Hey TTC, start charging all your customers already!

Notwithstanding some funky arrangements, businesses should always collect pre-determined amounts of money for whatever goods or services they provide. This tuna sandwich costs $6, that spatula costs $4, and one ride on the TTC costs $3, for example. This gives order to our universe. Payment, whether it be cash or plastic, is a necessary step towards self-preservation for any business.

That’s why I get annoyed when the TTC doesn’t collect what’s owed to them. Sometimes it feels like public transit in Toronto is one big pay-what-you-can operation. Here are three scenarios that play out on a daily basis across the TTC’s vast network of subways, streetcars and buses:

  • You enter a subway station. You drop $3 worth of change in the compartment before passing through the turnstile. But while you’re doing it, maybe the attendant is staring off into space. Or maybe you’re dropping your change onto a pile of other people’s change, making it impossible for anyone to determine how much you put in. I mean, Rain Man himself would struggle with the count. Hey TTC attendant, at least press the lever that empties the change compartment to give yourself a chance. Don’t wait until emptying it sounds like someone hit the jackpot at one of these casino games. I could have dropped a handful of nails in there and you probably wouldn’t have known the difference.
  • Not dissimilar to the example above, a bus rolls up to your stop. Personally, I’ve always dropped the correct fare into the box because I guess my mom raised an honest kid. But there’s really no way for the driver to know how much money gets thrown in. Unless TTC training involves listening to a bunch of change falling and determining the sum without looking, the driver has no clue.
  • You’re waiting for the streetcar. Logically, everybody is lined up where the front door will end up. The streetcar arrives, people start getting off from the back, and then BOOM!, half the crowd decides to enter the streetcar through the back door. The problem is there’s nowhere to pay back there. A few well-meaning souls wave a Metropass in the air, oblivious to the fact that nobody of importance is paying attention. In the meantime, the TTC loses out on a whole bunch of fares. That shit adds up, right!

I’ve lived in Toronto pretty much non-stop since 2002. This was an issue then and it’s an issue now. Is it really possible that the TTC has not improved their payment system in the past dozen years? At this point, I’d like to point out that I’m not a transit expert. I don’t closely follow the transit-related storylines coming out of City Hall. I’d also like to point out that I realize I’m not really offering up any solutions, just pointing out a problem.

So yes, I don’t know the ins and outs of the TTC but that doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I see pretty much every time I ride the Red Rocket. If the TTC wants to improve its services, it needs money. And for it earn money, it needs to charge its customers, the same way any self-respecting business would. And when I see dozens of commuters getting a free ride each and every day, it reminds me that the TTC has a long way to go, notwithstanding its new influx of fare enforcement officers.

I don’t walk into a Canadian Tire, leave with a pair of skates saying “Nah, sorry, I don’t really feel like paying for these today.” I don’t walk into a convenience store, grab a Twix bar off the shelf, casually stroll out and continue on with my day. No, these things don’t happen. But the equivalent is happening every day on the TTC network. And to be honest, it’s a little embarrassing for a world-class city.

The counterpoint to all this is that the TTC is far from perfect and maybe doesn’t deserve our full fares. I was recently waiting for the northbound Spadina streetcar at Bremner Boulevard. It was a Saturday night. SIX (yes, I counted) southbound cars passed before a northbound one came along. So yeah, it was hard to justify paying the three bucks but I still did.

Maybe the solution is simple: Go buy a bike. And unlike the TTC, expect to pay the amount marked on the price tag.