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Durham “treated unfairly” with new PRESTO deal

Several regional councillors called an agreement in principle with Metrolinx over the PRESTO program unfair for Durham. The new deal would see up to nine per cent of PRESTO fares go into provincial coffers by 2021.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

The Region of Durham and Metrolinx are working on a deal for the use of PRESTO cards on the region’s buses – and councillors do not like what they see.

According to a report presented at this month’s committee of the whole meeting, the agreement in principle between the two parties would see the provincial agency receive a growing share of the fares collected through the PRESTO system, starting at two per cent, or about $200,000, in 2017 and up to six per cent, or about $1.5 million by 2021, carrying through until the end of the agreement in 2027.

On top of that, the deal would see “additional business requirements from the 905 transit agencies” that would be provided by Metrolinx at a cost of up to three per cent of revenue collected via PRESTO.

However, when the agreement came up at the committee meeting, numerous councillors expressed their dismay at the proposal, saying it’s leaving Durham residents to pick up the tab while a larger agency, the Toronto Transit Commission, contributes a smaller share of its fares – 4.65 per cent at its highest – and doesn’t have to cover some of its costs.

Some councillors said the province was forcing the region’s hand in this deal because, if there is no new agreement to have PRESTO availability on Durham Region Transit’s buses, then it cannot receive gas tax funding from the province.

“It sounds like we have a gun to our head, that we pretty much have to take this,” said Councillor Colleen Jordan of Ajax.

“Here’s another blatant, blatant example of our being treated unfairly.”

Councillor Amy McQuaid-England says that the increased share of fares going to the province under this deal would hit those that have transferred over to the PRESTO program, and that DRT could be forced to raise fares to make up for the loss in revenue.

“We’ve caught ourselves in a situation where we’ve told individual transit users that by being loyal, by using PRESTO, you’ll save money,” she said.

“And now it seems that because our hands are tied and we don’t have the ability to negotiate and our gas tax is at risk, we have to agree to these terms and then we’re going to go back to the PRESTO users and say they have to pay more, which defeats the purpose of why we went on PRESTO to begin with.”

While councillors voted in favour of the agreement at the committee meeting, they also voted in favour of calling on a representative from Metrolinx to come to council chambers to explain the provincial agency’s side of the deal.