An out of service Presto reader is not exactly an unusual thing to find on a TTC vehicle, but when both readers are not working, this does not inspire confidence in the system. I posed a series of questions to the TTC about this, and today (August 11) received a reply from their Communications team.
Who is responsible for maintaining these devices? TTC or Presto?
PRESTO has responsibility for maintaining the devices. On a temporary basis the TTC is doing first line maintenance, while second line maintenance and all other maintenance activities are done by PRESTO. TTC and PRESTO are currently in discussions about the best long-term approach for maintenance of the PRESTO devices.
Will a vehicle’s not having a working reader become a reason for taking it out of service because it cannot collect fares?
If the devices aren’t working the operator will allow a customer to board and ask them to tap their PRESTO card at the next point of entry into the system.
Is it possible to change out a Presto reader as an on street repair?
The TTC is not doing on-street swapouts of devices – this is due to the potential disruption to service and customers, and the fact that the swap out may not correct the problem. TTC’s emphasis has been to undertake these activities back at the garage or carhouse, where a proper assessment can be undertaken without disrupting service.
Assuming that the TTC retains its existing transfer rules, how does a rider avoid being charged for a new fare when one leg of their journey is not recorded because there is no working reader on the vehicle?
If the non-working device is the first one the customer encounters, there is no fare charged until that customer taps on a second device. If it is the second device that a customer encounters that is not working, the PRESTO card still has a valid payment on it so there is still no issue. It is only if the customer goes to a third device (after the second one isn’t working) that there may be a problem. It would depend on the circumstances whether the customer may get charged a new fare. If this did occur, it would be possible to investigate the situation using the data generated by the PRESTO system to confirm the circumstances and potentially provide any reimbursement to the customer.
In the subway, the new fare gates are TTC infrastructure and I assume TTC is responsible for maintenance (either directly or by contract). By analogy to the vehicles, who is responsible for the Presto component?
The TTC is responsible for the first line maintenance on the gates; the fare gate manufacturer is contractually responsible for second line maintenance. If there are issues with the PRESTO component (e.g. PRESTO software) that component still is the responsibility of PRESTO.
Who maintains the fare machines in subway stations and on surface routes, both on vehicles and on platforms?
As above, contractually this is the responsibility of PRESTO. Currently, first line maintenance of the Fares and Transfers Machines on new streetcars and on off-board locations are being done by TTC under an arrangement with PRESTO. The parties are discussing a long-term approach. For the PRESTO Self-Serve Reload Machines located near the fare lines in subways, PRESTO has the responsibility and is undertaking all maintenance activities related to these devices.
How much of the claimed saving of eliminating fare collection costs is not being achieved because of work TTC has to do to keep Presto operational? A dollar figure may be difficult to come by here, but is there a headcount for the staff who might otherwise have been redeployed who have to stay on fare equipment maintenance to service Presto?
The TTC is still very much in the early phase of transitioning from legacy fare media to PRESTO. Less than 4% of TTC’s rides are currently being undertaken using the PRESTO card. Therefore, there are still ongoing responsibilities for legacy fare media that require maintaining staff until those activities are reduced or eliminated. Significant savings would not occur until legacy fare media was eliminated and the associated business processes were also eliminated.
And so, in brief, the answer is that TTC looks after things, at least for now, but will hand them off to others (Presto or the fare gate provider who has a maintenance contract). Split responsibilities are a recipe for missed communication and problems with tracking repair status, but we will see how this works out.
As for transfer rules, the problem (as discussed on this site before) lies with journeys of more than two vehicles where an intermediate leg is “missing” thanks to a non-working Presto machine. (This also affects riders making non-standard transfer connections such as for diversions and short turns, not to mention GPS errors.) Whether riders will even notice that they are being overbilled for Presto usage or will take the trouble to track their trip history online and complain remains to be seen. If the Presto equipment stays in good working order a very high percentage of the time, this won’t be a problem, but even a 1% out of service rate could affect a large number of trips.
No, I ride for free all the time because of NO PRESTO or NO WORKING PRESTO on the TTC.
I was in London for three weeks and had my fare inspected 4 times. I don’t ever remember the TTC asking for my POP in Toronto. It is a shame that the TTC is so slack. It allows pathetic losers to prey on they system by stealing service. That theft is paid for by others.
Presto is pretty well used on routes like the 509. Its probably the most popular option after passes.
When they say it is maintained by Presto, are they Metrolinx employees or Accenture employees?
Steve: Good question. Presto is part of Metrolinx, but Metrolinx may well contract the work out.
Steve wrote, quoting the TTC’s response:
Of course they will, but that doesn’t help the person who only had the two fares for the trip on their card and no means of putting more ($10 minimum addition, but only if passing somewhere where this is possible in person) before needing to make the return trip.
It’s easy to say that everyone should always be travelling with “one extra” fare on the card, but the practical reality is that there are a whole lot of scenarios that can come up in the real world that changes that.
The most common is when topping up online, it can take up to 24 hours for that information to reach a terminal that one must tap onto (they used to say 48, but now they claim 24). All it takes is to find oneself boarding a bus that happened to miss getting its update the previous night (possibly because it was getting some other maintenance) and you don’t get your top-up when it is needed most.
I have seen more than my share of accidental extra charges through using Presto with YRT. The frequency of these occurrences with the TTC will likely be an order or magnitude or two higher.
By the way, if your Presto card is registered, you get the ability to take “one extra fare” as it will allow the balance to go negative. I can’t say if this works if your balance is zero when you tap, so I always make sure I have enough for ‘N’ fares plus 10 cents. When it goes negative, the card is locked, so a pending load cannot be done until it is unlocked. One must go to a place where you can top up for free and pay a 25 cent service charge plus the negative balance to get it unlocked.
Steve: This is precisely the sort of cock-up the TTC has steadfastly ignored talking about. There are times I almost hope for a disastrous “go live” if only for the egg-on-face the province so richly deserves for foisting this system on Toronto and other cities.
Are there storage compartments on buses and streetcars? I would have a spare PRESTO machine in them available, but only if the operator can unplug and plug them in without much fuss.
Steve: See the TTC’s reply. They don’t want to do on street swaps of equipment. In any event, that’s not the operator’s job, and the last thing I think we want is the need to train Ops to be mechanics as well. The real need is to have technology that works.
Will the CEO report start to report or split out fare mechanism uptime on the presto devices?
Will they also publish an estimated loss from uncollected presto fares?
Steve: They should, but I am willing to bet that they won’t. Very embarrassing.
While I have not seen fare inspectors as often as 4 times in 3 weeks as Michael Greason experienced in London, I have seen them about once or twice a month in Toronto. A popular place appears to be the passageway between the streetcars and Yonge subway at Union Station. I once saw a pair of inspectors on the 501 route in Leslieville.
On my local bus routes, some of the Presto machines are often out of service. I don’t know whether this is because of defects or because of an incomplete installation during the transition period.
@ Michael Greason – that was my experience in London too, and also same in Calgary / Edmonton / Vancouver on LRT/Skytrains – at least one check per day any time I’ve been there. During rush when the trains are packed they hang out at the platform and check you as you hop off at semi-random stations (likely stations where cheaters have a history of being busted)
POP only works as well as it’s enforced…
Who makes those readers? Even on the GO bus, the drivers have to constantly reset it to get it to work. It is not battle tested for a lack of better term. Remember, a GO coach seats about 50 people. The TTC cycles 50 customers in a few intersections. So, reliability is important. By not tapping out, it is very expensive. When I board the 51 GO bus at Yorkdale and do not tap out at Scarborough Center, I am charged all the way to Oshawa.
The way the readers are mounted are very close to sunlight. Heat is the biggest killer for electronics. When IC chips are hot enough, they can loose sensitivity to radio signals. Without a low latency to head office, that Presto read is no more than a disconnected brain. They should attach it to a large heat sink. Fans have moving parts and are not reliable.
In addition, there should be capacitors and not batteries in those readers. When ignition is off, there must be a way to gracefully power down those readers. Batteries cannot be extreme environments like near glass and have limited cycles. Capacitors make better readers.
Steve: The readers and their software are manufactured by Thales.
I have noticed on routes that start/end at Eglinton station almost always have “out of service” presto readers on the run leaving the station, but the same vehicle will have a working reader on the return run. Is this a GPS problem where it cannot locate itself at the start of the run and does not get “reset” until the driver changes the sign at the other end of the route?
Steve: I don’t know what is the problem with the Presto readers, but will ask if there is any pattern developing.
The MBTA has issued a Request For Qualifications “systems integrators interested in development of a new Automated Fare Collection (AFC) system under a performance-based contracting arrangement with private financing and integrated delivery.
According to the article fewer than 4% of their passengers use cash:
Boston is abandoning their “Charlie Card” which has been around for about 10 years for a new system that will allow use of bank cards, smart phones and a new MBTA Card. It seems like Presto like systems are being phased out in most other jurisdictions before they are fully implemented in Ontario. Typical for a province that always has to invent a new and better way of doing something instead of using proven system that is being used in the rest of the world.
I find that on Spadina, the odd time that they check fares is at Spadina Station. Absolutely no fare inspections anywhere else along the route…
The TTC has been concerned about lost revenue due to a 2 hour transfer window (St. Clair has had it for years and they can’t come up with a number). The big concern should be in the area of POP where people rarely see a fare inspector, and get the idea that transit trips are free.
How about “If I do not get a seat I do not pay for my ride”.
Take a look at #8.6 on the City of Hamilton’s Public Works Committee meeting. I think it’s very telling about the situation of PRESTO with the 905 municipalities.
Steve: The non-delivery of some key items overlaps things Toronto expects to get too.
Fare evasion is a minor problem for the TTC. There are plenty of bigger problems, with bigger payoffs, that should be tackled first.
It may be annoying to see someone board who obviously hasn’t paid — it can raise your blood pressure the way an offensive bumper-sticker might. But, like the bumper sticker, it’s nor really a big deal. Maybe there are large number of affluent fare-evaders in the suburbs somewhere. What I see are fare-evaders who are simply unable to pay a fare. The best you could do is keep them from riding. You won’t get a fare from them if you crack down with inspectors, and as for collecting a fine from them, good luck.
Hopefully “fare evaders the the big problem!” won’t become the mantra of some opportunistic politician. It’s no more accurate than “welfare queens are why Ontario’s economy is struggling!” that got Mike Harris into office in 1995. But it can get a devoted following whose blood boils at the thought of fare evaders (or welfare queens), whatever the facts of the matter.
Why did the ttc take on interim maintenance of presto devices? Was that part of the presto deal? That would read:
It’s not even a product that everybody wants.
Steve: I don’t think Presto has any concept of the number of additional staff they will need to handle a system like the TTC, and they will probably end up paying the TTC to do the work for them.
Yes, the TTC needs to hire at least 200 more fare inspectors based on some rough calculations I did and if not, then the TTC will continue to loose money due to POP. If the TTC can’t hire the additional inspectors, then it should look into ending the POP on all routes including on new streetcars. The new streetcars are a big contributor to fare evasion and so only front door entry should be permitted.
Steve: But TTC/Council is desperately into “head count avoidance” and the idea that they have to hire more people is utterly contrary to their view. Meanwhile, there is much handwringing about lost revenue.
Travel is free on the above ground portions of LRT/streetcar in Buffalo, New York and we should do the same and make travel on SRT and streetcars free. Most people would need to enter the subway/bus system anyway where better job could be done at enforcement as currently subway stations are a BIG contributor to fare evasion with people entering through bus area, jumping turnstiles, opening manual gates and leaving them open, pulling back the turnstiles, etc.
The other day I got on the 47 Lansdowne bus at St. Clair Loop and the Presto reader read “Out of Service”. So I had to pay with a token. As soon as the bus started moving the Presto reader lit up and was ready for a tap.
From page 2 of Hamilton’s report:
So the 905 municipalities get a sweet deal, but the City of Toronto has to pay up.
Steve: Read more carefully. Those were the terms for the original Presto contracts that are expiring. Queen’s Park would never enter into such an agreement today, but had to back then to get buy-in. Meanwhile, in Toronto we are paying a lower percentage fee than Hamilton and others are now expecting to face for ongoing support of their systems, and Presto is paying for their own equipment. Infrastructure changes to support it are shared between all three levels of government.
Caveat: I don’t use 509 or 510 regularly. The central portions of 504 and 501 are my primary routes with a bit of 506 sprinkled in. With that said I saw more fare inspectors at the Leslie Barns Doors Open than I’ve seen in all of 2016 so far. Now that’s ridiculous.
The 905 municipalities who got the 100% funding got a good deal. I agree with Steve the situation has changed. I believe they will have to cough up.
Ottawa had to buy and maintain all the units. Presto was always meant to be the back office system. The nitty gritty was for the transit system to deal with. That’s how it was presented here. But that was supposed to be ok as we would save so much money by moving away from cash (whether in the farebox or from the purchase of passes and tickets). That didn’t work out.
I suspect that the reason the situation is confused is that the TTC doesn’t want to face up to reality, it got scammed just like the rest (read arm twisted) into accepting Presto. It will be responsible for the maintenance and buying the units eventually. The numbers don’t add up.
Steve: Meanwhile, in Toronto we are paying a lower percentage fee than Hamilton and others are now expecting to face for ongoing support of their systems, and Presto is paying for their own equipment.
This Toronto favouritism MUST end.
Steve: This is not favouritism. TTC said, basically, we won’t pay more for Presto than it costs us to collect fares today, and Queen’s Park agreed because they desperately want the big customer base when the contract was negotiated. Now that QP wants Presto to be self-sustaining, they are not so generous.
I suspect that TTC won’t be so lucky next time around.
Meanwhile I don’t look forward to the effect that the $30m additional subsidy Toronto will have to pay to operate the Vaughan subway will have on our budget. But York Region is laughing all the way to the bank.
Thanks Keith for the link to the Hamilton document. I read through it and near the end, there’s a very telling paragraph:
I think Metrolinx is broadly hinting that they want the new commission percentage for Presto to fall in that 8 to 10% range when the new deal is negotiated. Since these numbers are from Hamilton, I’ll use HSR as an example: If the gas tax revenue to HSR worth less than the increase in cost to use Presto, would it be worth considering forgoing the gas tax money and ditching Presto? There wouldn’t be any transition headaches to legacy fare media since that’s all in place already. If Presto continues to be used, where does the increase in service fees get recovered from?
Presto does not sound like a very cost effective operation at all.
While not strictly speaking of being under the heading “Who maintains the Presto Equipment” I have observed that at my local subway station, Royal York, the process to install the Presto machines seems to be taking forever. I did not pay attention to when the construction started but my guess is that they are now in the fifth week of this process. If repairs and servicing take as long, there are going to be many Presto machines out of service for considerable lengths of time. I find it hard to imagine how much it is costing to install these machines if they are all taking five weeks or more to do the work. I wonder if this is any of the “gravy” that our politicians are always seeking.
Steve: The Presto machines are only part of the project to install new turnstiles, but yes it does seem to be taking forever. Part of this is the difficulty of installing new wiring, but this doesn’t explain it all.
The new fare gates are every fare evader’s dream. If they are installed systemwide, then revenue will decline sharply especially when combined with the failed POP system on streetcars.
I do not understand where the problem occurs with a non-functional Presto reader on the third transfer. In Brampton (Which uses a 2 hour transfer window), the presto card is tapped on entry to each bus. If it is within the 2 hour window, no fare is deducted.
If Toronto is not using the 2 hour transfer window the customer will need to get a transfer when he first taps and must never tap again during the trip, whether the reader is working or not. He must use the transfer since without the 2 hour transfer window enabled a fare will be deducted for all taps.
If Presto is not working on the first vehicle, no transfer will be issued, forcing the customer to tap on the second vehicle. As long as the customer has a valid transfer it does not matter what the Presto status of the third vehicle is.
Steve: TTC is not using timed transfers. When you tap, Presto figures out whether this is a legitimate connection point allowing for where you tapped on the previous leg of the journey. If it is not, you are charged another fare. This problem will occur any time the second of three legs does not register because Presto will think you made two separate trips. As for getting a paper transfer, those will eventually disappear, and in any event all door loading is based on the premise that you don’t need to talk to the operator.
If TTC went to timed fares, it would be so much simpler because the “missing” leg of the journey would not matter.
I wonder if anyone has looked at the cost of programing (or trying to program) the complex TTC transfer rules into PRESTO to say nothing of the (probably unknowable) cost of customer frustration when there is a short-turn or diversion or a PRESTO machine is not working. (And the subsequent TTC staff time spent adjusting things.) Having timed trips would be SO much simpler and could presumably be tweaked to allow longer periods of validity on weekends or off-peak or ??? If customer service is really the aim (and one has one’s doubts that all Councillors are on side with this concept!) a timed transfer is a ‘no brainer’.
Steve: The decision not to go with timed transfers is political, and TTC management are so busy talking about lost revenue that they miss the other factors of support and customer satisfaction. There is a strong argument to be made for moving to this model, but they’re not making it.
I got on a Keele North bus at 17:00 on Monday. Paid with Presto but got a transfer. Transfer was set at 16:10 SB. I then transferred to a Keele bus at Finch. I got to St Clair and got on a St Clair bus at 18:35. Would Presto see this as one trip or would it charge me more?
Steve: It all depends on how Presto’s transfer logic has been programmed.
With regard to those fare gates, St. Clair/St. Clair West are my home stations and it seems to me that the gates are not physically wide enough to take up all of the space required from the previous fare gates. It seems as though they will need to install a partial fence or wall to “close the gap” created by physically smaller presto gates versus original gates — not very secure.
Then there is the matter of replacing (eventually all) the stations whose full-height secondary exits which are never staffed (again: St. Clair/St. Clair West, Sheppard, York Mills, Lawrence, Glencairn, Yorkdale, Downsview). Surely the plan isn’t to staff those exits or replace those full-height fare gates with 4.5′ high plastic gates and the “honour system” to preserve fare integrity.
Steve: Yes, it’s definitely the honour system at those entrances. Visit Bay Cumberland, or Sherbourne Glen Road for examples.
I can safely say the wiring is a big part. They are doing work at Warden currently as part of preparations to install Presto. They have ceiling slats down all over running conduit and wires. It’s not the sort of job that can be done in a week.
With regards to unstaffed entrances I’m surprised they don’t do what they did at Scarborough Centre or Don Mills and install a vestibule. The vestibule only opens into the station when the rear door is closed. Minimal fare evasion. At least nobody can get their bike stuck in the new gates ala Yonge Station automatic entrance?
This is a non-issue. Anybody going through where there are no barriers already has a pass or transfer or is too poor to afford one. Such gates have existed at North York Centre for decades and there has not been a single ticket issued or arrest made as in response to my email enquiry, the TTC said that it was a non-issue.
Steve: What are you talking about? North York Centre has had an automated entrance with high-gate turnstiles since it opened.
The wheelchair entrance is NOT limited to wheelchairs. Anybody can open the manual gates (southbound one out of the view of the collector) and most people who do don’t have the decency to close them. Even without that, the whole thing is may be two and a half feet high and anybody can jump and tall people can just walk over. Even though the northbound wheelchair entrance is in view of the collector, the collector is often busy selling fare or providing change. Now, even though I do always enter for free, I have the decency to close the manual gates (even for the direction that I am NOT using). Everything is visible on the CCTV cameras but just how many collectors would sit with their neck staring up at CCTV screens for hours on end? Fare evasion is rampant even in a high heeled area like North York Centre. The problem is that the penalties for being caught are not high and instead of unenforceable fines, there should be mandatory jail times (except for those extremely poor like the homeless) and increasing jail times for successive convictions.
Steve: I hope you are looking forward to the new TTC jail to house all of your victims. The real issue here is with the lack of enforcement generally, and Council’s unwillingness to properly fund this. We are a city that passes bylaws every day to regulate anything you care to name, but it’s all for show. Jail time for fare evasion, though, is really excessive, especially when it comes with a means test.
I want to first and foremost say thank you Steve for your blog and posts. They helped me to better understand the the TTC. After reading your post and my searching various online posts I am confused or uncertain just whom exactly is involved with the Presto system. I have seen / read online that for example:
*Moneris is responsible for the credit card Presto transactions.
*Scheidt-Bachmann is responsible for the manufacture of the second version / generation of the Presto readers being installed on the TTC vehicles and the new turnstiles in the subway stations.
*Motorola is responsible for the portable Presto card readers.
*Thales is responsible for the UPX and Presto fare system outside of Toronto and Ottawa.
*Accenture is responsible for the design / developer of the Presto fare system. I am thinking perhaps the first generation of Presto machines prior to the Pan Am games.
*Metrolinx signed a deal with Ontario Ministry of Transportation to roll-out, maintain and operate the Presto fare system.
*TTC as stated in your blog post above.
Sorry to be a pain in your butt Steve but with so many possible companies involved and when they joined or left the Presto project is confusing and bewildering to me. Are there other companies also involved that I missed or am unaware of? If so when did they join the Presto program and just what is their involvement in the project?
Steve: I think you have most if not all of the major players. Yes, it’s a dog’s breakfast. Most of these are private companies who provide specific parts of the technology, and the situation would probably be the same whether it was a provincial or municipal project. Some of the early problems with Presto arose because of limitations built into the first version of the system. They worked ok for the GO fare model, but not for a municipal system like Ottawa or Toronto. Version 2 addresses a lot of that set of requirements, and then there will be a third one (or maybe a “2.5”) to fully embrace open payments.
Hello again Steve. I just recently learned that MiFare is involved with the Presto program, thus increasing my number of parties involved to 8 and counting! MiFare is supplying the the actual Presto cards under their MiFare DESfire product line. DESFires are just a type of NFC smartcard with access control capabilities and a very basic file system. Though admittedly I am still unsure if they are supplying EV1 or EV2 version of their MiFare DESfire product line. The EV2 version would just going by MiFare DESfire datasheet allow for more growth and better seamless transitions / transactions an the much sought after integration between the other municipal transportation agencies. GO, Mississauga, TTC, Brampton, York / Vaughn and so on… The MiFare DESfire EV2 reads as being the “2.5” version that could fully embrace open payments. The potential is in the cards (forgive the pun) but is now in the software side of the Presto design team.