12% of Presto card readers on buses don’t work, Metrolinx audit says
Each bus has either two or three readers and a spot check discovered that five per cent of buses had no working readers at all.
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Efforts to roll out Presto fare-card readers on the TTC’s bus fleet are being hampered by the devices malfunctioning in high numbers, Torstar News Service has learned.
Since May, the TTC has been outfitting its buses with the readers, which allow customers to pay their fare with a tap of a prepaid card. So far, about two-thirds of the transit commission’s 1,900 buses have the devices.
According to numbers provided to Torstar by Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency that owns the Presto system, an audit conducted last week found that more than 12 per cent of the readers on the buses weren’t working.
Each bus has either two or three readers, depending on the model of vehicle, and the spot check discovered that five per cent of buses had no working readers at all.
The failure rate was higher than that reported for Presto devices on streetcars. The TTC said last month that between five and six per cent of readers on the rail vehicles weren’t working.
Darryl Browne, Metrolinx’s vice-president of operations and deployment for Presto, acknowledged that a 12-per-cent failure rate is not “a great number for us.”
But he pointed out that the fare-card system isn’t fully installed on the TTC yet. While all streetcars have had Presto devices since the end of last year and Presto fare gates have been erected at some subway stations, the entire network won’t be equipped to take the fare card until the end of this year. The TTC plans to phase out all other forms of payment in the second half of 2017.
Browne said that if such a high number of readers are still failing by the end of next year it would be a “catastrophe.” But he said he had “every confidence that we’ll be ready” to handle the TTC’s 1.8 million daily riders by the time the transition is complete.
Asked why readers on buses would be more prone to failure than those on streetcars, Browne explained that each vehicle type presents its own technical challenges, including different electrical systems. The vehicles’ power source can affect the readers, which are connected to the central Presto network by a cellular system.
Browne suggested the problems with the readers were easily fixed and asserted that they don’t represent “a systemic issue.”
“A lot of times (the reader is) just disconnected from the network. It just requires a reset,” he said. Metrolinx plans to do a “vehicle sweep” of buses this week to get all the devices up and running.
The TTC is spending $47 million to install Presto, with the rest of the cost shouldered by the province. The project was estimated at between $250 million and $300 million in 2011 when the TTC agreed to adopt the fare card, but on Wednesday Metrolinx declined to provide an updated figure.
TTC workers, responsible for first-line maintenance of the Presto system, performed the audit on Sept. 29, checking 512 readers on 243 buses and finding that 62 of the 512 readers weren’t working. That was a much higher rate of failure than was showing up in Presto’s back-end system, which is supposed to detect when readers go offline.
Only five devices had been showing as out of service, according to Chris Upfold, chief customer officer for the TTC.
“I think it’s disappointing that the numbers are that high,” said Upfold, adding that once Presto is fully implemented “the reliability is going to have to be much better.”
But he, too, expressed confidence that the problems would be resolved before the TTC fully embraces Presto, and said that the technical issues wouldn’t delay plans to install readers on all buses by the end of the year.
In an interview with Torstar, David Quarmby, a transit expert and former board member of Transport for London, said the British capital “had no equivalent problems” when it introduced its famous Oyster fare card 13 years ago.
But he doubted that Presto’s current woes were anything other than “very initial teething trouble.”
However, he cautioned that it would be wise to address the glitches as soon as possible.
“People will often be tolerant of a short period of not performing technically properly,” he said. “If it lasts longer than a few weeks, then that is going to undermine confidence in the system.”
Eleven transit systems across the GTA and in Ottawa use the Presto system, but payments with the fare-card account for less than 6 per cent of journeys on the TTC.
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