Smart Card Wars (Part IV, Updated)

The Star reports that the Ontario NDP has asked the Provincial Auditor to review the contract with Accenture for the development of the Presto smart card system.  An explanation of the background for this request is on the NDP’s website, and it goes into details of past contracts between Ontario and Accenture.

John Lorinc reports in the Globe that a system to be developed for Vancouver will use similar technology to that proposed by the TTC for its own smart card system, and come in at a fraction of the expected price for Presto.

Updated: Royson James weighs in on smart cards in the Star, and John Lorinc has an article on spacing.

In the case of the NDP request, the scope should look more widely than just Accenture which provides system development and operation.  However, some of the capital and ongoing staffing costs for the Presto project are carried in other budgets.  Any review needs to look at the whole picture, not just one contract.

Comparisons with Vancouver will be intriguing, but it will likewise be necessary to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison.  For example, the new system is to be implemented as part of a conversion of the Skytrain rapid transit stations from their current barrier-free design to use turnstiles.  This is intended to reduce fare evasion.  One big cost in Toronto is  for providing existing turnstiles with power and network links to handle Presto.  It is entirely possible that some components of the Toronto smart card budget will be covered by Vancouver’s turnstile retrofit budget.  (Similar burying of costs in multiple accounts occurs quite commonly in TTC budgets, notably for subway station renovations.)

Presto needs to be held to account for what it has produced and the expected cost of system expansion.  The fog of “commercial confidentiality” used, for example, to prevent revelation of the cost of a new city’s rollout (Ottawa) means that we have no way predict long term spending requirements, or to compare these with projects in other cities.

Ontario has just, thankfully, ended its relationship with SNC Lavalin for the Air Rail Link to Pearson Airport, and with this change we should have greater transparency and accountability for the project.

The same openness must apply to Presto.  If it is a demonstrably good and competitive system, then show us.