Presto and the magical monthly passesPresto, the region's long-awaited smart fare card has begun it's GTA-wide rollout. Unlike last year's Launch One phase, this week marks the field test of the final product that we will see across the region in the next few years. Right now you can use at Bronte GO Station, Oakville GO Station, Union Station (both TTC and GO Transit) and Oakville Transit routes 22, 32 and 110.
In the spring you'll be able to use it at all Lakeshore West, Georgetown and Milton line stations, on Oakville Transit, Burlington Transit, and at 6 TTC Subway Stations. It's unclear which 6 subway stations they are talking about, but the rumour is that it will be the six surrounding Union Station so return trips to Union at the end of the day will be covered.
In the fall you'll be able to use it on the Lakeshore East, Barrie and Richmond Hill lines, Mississauga Transit, Brampton Transit, the Hamilton Street Railway and at Kipling and Islington Subway Stations.
In winter 2011 you'll be able to use Presto on Durham Region Transit, York Region Transit, the Stouffville line and at Don Mills, Downsview and Finch subway stations. It is my sincere hope that the TTC's rollout at the rest of the subway stations will be completed by this time with the bus and streetcar fleet not far behind. We know from the provincial transit framework that the Sheppard LRT Line has to be Presto-friendly, and this is scheduled to come online in 2012. I'm not advocating for the province to force their hand, but...
Winter 2011 will also see Presto come online for OC Transpo riders in Ottawa. Being in Ontario, there's no reason why our nation's capital should not participate in a made-in-ontario program. But, it's unclear if it will be compatible with the Toronto system and it's unclear if it will be compatible with the "Passe-Partout PLUS" smart card STO is using across the river. If I were in charge, though, I would sacrifice Toronto compatibility for STO compatibility.
The interesting thing about this switchover is how the fare rules for GO Transit are going to change. It might seem complicated at first, but these new rules solve a bunch of problems with the system that have annoyed riders and enthusiasts for years.
First of all, GO is said to be moving towards a more per-kilometre-oriented fare system and away from a zone fare system. This will eliminate quirks like a trip from Brampton to York U costing 20 cents less than a trip to Union but taking half the time.
Second, and most importantly, the monthly pass dance is over. Every month we make a calculation in our heads on how many trips we'll make and if it makes sense to buy a monthly pass or to buy a series of 10-ride tickets. If you overestimate then you've purchased a monthly pass that you haven't used to its fullest. If you underestimate then you have to purchase additional 10-ride tickets (at a higher per-trip rate). GO is now phasing out monthly passes and introducing progressive discounts. If you ride more than 10 times in a month then you get a 5% discount on further trips. If you ride more than 20 times you get a 20% discount. 30 times gets you 30%, 35 times gets you 65% and 40 times gets you a whopping 95% off the rest of the rides you make in a month. Based on the numbers provided by GO for the Bronte - Union trip, your fares should not go up. A round trip every work day actually saves you money over the current scheme. If you ride more then every work day you will pay slightly more, but each trip will be pocket change (somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30-cents). If you ride less than every work day (either accidentally or deliberately), you'll save money by not having a pass that only gets half-used.
As a bonus, the trips can be made anywhere on the system. You won't have to wait in line to buy a new ticket if you decide to take a daytrip to Niagara Falls, and this trip will count towards your daily discounts.
I've been a big fan of these "virtual monthly passes" for quite some time, partially because it eliminates the monthly pass dance, and because it opens up cheaper transit to many lower income families. Buying a period pass reduces the per-trip cost significantly over the cash rate, but not everyone has a large sum of money to drop on a transit pass at the beginning of the month. By extending the cheaper rate these individuals we can make transit more affordable to people living paycheque-to-paycheque. We haven't reduced the cost, per say, but we have made it more affordable by the strict definition of the term.
What do you, the readers, think? Virtual monthly passes do have many advantages, but they don't have that psychological comfort of knowing that you have an all-you-can-eat pass. Is that really important, or does it really matter what it looks like as long as the price is the same at the end of the day?