees where the people using the service pay for it, and I definitely agree that the TTC’s funding should come from its riders. *BUT* since it already gets some funding from municipal taxes, I *REALLY* don’t see why it’s so horrible if some riders get a slightly better deal for a very short time. The people getting the deal will be the same people bailing out the TTC in the future. Besides, how many people are really going to invest their life savings into TTC tokens?
I understand that there was probably also a concern that some people might stockpile tokens then resell them. Given that the absolute maximum profit margin they could make would be 10% (and many people would be leery of buying tokens from some black market source) and that it would probably be less (after costs to get tokens to buyers and offering a discount to entice people to buy from the vendor instead of directly from the TTC), I can’t for the life of me see why this was would be such a concern.
So, given that their objective was to prevent a) their customers and bosses from getting a small discount & b) from business people who are bad at math and business trying to arbitrage the fare increase, what did the TTC do?
First they stopped selling tokens entirely. This at least makes more sense then in the past when they’ve “rationed” tokens before an increase, but either approach is pretty darn ridiculous. They created an entirely new fare ticket (a temporary ticket that would only last until the end of January) and this is the only thing riders could buy. I wonder how much retooling everything to sell these temporary tickets cost? And, you could only buy them from the operators in the booths (they shut down the automated vending machines).
This, of course, led to MASSIVE line ups at the sales booths (every time I used the system over the holidays there was a line). When I asked about the temporary ticket, and if it would expire, the vendor said “no, no, you just have to pay a quarter along with the temporary ticket after the fare increase”). This turned out to be a lie: the adult ticket is completely non-refundable and expires at the end of the month (at which point they’re useless pieces of paper that cost me $2.25 each). Adding a quarter will only work for the month of January. I bought 10 tickets (so I wouldn’t have to line up again), and only used 5 of them, so I’m out the cost of the remaining 5 tickets which I won’t be able to use (I’m not planning to go back to Toronto in January).
The thing that really drives me nuts about the whole situation is this is something that happens ALL the time over the ENTIRE WORLD! Transit fare increases have happened numerous time IN TORONTO, BY THE TTC!!! There is NO EXCUSE for them to make such a mess of it, cheat riders who have paid for tickets they won’t be able to use and waste everyone time by massive line-ups and congestion at the turn-stills (the only way to use a ticket is to squeeze past the people in line and drop it into a box in front of the operator). One Toronto business professor suggested sidestepping all the silliness and just letting people buy as many tokens as they want or moving to a flexible pricing technology (which is pretty cutting edge – transit systems have only been using it for 25 years).
It sure must be nice having a government supported monopoly, as I can’t see this level of incompetence existing many other places.