Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Open Payment

According to Adam Giambrone's Facebook profile:
With all the talk about Presto today, remember that the TTC will have a signed binding deal for Open Payments (credit card and debit payment at the turnstile) this fall with implementation starting Jan. 2010. We have not said no to Presto, but Presto will take longer and be slower than "Open Payments"
I have been a huge supporter of the PRESTO fare card pretty much since day 1, and the benefits of the way its being implemented are many:
  • Virtual monthly passes (where the rider pays for each ride until the reach a monthly cap) allow those who can't afford a monthly pass in a lump sum to still get the discounts because the PRESTO balance can be loaded as needed.
  • Virtual monthly passes let riders pay for what they use, so they aren't left with a monthly pass that hasn't been used to its full potential, nor are they left regretting buying a monthly pass because they underestimated their use.
  • PRESTO will work for all transit agencies in the GTHA, and is the vehicle through which future fare reform can take place.
  • For Brampton residents, PRESTO will end the confusion at two ends of the city. Going northbound from the courthouse, Mississauga Transit buses come most frequently and offer free transfers to Brampton Transit - but Brampton tickets and passes aren't valid even though you're boarding in Brampton. With PRESTO, it won't matter - you'll get the discount of having a pass regardless of the system. Out in the west end, Route 77 is shared between Brampton Transit and YRT, and it has never been clear to anyone which tickets are valid under what circumstance. Under PRESTO, it won't matter - you'll get the discount of having a pass regardless of the system.
Now, back to Mr. Giambrone's Facebook post. I support, in principle, any effort to improve public transit in the GTHA. So, let's take a look at open payment.

Open payment is, in a nutshell, allowing riders to pay their transit fare with credit or debit cards that are compatible with wireless PayPass, PayWave or other similar systems. The transaction is authenticated in less than a second and doesn't need a PIN or signature, so open payment will not introduce delays. The benefits of such a system are, like PRESTO, that you won't need to carry change or tickets to use the system. In addition, the time-frame for implementation is a lot faster since the technology is effectively off-the-shelf. The downside of open payment is that not everyone can qualify for a credit card or debit card (young people, for example), and that no other transit agency in the region appears to be implementing such a system.

The TTC will implement PRESTO. It's a condition of provincial funding for transit projects in the GTHA. As such, I'm not concerned that open payment will replace the smart card that every other agency is using. Open payment is by no means a bad idea. Sometimes a user needs to take transit but simply doesn't have enough change in their pocket. Using their debit card is perfect for that kind of situation. But, if we're going to have open payment, a few things have to happen (which have not yet been answered to my satisfaction) before I'm willing to support it:
  1. The open payment system must recognize transfer privileges. If a user has paid their fare and is within the time allotted for a trip, the system should not deduct a second fare. In other words, open payment should eliminate paper transfers for its users.
  2. The open payment system should facilitate virtual monthly passes, where riders pay for each ride until they reach a monthly cap. I believe that virtual monthly passes are superior to traditional monthly passes, as they give all of the benefits of the pass without any of the drawbacks.
  3. The open payment system should not further delay the implementation of PRESTO. Both systems can work in parallel, but open payment must not be used to undermine the fare card being used by every other system in the GTHA.
Open payment can be a great addition to our public transit system. But, if it's being implemented out of contempt, or if it's just a new way to pay for a single fare then it's a disaster waiting to happen.

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