There is now no end date for the TTC to complete its drawn-out transition to the Presto fare card system, and the agency is blaming the latest delay on the province, which it accuses of failing to enable crucial features of the program.
In a politically charged report released Wednesday, TTC staff say that seven years after Toronto’s transit agency signed an agreement with the Ontario government to adopt Presto, there remain “gaps” in the system that mean the TTC will have to continue accepting tickets and tokens for the foreseeable future.
The report lays fault for Presto’s deficiencies squarely at the feet of Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency that owns the fare card system. The TTC alleges Metrolinx hasn’t lived up to the stipulations of the agreement the two parties signed in 2012 to implement Presto across Toronto’s network.
“Metrolinx has not committed to delivering the remaining and unfulfilled contractual obligations that were fundamental to the TTC entering the agreement,” the report says.
Having to operate both Presto and the “legacy” system of tickets and tokens that the fare card was supposed to replace is expected to cost the TTC roughly an additional $10 million per year.
Well-documented reliability problems with Presto devices are one issue the report identifies. But the TTC also says Metrolinx hasn’t introduced promised features such as allowing customers to pay their fares on Presto devices with credit or debit cards, or providing single-use Presto tickets for buses and streetcars.
The report also says the network of Shoppers Drug Mart stores to which Metrolinx has granted exclusive rights to sell Presto products doesn’t cover enough of the city and there are neighbourhoods where thousands of residents have no convenient place to buy a transit card.
While the report says the TTC has set a tentative date of November 2019 to stop selling tickets and tokens, that deadline is contingent on Metrolinx addressing critical shortfalls.
TTC staff will continue to monitor progress and report back on when the agency will be able to stop accepting older forms of payment, which is the final major step in transitioning to Presto.
TTC chair Jaye Robinson (Ward 15, Don Valley West) said ongoing problems with the Presto system are “unacceptable” and the source of regular complaints from riders.
She said she’s committed to holding Metrolinx to account and would support exploring actions such as seeking financial compensation or even taking legal action against the provincial agency. But she conceded it’s not clear what leverage the TTC, a city agency, could exert over an organization controlled by the province, a more senior level of government.
“I’m not sure whether you can go down those roads. I certainly would like to … we’re committed to holding them to these deliverables,” she said.
Annalise Czerny, Metrolinx vice-president for Presto, pushed back against the report, saying that in addition to meeting its contractual commitments, her agency has “delivered on a number of changes and additions to the project that weren’t part of the original contract, which has impacted the overall timing and cost of delivering Presto on the TTC.” The unforeseen changes the TTC requested included the introduction of two-hour timed transfers last year.
“With high adoption and customer satisfaction rates across the (Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area), we know that Presto is working for customers,” Czerny said. Roughly 81 per cent of all TTC trips are now paid for using Presto, which is also used by other transit agencies across the region.
This is only the latest delay in the TTC’s transition to Presto, which as of March 2018 had cost Metrolinx close to $500 million to deploy on Toronto’s system. In 2015 the agency said it would phase out older forms of payment in 2017, but that was later pushed back to 2018. Last summer the TTC said it would stop selling tickets and tokens by August 2019 and that it would stop accepting older forms of payment by the end of this year.
Major obstacles the report identifies include:
The report states that the performance of Presto machines has “consistently improved since the initial installation” but “the current equipment does not satisfy the expected performance targets that were outlined in the agreement.”
For example, Presto readers on buses and streetcars have a reliability rate of 98.3 per cent, below the agreement target of 99.99 per cent. The new Presto fare vending machines in subway stations have a 94 per cent reliability rate.
But some Presto functions promised by Metrolinx haven’t been enabled at all, such as allowing for payment on the TTC’s premium downtown express route and trips that cross the boundary of York Region and Mississauga. The TTC is also still waiting for Presto to enable fare card payment in sedan taxis it contracts for its Wheel-Trans paratransit service.
Presto retail network
The 2012 agreement stipulated that sales of Presto cards through retailers should “provide the same convenience and accessibility as (the) TTC’s current sales network.” But while under the old system 1,200 third-party locations like convenience stores and other private outlets sold TTC tickets and tokens, just 136 Shoppers outlets in Toronto sell Presto.
The report states that adequate coverage wouldn’t necessarily require a one-to-one replacement of retail locations, because once customers have a Presto card they can load fare value onto it online, a feature not available under the old system. But TTC staff say “there are gaps in the northwest and Scarborough areas of the city and this is especially critical for those who wish to purchase fares with cash or cannot access the internet.” Presto cards are sold in subway stations but residents who don’t live close to a stop are disadvantaged.
Czerny said customers have multiple options to buy and load cards, including through the new Presto app. She acknowledged “that there remain geographical gaps in the retail coverage within Toronto,” and said “we are discussing options with the TTC on how to best serve the customers in these communities.”
The report says that an “essential component” of the 2012 agreement was a clause that Metrolinx would allow passengers to tap their credit or debit cards on a Presto fare device to pay for their ride, a system that is used by other transit agencies around the world and is known as “open payment.” The agreement also stipulated that Presto would implement an “account-based” system that among other features would enable customers to load fares onto their cards in real time, instead of the current system under which it can take 24 hours for funds added online to become available.
According to the report, Metrolinx has done no work on the open payment feature since 2016 and “schedule and delivery timelines for the full open payments solutions have consistently slipped.”
Czerny said Metrolinx is “still very much committed to introducing account-based technology” but she wouldn’t commit to any timeline to introduce open payment.
Presto tickets for buses and streetcars
Before the TTC can get rid of tickets and tokens, it must be able to distribute single- or limited-use Presto tickets to riders who start their journeys on buses and streetcars but then transfer to the subway. That’s because once Presto is fully phased in, the only way to enter many subway stations will be through fare gates that will open only with the tap of a Presto card or ticket.
The report states that the TTC and Metrolinx have spent “a considerable amount of time analyzing and assessing various solutions, yet no schedules have been provided to deliver this item.”
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr