Presto: A Botched Opportunity to Market Transit in Toronto?

The TTC is well into its rollout of the provincially-mandated fare card, Presto, across the transit system. Like any new piece of technology there are teething problems, but both the TTC and Metrolinx seem bent on making the implementation as difficult and unfriendly as possible.

As the implementation now stands:

  • All streetcars have Presto readers at all entrances, although their reliability leaves much to be desired.
  • About half of the bus fleet has readers, and this work is expected to complete by year end.
  • Many subway stations have at least a few turnstiles with Presto readers. This too will complete by year end, but installation of new fare gates will continue well into 2017.
  • Some stations have machines to allow riders to reload their Presto cards, but these are scattered around town, and their placement (inside or outside of the fare control area) is inconsistent.
  • Riders can pay the equivalent of token or ticket fares with Presto at adult and senior rates, but the ability use Presto for all trips is hampered by whether readers are available throughout a journey.
  • Metropass users cannot use Presto because the monthly pass function has not yet been implemented, and in any event would be worthless unless all of one’s travel were confined to Presto-enabled vehicles and stations.

The implementation of a new fare collection system, bringing the TTC into at least the latter part of the 20th century, presents a chance to “get it right”, to promote a more attractive fare structure and transit in general. This opportunity has been lost through a combination of factors at the TTC, city and provincial levels. What should be a “good news” story is one of uncertainty and complaints, with more to come.

The Technology

Without question, any transit system that has converted its fare collection from a manual system to an automated one did not achieve this overnight, and perfection in a rollout is a lot to ask. That said, Presto is supposed to be mature enough that we should not be worrying about the basics. Card readers should work well enough that encountering one that’s out of service should be rare, not a common occurrence. Fare calculations should be accurate, theoretically an easy task in such a simple system of Toronto that is bereft of zones and transfer charges. Support systems such as reloading fare value onto the card should have a close to 100% up time, not be down for entire weekends for back-end software upgrades.

Retrofitting the technology to vehicles requires wiring for power and control systems, as well as providing an interface to the on-board GPS units. That is comparatively simple beside the work needed in a subway station where running wiring for power and control circuits to fare gates requires new conduits in concrete floors and, in some cases, upgraded power distribution within the station. The TTC has chosen to use this opportunity to install new fare gates, and this makes the work more complex than simply fitting a Presto reader onto existing turnstiles. More about those gates later.

The central point here is that this is basically a construction project that may take time, but once done should allow the new technology’s installation and operation. That last step, actually “turning on” the new machines, depends on technology working “out of the box”. This has not been the case either with Presto readers or with the new gates. Responsibility for maintaining this equipment is supposed to lie with both Presto (part of Metrolinx) and with the gate vendor, but the TTC is doing this work for the time being. It is unclear how many workmen will have to appear on site when a Presto-enable gate becomes cantankerous and vendors point at each other in the classic “not my problem” standoff.

This is a huge scale-up for the Presto organization both in terms of the number of devices it must support, and the volume of transactions it will have to process. Because Presto has limited attractiveness to TTC riders, it accounts for a very small proportion of fares collected. In May 2016, of the 41.3 million trips taken on the TTC, Presto was used for 1.72 million, or 4.2%. Whether Presto is capable of scaling up to the demand represented by even half of all TTC trips remains to be seen.

Opportunities for a New Fare Structure

When a new fare card was first proposed for the TTC, a big selling point was supposed to be that new and improved fare options could be provided. These include:

  • Shifting to timed fares where an initial “tap” buys two hours of travel with no restrictions on stopovers and transfers.
  • Use of time-of-day based fares with lower charges (or longer travel per tap) at off peak hours.
  • Implementation of equivalent to Day Pass pricing with the total charges in one 24 hour period capped at the value of a pass no matter how many trips were taken, with similar options on a weekly and monthly basis. Riders would not have to decide in advance whether buying a pass was worthwhile.
  • Interagency fares so that the boundaries between the TTC and neighbouring GTA systems could be simplified or eliminated.

Changing the fare structure will almost certainly have a cost because anything that makes travel cheaper for some riders is unlikely to be made up for with increased revenue through greater use. Bumping other riders’ fares to pay for this would be unpopular, and there would inevitably be cries about favouritism and hardship unless the overall change could be seen to be beneficial to most riders.

The TTC has considered a move to timed fares, a function Presto already supports in other parts of the GTA and which has always been available to the TTC, but the penny-pinching politicians who would have to fund this change are more worried about precious tax dollars than improving transit’s attractiveness and usability. The estimated cost for this option is about $20m/year, although there is good reason to suspect that this number has been padded. TTC Chair Josh Colle, and by implication Mayor Tory, did not want to spend this amount as part of the 2016 budget package, and in the constrained environment of the 2017 budget, this is even less likely.

Timed fares have two important benefits. First, they completely eliminate the complex rules about transfers and the need for the Presto software to figure out what is a “legal” transfer. This process is fraught with potential errors and overcharging through a combination of GPS errors (did you actually transfer where Presto thinks you did), and from ad hoc routings for short turns and diversions. One cannot have a transit system where the rule is “always tap on” followed by a list of exceptions most riders cannot be expected to know. The TTC will provide a refund for riders who are overcharged (assuming that they even notice and go to the exercise of retrieving their trip logs online), but even a 1% error rate translates to a huge number of complaints.

The second benefit is linked to the convenience of using the TTC as a service without worry about marginal cost for short hops, something passholders already know about. A common complaint among poverty advocates is that “trip chaining” is very expensive for riders who must do several errands in one set of trips that by TTC rules cost a separate fare for each leg of the journey. Too  much of the underlying philosophy of fares on the TTC (and on GO) is based on the “commuter” trip, not on the frequent user who travels the TTC the same way motorists or cyclists might journey from one stop to another.

Fare capping is already used on GO Transit where beyond a certain number of trips per month, travel is free. The ability to do this for the TTC and to implement it for Day Passes already exists in Presto, and the Day Pass conversion was originally expected to occur midway through 2016. It might be held up because of the limited availability of Presto on bus routes, but the reason might also be that any extension of a “pass” is opposed by some on the TTC Board and in management who regard any pass as “lost revenue” rather than as an inducement for greater system use. The idea that transit systems exist to encourage more riding is utterly lost on those who look only at the “bottom line”, not at the wider benefits transit confers.

If automatic capping is implemented for monthly passes, the number of riders gaining a reduced fare may actually go up because there will no longer be an up-front decision about whether a pass will pay its way. This would increase the proportion of equivalent-to-pass riders to an even higher level (now well over 50% of all trips) than it is today. This phenomenon and the effect of other fare options has not even been discussed in any public TTC report.

Interagency fares are, at least for Queen’s Park and Metrolinx, the holy grail of a new fare system. Riders (and voters) in the 905 will get a simpler and maybe even a cheaper ride into Toronto. However, nobody wants to pay for this, least of all the provincial government where the focus is more on how to get municipalities to pay more for transit. Among the outstanding issues are:

  • Will Presto confer a unified, cheaper fare for travel on multiple agencies, including GO Transit, or will it simply be a way to automate the collection of existing fares on all systems?
  • If some type of “co-fare” is extended to 905-416 trips on local carriers (e.g. York Region Transit/VIVA to TTC), who pays the extra subsidy?
  • Will a “co-fare” be provided between GO and the TTC as it is for GO and the 905-based carriers?
  • How will “Smart Track” and a “TTC” level fare within the 416 be implemented on GO Transit’s rail corridors? By extension, exactly what is meant by a “TTC fare”?

The Dark Side of “Opportunities”

A new fare structure may bring not just “better” fares for riders, but could also include lurking fare increases that have not been discussed as publicly as they should be.

On the TTC, some or all of the discount metropass schemes could disappear under the rationale that the savings through subscription and automatic bank withdrawals would apply to all buyers of “passes” on Presto, and there is no longer a reason to give subscribers one month free out of twelve. Never mind that this is a great loyalty and marketing tool. There are more than a few at the TTC who see this as a chance to get more revenue from this group of customers. (Full disclosure: I have been a Monthly Discount Plan user since this was introduced.) Of course a “twelfth month free” could also be implemented as an automatic loyalty reward just like daily or monthly fare capping. All that is needed is the policy decision, plus the software change needed to implement it.

A major problem for TTC Presto riders today is that there are limited locations where riders entitled to discount fares (seniors, students) can have their Presto accounts set up to charge concession rates. This is supposed to expand with the full TTC rollout, but details are scarce. If you can’t get your card set up for a discount, you pay full fare needlessly, or you stay with “legacy” fares as long as they are available.

The stealthiest of the possible fare change proposals is a move to some form of distance-based fares. Metrolinx has been pushing the idea as part of its “Regional Fare Integration Strategy” for a few years, and shows little sign of relenting on this for the TTC. “Rapid transit” fares would be based on distance travelled, and a fare from, say, Scarborough Town Centre to downtown would cost considerably more than it does today with likely a decrease in short distance fares. Metrolinx is quite selective in its description of “rapid transit” and initially this was only the GO rail and TTC subway networks. However, the description has more recently appeared for future LRT lines, although there is no mention of whether BRT services such as VIVA would fall into this category.

The TTC has assisted with making fare by distance possible because its new fare gates can have readers on both sides so that a “tap out” is needed to leave a station. This has very severe implications for the operation of a system that is designed around a free transfer and full integration between surface and subway routes. The Metrolinx study is still underway thanks to a growing realization at the political level that fare by distance is a land mine just waiting to go off under an already unpopular provincial government.

Presto implementation is expected to add $30 million to the TTC’s costs for 2017 because the savings of the new system will not be fully realized while old and new co-exist. That’s roughly the equivalent of a 1% property tax increase if paid through subsidy, or about a dime on the basic adult fare. In the medium term, Presto fees to the TTC are limited by contract, but we know from other cities that a big jump faces the TTC down the road because Presto simply is not self-sustaining on its current revenue stream. Queen’s Park does not want to indirectly subsidize local transit through its mandatory fare technology, and will claw back gas tax transfers from any municipality that does not comply.

A Marketing Failure: Bad News is Bad for Business

In my role as a “transit advocate”, I get questions both on this site and in person about how Presto will work. People ask me what is happening to the fare structure, and thanks to indecisiveness at TTC, I have to answer “I don’t know”. For a system that is supposed to be widely available in a few months, the absence of details is very troubling.

Even worse is the sense that both the TTC and Metrolinx are setting up for an environment where the transit rider (existing and potential) is a distant secondary consideration to avoidance of new costs and gerrymandering the fare system for political benefit.

The absence of public debate about fare structures and related funding challenges shows that none of the players wants to see these issues brought out in the open.

“Good news” is not made by Ministerial and Mayoral pontification, self-congratulatory statements devoid of actual benefit to transit users. “Lower taxes” is a meaningless term if the cost of using a service those taxes should pay for goes up.

Presto could have been a chance for major improvements in how riders view transit. The convenience of passes could be extended to a wider range of customers. Transfer rules that deter use of transit for short hops could be eliminated. The transit network could be seen as one unit (“seamless” is the favourite term) where fares would not create artificial barriers. New technology could be an improvement over tokens and paper, not as a move to a less reliable and inconvenient payment system.

That’s what a city, a region, a province committed to really selling transit as “the better way” would do. Instead, we get unreliable technology, and a refusal to address the need for extra subsidy to pay for restructuring.

A chance to promote transit with some truly “good news” has been wasted because governments are too cheap to pay for it.

63 thoughts on “Presto: A Botched Opportunity to Market Transit in Toronto?

  1. arcticredriver said:

    “It seems several people here see no reason to regret the loss of privacy offered by traditional payment by token, ticket or cash fare.”

    Because we long ago noticed the number of security cameras on the TTC which kills the concept of travelling anonymously regardless of what form of payment you use.


  2. Steve, you’re wrong — it’s a great promotion! You never know when you’re going to ride for free.

    I used to care and always have back up tokens. Now I play the Presto free ride lottery. Chances of winning are about 50 percent on the 90 and 63 buses. Either buses are not equipped or system is down or not activated mostly number 2.


  3. I would posit the CANDU reactor as an example of Ontario tech done better.

    It was done better but it should be noted that CANDU wasn’t Ontario tech. That was developed by a federal government crown corporation until Harper decided to unload Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to everyone’s favourite scandal prone private sector infrastructure company and builder of H6 subway cars, SNC Lavalin, for a piddly sum of money five years ago.


  4. On the subject of botched opportunities with the Presto rollout, why did Metrolinx and the TTC not take the opportunity to install a modern farebox with an incorporated Presto reader on the surface fleet? Even with the phasing out of all other fare media, there would still be benefit in a system that can properly handle cash payments. (Count coins, handle bills, detect forgeries, give change, & dispense transfers)


  5. Joe said: So had been Chernobyl in the 1980s until it blew up.

    Steve: A fact check by those in the know would be welcome here.

    That’s an easy fact check. First, Darlington is the first non-US reactor to win 3 times. Second, WANO (World Association of Nuclear Operators) who give the award was formed as a reaction to Chernobyl. Third, there is an OECD report stating

    “the Chernobyl accident has not brought to light any new, previously unknown phenomena or safety issues that are not resolved or otherwise covered by current reactor safety programs for commerical power reactors in OECD Member countries”.

    The RBMK reactor at Chernobyl did not conform to the USAEC General Design Criteria for Nuclear Power Plants (1971). Basically, there was no secure containment system AND a positive void coefficient (meaning the hotter the reactor got, the less cooling capacity there was, and the more power/heat was generated).

    TTC passenger said:

    It was done better but it should be noted that CANDU wasn’t Ontario tech. That was developed by a federal government crown corporation … Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

    It was a partnership between AECL, HydroOne, and GE Canada.


  6. When Mapleson wrote: I would posit the CANDU reactor as an example of Ontario tech done better. Darlington has been named “one of the safest and top performing nuclear stations in the world” for the last three years in a row.

    Joe responded with: So had been Chernobyl in the 1980s until it blew up.

    Besides the Russians, in who’s definition did Chernobyl get classified as “one of the safest and top performing nuclear stations in the world”?!?

    Chernobyl used graphite, a very flammable material, as its moderator and when a rupture occurred that caused a loss of coolant (water, escaping as steam), left the graphite exposed to the atmosphere to catch fire. Burning graphite still moderates the reaction, but without anything to cool it, its core quickly rises in temperature. Added to all this was a design flaw that used graphite on the boron control rods. Inserting the rods shuts down the reactor, but the start of that insertion actually increases reactions, heating things up further. With enough unexpected heat, the rods and the cavities they are inserted into (think of pistons in cylinders), warp and prevent them from being inserted.

    Compare that to a CANDU reactor that uses heavy water to both moderate and cool the core. If a rupture occurs, both coolant and moderator are gone and the reactor shuts down. Earlier CANDU reactors (Pickering’s units 1 to 4) take advantage of this by having a dump tank beneath the reactor and if there was a pressure build-up, the weakest thing to go would be the hatch to the tank. Later CANDU reactors don’t use this (unfortunately, IMHO – I’m a big believer in taking advantages of weaknesses) and instead use a “poisoning” system that injects boron into the heavy water. I am told this newer system shuts down the reaction faster.


  7. Mapleson wrote: I would posit the CANDU reactor as an example of Ontario tech done better. Darlington has been named “one of the safest and top performing nuclear stations in the world” for the last three years in a row.

    Joe wrote: So had been Chernobyl in the 1980s until it blew up.

    I think Joe is suggesting that every nation’s nuclear regulatory authority will claim their system is the safest — until a disaster proves it is not.

    However Joe is overlooking that the Chernobyl style reactor, unlike most other style of reactors, had no containment vessel. I think this clearly shows this design was one of the least safe. The Soviets built dozens of reactors of this design — four at Chernobyl, and others a multiple other sites. They did not retire the others after the Chernobyl meltdown.

    A safety advantage of the CANDU heavy water system is that, unlike every other nuclear reactor design on planet earth, it does not require enriched Uranium. Both light water nuclear reactors, and nuclear weapons, require Uranium that has been “enriched” so it contains a higher proportion of U235. U235 has a shorter half-life than U238, so its natural occurrence is very low. From memory, U235 is about 0.5 % of naturally occurring Uranium.

    Light water reactors need lightly enriched Uranium, weapons need Uranium enriched to about 90 percent U235.

    Most of the excitement about Iran’s Uranium program was over its plants to enrich Uranium, which is not only required for nuclear weapons, but also for light water nuclear reactors, but which is not required for CANDU style heavy water reactors.

    Since the fuel pellets used by CANDU reactors don’t require enriched Uranium, we don’t have to worry that fuel pellets might be stolen by criminals or terrorists who plan to weaponize it. I would say this is an important safety measure. Mind you the nuclear waste from a CANDU reactor is just as dangerous as that from a light water reactor.

    Mapleson wrote that our design was innately safer. And I think they were correct. Once the nuclear pile of a light water reactor is assembled in one place, it is dangerous, unless the control rods are properly inserted. Partially inserting or partially removing the control rods is that way the control room controls the rate of a light water reactor.

    The danger common to all light water reactors is that if the reactor’s controlled chain reaction grows out of control too quickly, it is no longer possible to insert the control rods to shut the reaction down. Remember, from grade nine physics, heat makes things expand. An out of control atomic pile can expand so quickly that the holes where the control rods fit is out of alignment, or worse, warps.

    If I am not mistaken, this happened at Chernobyl.

    My understanding is that even when all the tubes of Uranium fuel are inserted into a CANDU reactor, it is safe, there is no nuclear chain reaction. It is my understanding that only when heavy water is circulated around the fuel tubes does the nuclear chain reaction take place. Neutrons that strike the Deuterium in the heavy water change the speed of those neutrons, so they can split more atoms of Uranium, which spits out energy and more neutrons. If too much energy is released the heavy water boils off, and this causes the reaction to stop, long before the core melts.

    So, I am with Mapleson, on this one. CANDU’s are innately safer.

    TTC passenger wrote:

    Until Harper decided to unload Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to everyone’s favourite scandal prone private sector infrastructure company and builder of H6 subway cars, SNC Lavalin, for a piddly sum of money five years ago.

    Shoot! I missed that. Grrr. That was worse than Diefenbaker cancelling the Avro Arrow!


  8. Nick said:

    On the subject of botched opportunities with the Presto rollout, why did Metrolinx and the TTC not take the opportunity to install a modern farebox with an incorporated Presto reader on the surface fleet? Even with the phasing out of all other fare media, there would still be benefit in a system that can properly handle cash payments. (Count coins, handle bills, detect forgeries, give change, & dispense transfers)

    I don’t want to go into tin foil territory but several years ago there were a series of conferences in Ottawa about the links between finance and organized crime and terrorism. The federal government started putting pressure on the provinces to prepare for a future with no physical currency.

    That was the recommendation of an OECD task force on terrorism and another one on tax evasion.

    One of the many things mentioned that would help is if transit systems would move away from cash and tickets to computer based systems. Ontario was really enthusiastic for a made-in-Ontario solution and got a lot of cash from the federal government to develop what we now know as Presto. So while Presto may have transit uses, it’s not about transit it’s about law enforcement tracking of users (the Canadian association of Chiefs of Police insists on that) and eliminating physical currency.

    For reasons I cannot understand the Royal Canadian Mint is still working on developing an App for smartphones. Why? Who knows.

    This goes a long way to explain some of the idiosyncrasies of Presto and its implementation. It’s primarily about eliminating cash.

    That doesn’t excuse some of the stupidity of Metrolinx and the TTC but it puts things into perspective.


  9. To summarize from the Globe:

    1. Presto will not be fully rolled out until the end of 2017, but it definitely for certs will be rolled out by the end of 2017, cross our fingers and hope to die.
    2. The slower Presto rollout saves the TTC $16 million in fees this year.

    Steve: From the same article:

    TTC spokesman Brad Ross said Friday that Presto has been slow developing the software needed for the card to offer Metropass-like functionality.

    Presto cannot provide Metropass functionality??? This is only the premier fare product of their biggest client. Another find piece of Ontario technology.


  10. There is the interesting term to “Scram a reactor.” One of my Physic’s prof gave the first definition listed below from Wikipedia. If you look at some pictures of the first reactor under the football stands you will see a person standing on top of the reactor with what looks like an axe. The graphite control rods were suspended vertically from ropes. We were told it was the job of the guy with the axe to cut the ropes if the reactor got too hot. Who know now? This may be one reason why so many of the nuclear physicists from that and earlier eras died of cancer.

    “The term is usually cited as being an acronym for safety control rod axe man, which was supposedly coined by Enrico Fermi when the world’s first nuclear reactor was built under the spectator seating at the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field, but NRC Historian Tom Wellock calls the axe-man story “a bunch of baloney”. It could also stand for “Safety Control Rods Activation Mechanism” or “Control Rods Actuator Mechanism”, both of which are probably backronyms.[2][3] “Scram” is American English slang for leaving quickly and urgently, which has been cited as the original basis for the use of scram in the technical context.[4]” from Wikipedia


  11. “So had been Chernobyl in the 1980s until it blew up.

    Steve: A fact check by those in the know would be welcome here.”

    I am not a nuclear physicist, however I have an excellent documentary made by the BBC on the incident which you can find on Youtube. They pieced together all the information and had actors recreate the accident and the aftermath.

    Essentially two things went wrong. First, the reactor had a design flaw with the control rods such that in an emergency situation the tips of the rods which first entered the reactor would actually increase the nuclear fission rate, not decrease it. This was a double problem because the control rods were motorized and moved slowly, not designed to simply let gravity drop them down much faster. The kicker is the Soviets were aware of this issue, as it had already caused a near accident at another reactor of the same design. They kept this a secret, even from their own nuclear operators, to avoid embarrassment, and out of arrogance; “If it only caused a ‘near-accident’ then we don’t need to worry about it”.

    The second issue was that the operators were conducting an ill-conceived experiment of operating the reactor in a very low output state. They were not aware that the reactor design was actually more dangerous in that state, and more difficult to control. It was meant to either be hot and stable or totally off, not stuck part way in between.

    The reactor temperature suddenly spiked, so they tried the emergency shutdown. The faulty control rods started slowly going in, and the fission reaction went off the scale almost instantly. All the water in the reactor literally instantly turned into steam and the pressure blew the top off the containment unit. Then the uncovered reactor heated up out of control, there was a massive explosion, likely of built up hydrogen, which literally blew the roof off the building and destroyed the core, leaving it to melt.


  12. Jonathan said:

    I am not a nuclear physicist, however I have an excellent documentary made by the BBC on the incident which you can find on Youtube. They pieced together all the information and had actors recreate the accident and the aftermath.

    I have a friend who is a retired Professional Nuclear Systems Engineer. He and I had a chat a few months ago regarding Chernobyl and he mentioned he was part of the Canadian team that helped investigate the cause of the disaster.

    What they found was that they were doing an experiment with the failsafes off while under the influence of Vodka (which from my understanding was not entirely frowned upon at the time). What he told me was that when things started to go badly, the team had microseconds to react from the time things started going critical to the time the reactor exploded. Even if they were not under the influence they could not have reacted fast enough. Essentially the reactor went from normal to critical faster than they could blink.

    There was no time to react and the fact they were ingesting vodka did not help either. His understanding was that the failsafes were tripping at that low output so they turned them off to run the experiment. Probably not a good idea but hence the reason for experimenting.


  13. Re Candu, versus other. The real issue is the fuel, and the normal cause of serious accidents. Most systems rely on the presence of control rods in order to shut them down, and a loss of coolant can rapidly cause a run away heat issue. The Candu situation is, that in order to keep the reactor working the coolant must be present, or the reactor by the very physics of it will shut down. We have an issue of potentially losing coolant and thus creating a heavy water spill, but not the nature of the issue at Chernobyl. The very basic fuel itself is such, that it cannot sustain the reaction without heavy water.


  14. Hey Steve, I was at Old Mill station yesterday afternoon and the wider presto gate that had been newly installed wasn’t working. While waiting for the bus I watched a woman show up, she didn’t appear to be ‘from’ anywhere, but opened a bag and proceeded to fix the broken gate. She opened a couple panels and appeared to do a power reboot of the gate, and it began to work. I overheard her conversation with the station attendant and she explained that the TTC wanted to have at least 1 wider gate in each station, which wasn’t in the operating spec for the type of gates they offer, so it slows down the opening of the actual gate, so people run into it, breaking it. I watched as people approached the gate, and sure enough, it was too slow to open from the time it sensed a body to the time the gate fully opened. I watched a lot of close calls. Looks like those wider gates might be a problem!!

    Steve: The wider gates are for accessibility. It’s amazing that the vendor does not consider this to be a “standard” configuration, but it’s their job to keep them working.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Mapleson: I would posit the CANDU reactor as an example of Ontario tech done better. Darlington has been named “one of the safest and top performing nuclear stations in the world” for the last three years in a row.

    So had been Fukushima Daiichi in the 2000s until it ended in the worst man-made disaster in the history of the universe.

    Steve: OK enough with the reactors already. This is supposed to be a thread about Presto.


  16. Joe said: So had been Fukushima Daiichi in the 2000s until it ended in the worst man-made disaster in the history of the universe.

    Steve: OK enough with the reactors already. This is supposed to be a thread about Presto.

    So when will you bring up Three Mile Island? No, Fukushima Daiichi was not honoured by WANO as Darlington has been. There were multiple safety warnings that could have prevented this: the USNRC warning in 1991, NISA warned in 2004, and even an internal study warned in 2007 of a dangers of tsunami based on the 10th century mega-wave. The Onagawa plant was closer to the epicenter, but had a 14m seawall, so didn’t have any issues.

    This is my last post on nuclear plants, and my original point was that there are some examples of Ontario/Canada developing technology well in addition to those we’ve whiffed on.


  17. I have been getting a few updates from a friend of mine in Toronto. Definitely does not sound like it’s going “swimmingly”.

    Calgary did make a couple of aborted attempts are implementing a fare-card system and was in the process of it’s second attempt when I first arrived just over two years ago, with an expected roll-out of December 2014. The card readers were installed on all the buses and they were still in testing when they abruptly pulled them out just before they were to go live, citing unresolved technical problems and mounting cost overruns and that the money could be better spent improving service and getting new transit vehicles. The same company was involved with each implementation and the City is currently seeking a return of the money it spent.

    I was looking forward to not having to buy books of paper tickets or having spare change for the fare – oh well. At the time the fare was $3.00 and now it’s $3.15. I am sure they are looking at the Toronto experience and saying “no thanks” to any offers to use Presto. At least Calgary Transit fare structure is relatively simple – no zones and a timed fare of 1.5 hours so if there is something out there that will not have a huge cost overhead, we might see it out here soon.


  18. Interesting from the star today:

    TTC admits the 1% failure rate is incorrect, and that an audit of streetcar readers last week resulted in confirmation that 5-6% of presto readers aren’t working, and the number could be even higher, much like reported here.

    Steve: At the end of that article, Metrolinx says that Presto already handles monthly passes. Of course it does. TTC’s point is that the back end systems have not yet been expanded to the point where they can handle the Metropass transaction volume.


  19. Also from the Star article:

    “According to TTC chief customer officer Chris Upfold, it’s difficult to know how many devices are misfiring, because the cellular system that is supposed to automatically detect when they malfunction isn’t working properly.”

    It’s pretty bad when the system to detect malfunctions is malfunctioning.

    “Metrolinx has installed Presto on 10 other transit agencies in the GTHA, including GO Transit, but Hollis said the unique properties of Toronto’s streetcars have posed unexpected problems for the card readers. The vehicles operate using a different type of power supply than buses, he said, and the rails can cause “vibration issues.” “

    Surely Metrolinx knew that the voltage on the streetcars was different. Most new electronic items like this would use a switching power supply that can operate over a range of voltages or was this started so long ago that they hadn’t been invented yet? One has to wonder about quality of engineers that would design a system that can’t handle different voltages or is it the harmonics from the choppers on the old cars causing the problems as they weren’t supposed to be around this long. So I guess Metrolinx can blame Bombardier for the malfunctioning Presto system and the vibrations encountered on street cars. Perhaps Metrolinx can make up a song called “Blame Bombardier” sung to the tune of “Blame Canada”.

    Fare’s have changed
    Service is getting worse
    Presto won’t read your fare card
    It just makes makes you want to curse

    Should we blame the TTC?
    Or blame society?
    Or Metrolinx for poor RFID?

    No, blame Bombardier, blame Bombardier
    With all their great delays
    And talkin’ heads so full of lies

    Blame Bombardier, blame Bombardier
    We need to form a full assault

    As long as you can blame someone else for your problem you have no problem.

    Surely the bus rides on some routes are rougher than the vibrations on the TTC or is it the smooth special work that causes the problems?

    Steve: Considering the bone rattling nature of bus trips, it’s hard to believe that Hollis would even make a statement like that. He also completely misses the point that Metropass functionality isn’t a question of “can Presto do passes”, but “can Presto do so many passes”.


  20. He also completely misses the point that Metropass functionality isn’t a question of “can Presto do passes”, but “can Presto do so many passes.

    Wouldn’t it be something if Presto were incapable of pushing out 100,000 passes at the beginning of each month? System limitations forcing the TTC to implement the more customer friendly automatic monthly capping and losing the extra revenue from pass holders who currently buy but don’t hit the magic pass thresholds.

    I can already hear the TTC bean counters weeping.


  21. The whole “accessibility is why we took away balance displays” canard is making me think it’s really a flimsy cover to hide the fact their system is awful and they don’t want you to quickly realize it’s failed to process fares properly because it overcharged you on transfers.


  22. On Saturday I surrendered my privacy, and tried to use machines at the TTC stations at Osgoode, St Andrew, and Union. All the machine lead me through the process of debiting my card — except I got warnings that my order failed to complete.

    The warnings told me that the explanation would be printed on my receipt, but the machines did not print receipts, even though I requested receipts. I saw the machine fail to work for other riders, at Union.

    I walked over to the GO transit section of Union. The recharge machine worked there. And it printed the requested receipt.

    This failure to print a receipt … it is almost as if a childish programmer deliberately programmed the system to not print receipts with explanations for why the system failed — because he or she wanted to continue to have their programming failures go undetected.


  23. According to today’s Star 12% of Presto machines in buses are not working, more than are not working in the streetcars.
    Metrolinx dragged out different voltages as a possible cause of the problems:

    “Asked why readers on buses would be more prone to failure than those on streetcars, Browne explained that each vehicle type presents its own technical challenges, including different electrical systems. The vehicles’ power source can affect the readers, which are connected to the central Presto network by a cellular system.”

    Any outfit that drags this out as an excuse is incompetent. Switching power supplies will adapt to a wide range of voltages with no problem. Many of the electronics on pleasure boats will work with any input voltage between 12 and 48 V. Besides they are running on a lot of other buses in Ontario. Perhaps they cannot handle the volume of passengers and the length of time that they are in use on TTC vehicles. I am waiting for the comment that it might be the vibrations on buses.

    Metrolinx should pay the TTC for lost revenue. I think that the CTA in Chicago successfully sued its card reader supplier for lost revenue because of faulty readers.

    Steve: It’s only a few weeks since Metrolinx blamed the problem on streetcars with different power than on buses where everything was supposed to be just fine. They are pulling excuses out of their butts. Yet another example of an Ontario technology cock-up.


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