Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Presto Roundup

The whole point of this post is to amalgamate a few of the Presto posts that I have written over the last few weeks. Partially because more information has come out, partially because I don't think the major media outlets are doing a very good job of explaining how it's going to work, and partially because I've having trouble keeping up with spammers (I don't want to lock down the comment process).

What is Presto?

Presto is a debit-style smart fare card. After you purchase the card for $6, you can load a minimum of $10 onto the card and hold a maximum value of $320 dollars. If you choose to register your card, you can sign up for auto top-ups that will add value to your card when your balance drops below a certain level. The auto top-up can be anywhere between $20 and $300. Registering also lets you recover your balance if you lose your card, allows a transit tax credit receipt to be downloaded, and lets you finish your trip as long as your balance is greater than zero when you set out.

When can I use it?

Right now you can use at Bronte GO Station, Oakville GO Station, Union Station (TTC, only if you are boarding) and on Oakville Transit routes 22, 32 and 110.

In the spring you'll be able to use it on the Lakeshore West, Georgetown and Milton lines, on Oakville Transit, Burlington Transit, and at 6 more TTC subway stations - Bloor-Yonge, College, Dundas, Queens Park, St. George & St. Patrick.

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.

2011 will also see Presto come online for OC Transpo riders in Ottawa, and the TTC's full roll-out should be complete around 2013, according to Adam Giambrone's twitter feed.

How does it work on local transit?

Instead of dropping coins or tickets into the fare box, you tap your Presto card onto the reader and your fare is deducted. That's it. When you transfer from one route to another, you tap again and the card will figure out if you're eligible for a free transfer. The individual transit providers will be able to set their own fare rules, so the transfer period could vary from 90 minutes to two hours from the time you first pay, and could include free transfers from other agencies.

The amount that you will actually have to pay depends, again, on the individual transit system. Some will allow you to load a monthly pass onto your card, but others will eliminate passes completely and move to a frequent rider program. On Oakville Transit, the following fare scheme is planned for trips taken within a calendar month:

Trips 1 - 8 : Adult Cash Fare
Trip 9 : 50% off Adult Cash Fare
Trip 10 : Free
Trips 11 - 35 : Adult Ticket Rate
Trips 36 + : Free

By the end of the month you've paid about the same as you would have if you had purchased a monthly pass, and each system could make the scheme break even by modifying the point at which your rides become free.

The main benefit of frequent rider programs like this is that you don't have to pre-plan your monthly travels. You pay for what you use up to the value of the monthly pass, then you're free for the rest of the month. If you ride less you pay less. This program is also more affordable, as you can deposit the value over time instead of in one lump sum. Because of these benefits to the customer, I would hope that all transit agencies abandon monthly passes and move to frequent rider programs.

How does it work on GO Transit?

Just like on local transit, Presto works by tapping-on when you board and tapping-off when you reach your destination. However, GO riders will be able to set a default trip that simplifies the process. When you make your default trip, you only have to tap-on at the start. If you are making a different trip then you can override the default, but you'll have to remember to tap-off.

In addition to how you pay, what you pay will also change. Like Oakville appears to be doing, GO is planning on phasing out monthly passes and 10-ride tickets in favour of a frequent rider program:

Rides 1 – 35, 7.5% off the single adult GO fare
Rides 36 – 40, 87.5% off the single adult GO fare
Rides 41+, - 100% off the single adult GO fare

If you ride every workday in a month, you'll pay about the same as you would if you purchased a monthly pass - but you didn't have to purchase the pass in a lump sum. If you ride less, you pay less. But, if you more then you'll pay about 30-cents per trip instead of riding for free. This might inconvenience a few heavy users, but there are three things to sweeten the deal. First, you'll won't have to keep a separate ticket for the occasional side trip. Riders who keep one ticket for Union to Brampton and another for Union to Bramalea will appreciate this. Second, the way the fare-by-distance system is calculated will change to better reflect the actual distance travelled. In time, this will fix some of the fare quirks involving York University. Third, if the transit system participates in the co-fare program, the Presto system will automatically adjust the fare if the rider uses local transit to get to or from the GO station.

Since there are no fare gates on GO Trains, a rider won't encounter a problem if they have to change trains to complete their journey. They simply have to tap on in Brampton, tap-off in Pickering, and do nothing at Union. The system will consider this one trip and will not charge the $3.95 base fare twice. However, the policies for GO buses will have to be a little different. It's safe to assume that you'll have to tap-on when you board the bus (how will the driver know if you've paid or not?), but how will this affect an active trip? Will the driver ask you to tap-off when you leave, and how will this affect a default trips that has been programmed? How long will you have to transfer between routes before the system concludes that a new trip has begun? I'm sure these questions will be answered once GO buses are added to the rollout in the fall, but all that really matters is what the rider has to do. The system, if well designed, will do all the calculations and ensure that the right fare is charged.


The Presto smart card is going to revolutionize how we think about paying for transit services, and is the first stepping stone to a true region-wide integrated fare payment system. Instead of dealing with a rainbow of tickets, tokens and passes and waiting in line to pay a fare, riders will be able to show up at the stop and get moving. From my perspective, the biggest change is the frequent rider program ("virtual monthly passes", as I call them). They do have numerous advantages as I've described above, but there is a certain psychological comfort in knowing that you have an all-you-can-eat pass (except when you lose it). Is that feeling 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?

Oh... And don't poke a hole in it to put it on a chain. That will wreck it.

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At 12/12/2009 1:17 p.m. , Anonymous Kam said...

Great post - nice to have all this info in one place.


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