Technology and Transit

For the last couple of years, Toronto has been trying to implement the Presto card, an electronic payment system that is intended to eliminate the need for cash, tokens, tickets, and passes when taking public transit.  Other benefits include being able to load the card 24/7, cancel the card if it goes missing and transfer the balance, and being able to use it across local regional transit systems.

I initially got my Presto card in 2015 to commute on the GO, a regional public transit system.  I was excited to try it out, but quickly discovered some major, time draining inconveniences with it.  The GO calculates fares based on distance.  This requires the customer to tap the Presto card at the beginning and end of each trip.  I quickly discovered that the machines to tap the card pre- and post- boarding were often not convenient.  One station I used was under construction.  The machine was in a small structure about 350m from where the train stopped resulting in a number of close calls.  In the past, I could’ve purchased my ticket online (or in advance) and headed straight to the train, saving myself several precious minutes and a lot of stress.

I find it can be similar when taking the public transit in Toronto, which charges a single fare for any distance traveled within the city limits.  For the moment, people can still purchase monthly metrocards for unlimited use in a calendar month.  Having a monthly metrocard saves time because people who have one can board transit without doing anything.  If a fare inspector checks, the card is proof of payment.

Now that I’ve switched to the Presto card, I must tap my card every time I ride transit, even for a transfer, which is a clumsy process and slows down the boarding process.  Many of the machines are placed in funny positions, such as in the middle of a staircase to board the streetcar, or at the same level as people’s bums.  Trust me, it’s a real challenge accessing these machines during rush hour!  And sometimes the machines aren’t even working.

In many ways, the Presto card is more convenient than cash and tokens, but not more convenient than an unlimited metrocard, or an unlimited GO transit pass.  It’s still being implemented, but I hope in the end it does end up saving time and reducing frustration for public transit riders.

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