Not any more

TTC plan to award contract for new fare system attacked

In Canada on August 11, 2010 at 08:56

The Toronto Transit Commission intends to award a contract for a multimillion-dollar “open payments” fare system by Nov. 30, 2010, the last day in office for the current council, including chair Adam Giambrone, the leading booster of a plan to allow riders to pay with credit, bank and generic reloadable fare cards.

According to a 226-page “request for pre-qualifications” obtained by The Globe and Mail, the TTC will seek bids from private partners to build and operate the system, which will compete with Ontario’s Presto smart card, now being rolled out on GO Transit and York Region’s Viva buses.

The move raises the likelihood that Greater Toronto transit users will soon be faced with potentially incompatible technologies. “The issue is whether or not you’ll allow two standalone systems to exist in the GTA,” said Presto executive director Ernie Wallace. “That’s clearly a political question.

The TTC’s move brought swift criticism from several mayoral candidates.

“It’s a hurry-up job which presents risk of bad decisions which are potentially inappropriate,” asserted George Smitherman, who has pledged to roll out Presto on the TTC by 2014.

The move exposes the city to legal risks because a new council may be obliged to sign a contract that doesn’t reflect its policy goals, adds Rocco Rossi, who first raised the issue last month. “I would encourage any potential bidders to understand that they shouldn’t sign and get in the middle of a ridiculous power play by a lame-duck administration.”

Mr. Giambrone was unavailable for comment.

But TTC vice-chair Joe Mihevc expressed reservations about the pace. “This contract has to be something that the new mayor and council feel good about and also our provincial partners feel good about.” Asked if the TTC has ever awarded a large contract so quickly, Mr. Mihevc replied: “Not that I can think of.”

The request says the TTC expects the winning consortium to provide the equipment in exchange for an annual fee based on an unspecified percentage of the TTC fare revenue. The fee must not exceed what the TTC spends on fare collection, about $67-million per year. The private partner will also keep half the revenues from the sale of the reloadable cards outside the TTC, and may also win the right to a period of “exclusive use.”

In a potentially bizarre twist, the request asks bidders to propose service for the new Transit City light rail line, which the Ontario government has vowed to equip with Presto cards.

The request hasn’t specified the duration of the contract, but it clearly lays out the upside: “Due to a captive clientele, public transit providers like the TTC are well positioned to drive the rapid and widespread adoption of innovative contactless payment usage. Contactless fare collection systems are being implemented across the world in order to achieve more efficient public transit operations.”

No large North American transit agency runs an open payments fare system, although a handful are considering them, including Chicago. A trial is under way in New York, with the equipment provided free by MasterCard, which received a two-month period of exclusive access for riders with bank-issued MasterCards.

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