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Commuters exit a streetcar at a TTC stop at Bathurst and King St., on Nov. 13, 2017.

Christopher Katsarov/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Toronto is a big step closer to allowing transit passengers to hop on and off, doing errands along the way without having to pay an extra fare.

Mayor John Tory and Toronto Transit Commission Chair Josh Colle threw their support publicly behind the idea Thursday, asking TTC staff to come up with options for how this could be done.

"I think that there are many benefits," Mr. Tory told reporters, hours after releasing an open letter touting the idea. "Most particularly it's for transit riders to encourage them to use transit even more, and to get more new people using transit and get more people using Presto."

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The TTC has previously said that having a time-based transfer option that allowed two hours of hopping on and off would cost $20-million per year. Restricting this feature to 90 minutes would reduce that cost to about $12-million. While it's unclear which option ultimately will be chosen, the politicians are asking for the option to be available strictly to those passengers who have the Presto fare-card, which would minimize the cost still further.

The TTC is aiming to phase out tickets, tokens and Metropasses by the end of next year. For now, though, only about 14 per cent of riders use the Presto card. It's not clear how much it would cost to offer a time-based transfer for this group of Presto riders alone, analysis that the TTC will conduct before its next monthly board meeting, scheduled for the end of November.

According to the mayor's office, Mr. Tory's support for the concept will translate into support for more funding. The TTC will not be asked to fund this feature by cutting costs elsewhere.

Activists have long pushed for a time-based transfer, saying it is particularly important for a type of behaviour known as trip-chaining. This occurs when people string together a series of small trips, perhaps a daycare pick-up followed by a drugstore stop and a haircut. This is straightforward with a car, bicycle or on foot but, under the current TTC rules, each leg of the journey requires another fare, making it prohibitively expensive. A time-based transfer would make it more viable.

"Riders want it, it's good for small business. It's a no-brainer," said Shelagh Pizey-Allen, the executive director of the advocacy group TTC Riders.

Many other cities have versions of a time-based transfer, including a number of the 905 communities around Toronto. In the United Kingdom, London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced Thursday that a "hopper" fare, allowing people to board two buses or trams for the price of one, would be extended to permit unlimited connections for the same price.

The TTC has long been open to a time-based transfer, saying that this feature has been "requested frequently by customers." The agency's only reservation has been the cost.

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"With the exception of this revenue loss, all other aspects of a time-based transfer system would appear to be positive for both customers and employees," the agency stated in a 2014 report. "A time-based transfer would undoubtedly increase the number of customer journeys."

- With files from Jeff Gray

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