News / Toronto

The Presto sideshow: A timeline of Ontario’s transit card rollout

Filled with cost overruns, delays, and headaches, the implementation of the Presto system in Ontario has been less than magical so far. Here's a closer look.

Malfunctioning readers, overcharging and cost overruns are just some of the myriad problems that have plagued the decade-long rollout of the Presto system.

Torstar News Service

Malfunctioning readers, overcharging and cost overruns are just some of the myriad problems that have plagued the decade-long rollout of the Presto system.

The rollout of Presto has been less than magical.

Ontario’s transit smart-card was supposed to make everything easy for riders, but the project has been a decade-long headache. It’s seen delays, inter-governmental squabbling, cost overruns, breakdowns and other problems typical of big IT endeavours.

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong called the project “a lemon” as Presto faced renewed criticism this week, this time for too many broken machines. Coun. Joe Mihevc agreed that the state of Presto was unacceptable and called on Metrolinx to fix the situation.

Here’s a timeline of the devolving Presto saga:

June 2007: The city agrees to work with the province on a GTA smartcard system. The contract with Accenture, initially estimated at $140 million in the early 2000s, now is expected to cost $250 million over 10 years.

May 2010: Presto receives its public launch with Oakville’s and Burlington’s transit systems and seven TTC subway stations. Those stations are Union, Dundas, College, Yonge/Bloor, St. Patrick, Queen’s Park and St. George.

July 2010: The TTC looks at backing out of Presto in favour of an “open payment” card, which uses existing credit and debit technology. Then-transportation minister Kathleen Wynne calls the TTC plan “troubling and confusing.”

June 2011: After only one vendor bid for an open payment system, the transit agency fully commits to Presto. TTC chair Karen Stintz says she hopes the technology will be rolled out system-wide for the Pan Am Games in 2015.

December 2012: Ontario auditor-general Jim McCarter singles out Presto for its many delays, breakdowns and increased costs. He writes it is “among the more expensive fare-card systems in the world.”

June 2014: Metrolinx still doesn’t know when Presto will be fully installed. Four years after its public launch, it’s only available at 14 stations.

March 2016: Even without a full rollout, Presto has already cost $277 million for the TTC portion — $22 million more than a 2012 estimate. At least 2,400 TTC vehicles still don’t have Presto, and additional costs remain to install Presto gates at subway stations and upgrade the system.

October 2016: At least 5 to 6 per cent of Presto machines are broken at any time, but a new TTC report shows it could be as high as 12 per cent. It means lots of lost money for the TTC.

December 2016: Presto is now available on each streetcar, bus and Wheel Trans vehicle and at least one entrance at each subway station.

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