Presto Permutations

This article arises from a comment in a related thread by Richard White in which he reported a misinformed remark by a Presto passenger rep on car 4403:

I asked about the transfer situation and she said and I quote. “He (Steve Munro) is wrong. You don’t always need a transfer. You only need it when getting on buses” Then I asked her about transfer on streetcars.

She said “Oh yea.. you need it on the old cars too.. but not on the subways. He is wrong because he did not ask about the subways. You do not need a transfer if you are going to the subway!”

Well, for the benefit of people who don’t know Toronto’s transit system well, here are all of the permutations of when one might, or might not, require a transfer or fare receipt. The situation will change substantially if the TTC implements either of the proposed fare structure changes for 2015: a two hour timed-based fare and/or PoP across the entire system with all-door loading even on routes that are not Presto-equipped.

Current Fare Collection System

If you have a Metropass, no worries. All doors are open to you, and if you are challenged, just flash the pass.

If you pay by ticket/token/cash, you will need to get a transfer (non-Presto vehicle) or a fare receipt (Presto vehicle) for the following purposes:

  • Proof of payment if you are on a PoP route (currently Spadina or Queen), or planning to transfer to such a route (say, Spadina to Queen).
  • Transfer to any route that is not via a fare controlled area such as an intersecting bus or streetcar route (say, Spadina to Dundas), or to a downstream route on your journey (such as Spadina car to subway to Dufferin bus).
  • Transfer via the “TTC Times Two” using GO Transit as a bridge route between two TTC routes. (Thanks to Richard for pointing out this option.)

If you pay by Presto, you will need to get a transfer for the following purposes:

  • If you plan to transfer to another nominally PoP route that operates with “old” streetcars, depending on the time of day, the operator may not open all doors and you will need a transfer in the conventional sense to get on, PoP or no PoP. This is not uncommon on 501 Queen.
  • Transfer to any route that is not via a fare controlled area (see above) or via TTC Times Two as above unless the “far end” route is also 100% Presto equipped.

Of course, if the vehicle you board does not support Presto, you have to find some other fare medium like a token. A rider may have a Presto card, but actually using it can be a challenge.

There are also special circumstances such as the use of “old” fare collection methods in areas where “new” vehicles operate. For example:

  • During the summer, the TTC has operated Queens Quay service on a “free inbound to Union” basis to speed loading. This may be discontinued if both 509 and 510 routes are operating with PoP and all-door loading, but there is a basic problem — if the only fare collection available in the connecting tunnel at Union is a farebox, Presto users will need to have transfers. Given the layout of the new, much shorter tunnel between Union Loop and the subway platform, this fare collection method is unlikely to reappear.
  • At the CNE, the loop usually operates pay-as-you-enter onboard streetcars, but at times is a pre-paid area for special events. What is a Presto user to do at such a location?

If The TTC Implements PoP System-Wide Before Presto Rolls Out Completely

If you have a Metropass, no worries. All doors are open to you, and if you are challenged, just flash the pass.

If you pay by ticket/token/cash, you will always need to get a transfer as Proof of Payment regardless of which route(s) you are riding.

If you pay by Presto, you will need to get a transfer unless you know that you will only be connecting with routes that are either closed transfers (i.e. at a subway station) or are themselves 100% Presto equipped (same situation as above).

Of course, we could just have all vehicles open all doors and let on all riders whether they have a fare receipt or not, and hope that a fare inspector just might make that once-in-a-thousand inspection to catch them. I foresee much rear door loading to avoid inspection by operators on buses and on older streetcars.

If the TTC Implements a Two-Hour Timed Fare Before Presto Rolls Out Completely

If you have a Metropass, no worries. All doors are open to you, and if you are challenged, just flash the pass. (The echo here is deliberate.)

If you pay by ticket/token/cash, you should always get a transfer (fare receipt) so that you can resume your journey at any time within the two-hour window.

If you pay by Presto, you should always get a transfer (fare receipt) for use on any routes or at subway stations where Presto is not available to validate your still-active two-hour fare.

The Eternal Metropass

Until the TTC is able to support Presto on the vast majority of its network, Metropass users will not convert to Presto for the simple reason that they will be stuck from time to time at a location or on a vehicle where Presto is not available.

We already know that the majority of fares are paid via Metropasses, and until the system can replace this functionality with Presto, that much valued block of riders and their transactions will stubbornly remain with the older but simpler technology.

Regional fare integration would be much easier with everyone using Presto, but the prerequisite is that moving away from existing fare media should not impose a burden, including an extra cost, on riders. The last thing Toronto needs is added complexity in the name of a regional goal.

At this point, Presto users are a minority on the TTC for a very good reason: the initial  market has been restricted to users riding between Union Station and a few major locations downtown. Transfers were not an issue for this market.

The rollout team — be they from the TTC or from Presto — needs to get beyond this rather arrogant model of how the TTC works — that everyone wants to go to the subway and that surface routes (and connections between them) are relatively unimportant. This is a transit system where the majority of riding involves a surface route, connections may or may not occur at a fare paid area, and many trips do not use the subway at all.

Their mission should be to make the fare system simple — imagine explaining all of the permutations to would-be riders when even a dozen major routes have been converted, but not the entire system. Recognize that transfers or fare receipts will be essential until the entire system no longer requires them, if only for “take one in case” behaviour. Make it as easy as possible to obtain them — don’t design vehicle interiors on the assumption that only a few people will need a fare receipt.

This is probably asking a lot, but the next time someone at Presto says that I don’t know what I’m talking about, send them to this article.

44 thoughts on “Presto Permutations

  1. It is very important to remember when using the TTC that transferring with a transfer is not as simple as “you can use the transfer anywhere routes intersect”:

    You’re supposed to continue only in one or two compass directions without any sort of backtracking. For example, if you start traveling north then go east you are not supposed to be allowed to board another route heading south or west. There are numerous route oddities that contradict this though. Whether or not any particular driver enforces this ends up being a roll of the dice.

    Another problem exists as described below:
    1. You have started your trip at a subway station and received a transfer there.
    2. You ride to another station and then transfer to a surface vehicle.
    3. You ride to and attempt to board another intersecting surface route that will intersect with an in-station subway transfer point somewhere down the line.
    There is a very good chance you will be prevented from boarding that vehicle even if you have no intention of riding all the way to the subway again or you will be changing to another surface vehicle there. The unstated implication is that the subway is always the preferred choice to reach your destination, but there are many times and places where this is not always the case. If you choose to take any alternative path this has somehow been twisted into a violation.

    Thirdly, the transfer being issued in the subway may be stamped with the exact time of entry, but the surface vehicle transfers are marked with the time that the vehicle began its trip from the end of the route. It is an individual judgement call on the part of the driver on the intersecting route whether the amount of elapsed time by then represents a legitimate travel time (without any idea where you actually boarded) or if they think you did a stop-over or picked up a discarded transfer. The further you have to travel the more likely you are to get into trouble. Sometimes the time of the transfer has been set wildly inaccurately and you’re almost guaranteed to lose the argument in this instance even if you are well versed in how to read the tear marks.

    I routinely observe tourists, out-of-towners and even regular riders completely mystified by the transfer rules. Almost every time I ride there is an incident where someone thinks they can walk a stop or two from the ‘approved’ transfer point before boarding the intersecting route and is shocked to learn they can’t. When you consider that walking transfers are actually a requirement at certain locations you can understand why some people would be legitimately confused.

    Now add everything that’s resulted from throwing in the complexity and inconsistency of a partial Presto roll-out and I believe all of the criticism by Steve and others on this blog is justified.

    None of the above circumstances is obvious even to most regular users and I have personally experienced at least one such incident of each of the above scenarios in my past travels. Eventually I got fed up with the errors and the ambiguity and I got a Metropass subscription even though I never travel enough to justify the cost. It certainly has completely eliminated the problems with re-routing myself during a trip when I find out I need to avoid a delay or shutdown.


  2. Quick update on the island stop fare machines: I saw the new ones installed replacing the west ones on the northbound platform of Queen’s Quay Station, and eastbound at Spadina and Queen’s Quay. These two looked fully functional, and sadly they appear to be 99% identical to the new ones aboard the LFLRVs, i.e. they are the nice touchscreen/grey ones, but they do NOT have a presto payment device attached.

    They have the black RFID reader that the onboard ones use for presto transfers, but 1) it doesn’t have the green artwork or say “Presto Transfers” on it, looks like it might even be inactive on these offboard ones, and 2) even if it works, on the LFLRVs I’ve tried tapping there before tapping onto a presto payment device and it gives an error saying you haven’t paid your fare yet. I’ll try tapping my card on one of them one of these days to confirm but I cannot possibly see them having made a stealth upgrade to just these ones to allow both payments and transfers from this device and then completely removing the presto branding around the tap reader – more likely it’s active and useless or completely inactive.

    So the good opportunity the TTC had to 1) let presto users ride even a CLRV with presto by paying at these machines, and 2) even on the LFLRVs remove the requirement for a presto user to struggle to make their way to a transfer machine by getting one pre-boarding, has been wasted. Would have been so simple – ticket validator on the left, presto reader the same size/shape on the right, tokens/cash/presto transfers in the middle. Still glad to see the more intuitive machines for token/cash users but would have loved proper presto functionality.

    A tweet about the machines from the official Presto twitter account.

    Spotted! The first street #PRESTOcard machine at King & Spadina. More are planned for installation this month. “@PRESTOcard Where do you tap?” This is for token & cash fare. You would tap on @StreetcarTO as you enter. If you need a transfer, tap the fares & transfer machine.

    If you read all of the tweets, people are asking, “why are you calling this a presto machine if it has nothing to do with presto?”, being very rightfully confused when told that the “presto machine” accepts cash, tokens, and tickets only and has absolutely zero presto functionality whatever.

    Good grief. They really botched this. Even if the onboard procedure is a little odd for now they’re at least being very clear when educating people, calling these offboard machines “presto machines” however is just ridiculous!

    Steve: Just remember that Presto is the wave of the future and we are forced to use it no matter how incompetently it is implemented. The absence of Presto functionality on the platform actually contradicts what I thought the implementation was going to look like. Anyone who thinks that Metrolinx should take over the TTC to cure all our troubles needs to look at examples like this.


  3. Thomas:

    If you read all of the tweets, people are asking, “why are you calling this a presto machine if it has nothing to do with presto?”, being very rightfully confused when told that the “presto machine” accepts cash, tokens, and tickets only and has absolutely zero presto functionality whatever.

    Even better:

    A few evenings ago, I wanted to pay my fare before boarding a Spadina car northbound at College.

    The new-style machine on the platform there displayed a screen declaring it to be for Presto transfers only.

    This was my first encounter with a new machine, so I tried putting a token into the slot anyway. The only thing that accomplished was that I almost lost the token: it went in,
    then stopped with a fraction of a millimeter still protruding. I managed to extract it after some fiddly work (it didn’t help that I bite my fingernails). As it happened, the next car along was an LFLRV, so I got to see how to use a new-style machine there. So did about half a dozen other people who came up to the same machine while we were all waiting for that car.

    So although the new machines on platforms can’t do a thing for a Presto card, when they are broken they claim they can do a thing only for a Presto card (and one that has already been tapped on the Presto reader that doesn’t exist on the platform).

    I actually think these machines are a big improvement over the original ones: they’re much faster, and much less confusing to use. But someone really should change that screen.


  4. William Paul:

    … you do not get on the 501 anywhere from, I don’t know, Broadview to Neville without showing pass or transfer at all times of the day and night.

    I can assure you that isn’t true.


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