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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

If Presto is the TTC's future, the future doesn't look bright

Opportunity squandered for new fare cards to usher in a brighter transit future, Metro's Matt Elliott says.

The TTC is seeing slow uptake on the switch to Presto.

Staff / Torstar News Service Order this photo

The TTC is seeing slow uptake on the switch to Presto.

With Presto, change is coming slowly.

Numbers from the TTC show that just five per cent of all trips in August were paid for with the Presto fare card. Even with the TTC planning to ditch tokens and passes next year, the vast majority of riders still haven’t even given their replacement a look.

These cards are supposed to represent the future, but riders seem to prefer the past.

Some of the hesitancy is likely due to the awkward transition period. Technical issues haven’t helped, either.

But I think there’s another reason why TTC riders aren’t rushing out to get Presto card: using one can be confusing as hell.

Especially if you’re making a trip with a transfer or two.

You may be better off taking an old-fashioned paper transfer than trusting your fare to the system of Presto card readers that are not consistently found across the system.

Torstar News Service

You may be better off taking an old-fashioned paper transfer than trusting your fare to the system of Presto card readers that are not consistently found across the system.

Even as a ridiculous transit nerd, I still don’t feel like I have the transfer system figured out. When I make my long weekly trip from my house downtown to Humber College, I grab old school paper transfers at every step, just to be safe.

It’s not entirely clear to me – and, from what I can tell, even to many TTC drivers –  whether I should tap my card again when I transfer from streetcar to subway, or subway to bus. The attempt to bolt Presto on top of an existing transfer system that works through printed slips of paper isn’t working.

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All this confusion is doubly frustrating because it was avoidable. For the TTC and Presto, there was a better way.

The TTC could have used the opportunity granted by the Presto switch to move to timed transfers systemwide.

With timed transfers, paying a fare anywhere on the system would grant you unlimited rides for a defined window of time. Two hours is the most common proposal.

It’s an idea that’s been kicking around for years. In 2012, advocacy group Women in Toronto Politics argued that timed transfers, in addition to simplifying fares for everyone, would especially help out parents who rely on the TTC for short trips like errands.

Using Presto as the means to introduce timed transfers could have made life easier for the beleaguered IT team working on the implementation. It also could provide a real incentive to TTC riders thinking about making the switch. Instead of it feeling like this is a change being forced on riders – at a cost of six bucks per card – there could be a real, immediate benefit to going Presto.

Alas, Metrolinx, the TTC and Toronto City Council have shown no appetite to seriously consider timed transfers. They cite the cost – last estimated at about $20 million per year – as a barrier.

But if the TTC really wants to convince riders that Presto is the future, the future should look brighter.

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