2017-02-19 Sun

The Toronto Transit Commission and the Presto Card

The Toronto Star reports problems with the Presto Card, but even then not all the problems are reported. Operating problems are publicized, but there exists a serious design problem.

When I tap my Presto card in Union Station, the little screen lights up (for about one second only) and displays my new balance.

When I tap my Presto card when boarding a Toronto Transit Commission bus, the little screen lights up (for about one second only) and does not display my new balance.

This is a design problem on at least two counts:-

(1) Any fleet manager worth his salt will tell you that having multiple devices multiplies the cost of parts and maintenance. In particular, either the Toronto Transit Commission has invested in two types of hardware (tapping stations) or they have paid to have the software modified so that the new balance is not displayed on their stations.

Multiplying costs is not a smart move for a transit agency that spends 90% of its time crying poor.

(2) The Presto card is a reducing-balance ticket. Each time you use it “Ka-Ching” you have less money left on the card. The system should and does keep track of the balance. The bad news is that the user runs the real risk of losing track of the balance and trying to board a surface vehicle without sufficient funds on the card – embarrassment all around, especially since most bus stops are not at a subway station (which has machines that should be able to increase your card balance.

I asked both the bus driver and a member of GO Transit about this last Friday 17th February. The bus driver responded, and here I quote “Oh, we’re not quite there yet”. Does this mean that the Toronto Transit Commission has implemented a system that it tends to replace? Or is the bus driver merely offering an excuse along the lines of “Give us time”, of which the Toronto Transit Commission had dragged out often enough over the past few years.

The nice man at Union Station said I could always go online and check my balance. He is lying.

I cannot “go online” when I am riding in a #6 Bay Street bus. And when I am in (or at least, boarding) a bus, I am almost always not at Union Station.

These two responses, while courteous enough, do not address the real problem, which is that the Toronto Transit Commission is knowingly and willingly hiding useful and useable data from its passengers.

If you have ever tried to board a surface vehicle with an underfunded card, you will know what I mean.