Presto’s Problems Multiply

From the Toronto Star:

Presto’s rollout on the TTC is over budget and fraught with problems. This is not new to anyone who has been following the project, or at least following it to the degree that the agencies involved provide reliable information.

As of March 31, however, the agency had spent $276.7 million deploying Presto on the TTC, according to numbers provided by Metrolinx. That’s almost $22 million higher than the agency’s 2012 estimate of $255 million.

The $276.6-million figure doesn’t reflect work that has yet to be completed or was finished after March 31; those jobs include completing Presto deployment at all subway stations, installing additional self-serve reload machines and fare vending devices across the network, and rolling out fare card readers on all 1,900 TTC buses and 500 Wheel-Trans vehicles.

Also unaccounted for are the future cost of upgrading the Presto system — which currently enables riders to pay their fare with a tap of a prepaid card — to allow for direct payment using credit or debit cards, and the cost of migrating TTC passes onto Presto. [From Ben Spurr’s article]

Metrolinx attempts to offload their problems on the TTC. Reliability problems were first blamed on unusual power supply issues on the older streetcars, but then the issue turned out to be far worse on the bus fleet. Presto’s primary implementation to date is on buses, and this is hardly a new environment for the fare card machines.

Now the cost increases are blamed on scope creep in the TTC contract including the fit-out of the old streetcar fleet and the installation of new fare gates in subway stations.

Meanwhile, complications for riders are legion as Ed Keenan describes: difficulty in obtaining and loading money on fare cards, inconsistent rules for their use, overcharges (and undercharges) for transit rides, and a complete lack of benefits compared to the existing system.

Metrolinx loves to deflect criticism to others, but is slow to accept the blame for shorcomings of its own system’s design.

At the outset, Presto as it existed was a more primitive system designed for a simpler environment: GO trains and buses, with riders who mostly took predictable commuting trips to and from Union Station. As its role expanded to other systems, the shortcomings became obvious to the point that the “Next Generation” Presto was developed for Ottawa. Even then, it had major implementation problems.

The GTA fare structure has long been biased against trips to and in Toronto. Unlike the 905 systems, there is no “co-fare” between the TTC and connecting systems notably GO Transit, and GO’s fares within the 416 compound this problem by charging substantially more to travel shorter distances.

Presto has been touted as the basis for “regional fare integration”, but this has different meanings to different people. At its simplest, Presto would be one card that could “talk” to any fare machine and charge the appropriate “local” fare, little more than standardizing the “currency” of fare transactions without any other changes. On a more aggressive level, fares would be “integrated” so that the cross-border penalty would be reduced or eliminated. It is self-evident that getting rid of fare penalties will cost somebody money in the form of higher fares overall, or increased subsidy. However, Queen’s Park wants a “revenue neutral” scheme so that added subsidies are not required.

Metrolinx has wrestled with new fare structure concepts for a few years, and push-back on their original proposals has delayed the production of a final recommendation. Behind the scenes, the always-preferred option was “fare by distance”, a concept familiar to GO, although not actually implemented “fairly” across its network. This brings very substantial operational problems because the fare system must “know” both the origin and destination of each trip requiring “tap on” and “tap off” for each leg of the journey. This evolved into a scheme to make “rapid transit” a distance-based premium fare zone, a scheme that preserves GO’s rail premium, but destroys the “integrated” nature of the subway within Toronto’s system.

The effect might be to lower fares for cross-border trips (a small minority of all GTA travel) and improve the attractiveness of GO+TTC rides, but at a higher cost to TTC users for whom the subway is an integral part of most travel.

Metrolinx also neglected to determine whether LRT and BRT lines would be “rapid transit” because none of them existed in the data used for their study. Such is the quality of forward thinking at our provincial agency.

In this context, a decision by the TTC on the fare structure to be implemented has been almost impossible, although the TTC must be faulted for keeping a real discussion of the options and limitations under wraps for so long. The TTC missed a chance to market the new fare system with more convenient fares and refuses to address a simplified fare structure, notably time-based transfer validity. That decision immensely complicates the fare calculation requirements for Presto in determining where a “new” trip starts and a second fare should be charged.

For its part, the TTC opted to enlarge its fare gate upgrades from a limited scale needed to bring Presto and accessibility to all entrances, to a full-scale replacement across the system. And, oh yes, with the capability to require “tap out” for all passengers (ignoring that a huge volume of passengers transfer to and from surface routes without using a turnstile). In effect, TTC management enabled by stealth a fare structure that has not been debated or approved by the TTC Board (at least publicly) or by City Council.

The TTC also decided to accelerate the Presto implementation by a year so that it would be fully operational at the end of 2016. This would serve two purposes. On one hand, Metrolinx could brag that the Toronto rollout was “complete” and trumpet huge additional usage (along with the service fees) by Presto. On the other, the TTC could move ahead with its redeployment of station staff who would no longer be selling fare media. Things have not quite worked out as planned, and it is likely that we will not see substantial conversion to Presto until the end of 2017.

Presto itself has design limitations, not least the fact that so much of the fare calculation occurs between the card readers at stations and on vehicles and the card itself, rather than in a back-end system. This is responsible for the oddity that updates to Presto accounts do not actually arrive at the card when they are made online, but only later when all devices in the system learn of the changes through periodic updates. “Open payment” support for credit cards is coming, but until the tracking and calculation of fare discounts is done by a central system, credit cards will only support the equivalent of a cash fare, not the discount schemes available to Presto cardholders. That is not a truly “open” system.

We’re not supposed to talk about any of this because everything Metrolinx and its masters at Queen’s Park do is perfect, Ontario is a transit Nirvana for transit policy going back decades. If we were honest, we would be discussing the alternatives, including technical limitations and funding requirements, but instead the only important work is the manufacture of ever more photo ops.

Try harder.

46 thoughts on “Presto’s Problems Multiply

  1. And yet, one of the advertising features of Presto is that you could start your trip on OC Transpo, hop a VIA train (for example), and then use the same card on any of the GTA systems, provided that you have loaded your account as opposed to having a monthly pass (unless you are wealthy enough for whatever reason to have more than one system’s pass on your card as well). I don’t know if that works, or works well. I don’t know anyone who has done that yet.

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  2. The really sad thing with the Presto rollout is just how many problems could have been avoided if Metrolinx had treated GO transit’s fare structure as a separate entity and applied time based fares for everyone else.

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  3. I don’t understand the extremely high rate of problems that are happening with the Presto card readers on buses. Given that Presto card readers have been used for years on the 905 transit systems’ buses, the issues should be well known and at least somewhat mitigated by now. If anything, the TTC bus implementation should be more straightforward for having that experience. This doesn’t add up.

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  4. I regularly use presto on TTC buses, subways, and GO trains. Yes, some readers haven’t worked, but in those cases the driver usually says to tap on at the back door. The Star says that 12% of readers are not functioning. Vehicles, however, have at least 2 Presto readers. If the probability that one is broken is 12%, then the probability that BOTH are broken is 1.5%.

    Steve: A big problem is that many TTC routes are so crowded that getting to the alternate reader is a challenge. Moreover, if it takes you a substantial time to force your way through the vehicle to do this, and this is a “transfer” tap, it may not correctly register as such because you will no longer be at a valid location, and you will get nicked for an extra fare.

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  5. I was living in London when the Presto equivalent (Oyster) was introduced. IIRC the readers were installed everywhere and only then was the system switched on. The phased approach taken by the TTC is nonsensical — why bother getting a Presto card if you can never be sure from day to day whether you will be able to use it?

    I was back in the UK for a brief visit this summer. Oyster is now being phased out in favour of the use of regular credit or debit cards. We marched up to the barrier at Kings Cross, tapped our debit card on the reader, and bingo! Supposedly the TTC will be offering this by 2018: holding your breath is not advised!

    Steve: The TTC may offer credit cards, but my understanding is that this will only be for single fare payment, no discounts or loyalty schemes. Major changes are required to provide this on cards that Presto does not “own”.

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  6. Aye… Presto my old friend.. how I despite thee.

    I used to travel from Toronto to Mississauga and back again daily for work. While you could tap into the TTC as Islington you would end up paying two fares to go from the TTC to Miway at the same station. It would have been so much easier to be able to tap on the TTC and then connect to Miway for the same fare. I mean they are literally in the same station so it is not like I am walking to a stop on the main road (e.g. Skymark Hub). Fare integration needs to happen and it needs to happen rather quickly otherwise Presto will be an abyssmal failure. Even if it is just at main hubs like Islington, Finch, Downsview or the TYSSE stations, it would go a long way to easing the burden placed upon cross-border commuters. With the opening of the subway extension there will likely be greater calls for fare integration and with that.. no doubt we will see some sort of changes.

    When it comes to the turnstile upgrades they would have required replacement eventually soon anyway. There were a few downtown that likely were closing in on 50 years old and would have needed eventual replacement so why not just do it now and get it over with? I do agree however that it is a cock-up with the way they are installing them. They are currently doing it at Warden and it is a mess there but thankfully not as bad as Runnymede which has very limited space in its mezzanine. It would have been better to do it one station at a time rather than 4 or more stations at once causing the work to drag on forever. I know at Old Mill they just completed the work but have yet to install barricades leaving nothing but a separation rope between the bus bays and the subway there.

    Speaking of fare gate replacement, it is interesting to note that the new gates are far less reliable. The NEW gates at Old Mill Station are already busted. The handicap gate is stuck open and displays Out of Service on the screen. I used it once or twice and it was very slow to open so I am thinking someone may have actually walked into the gate not knowing it would open so slow causing it to break. I have noticed with most if not all of the new fare gates that I have encountered that they open so slowly, I have almost walked into the gates themselves not realizing I needed to be elderly to walk through them without breaking them.

    When it comes to tapping between surface and subway I cannot fathom how bad that will end up being. People will likely forget to tap between modes leading to confusion trying to get to their destinations. I get what they are trying to do but it is over-complicating things unnecessarily. It would be so much easier to tap on and tap off and let Presto do the rest or even just tap on.

    As for loading Presto cards I have encountered a few malfunctioning machines across the system. I go to put my Presto cards in the automated machines and it tells me the machine has malfunctioned leading me to search for a new machine. I found it easier to load it in Mississauga where you could easily load a Presto card pretty much anywhere. It is easier than loading it in a few locations in Toronto.

    Overall, this is going to be a boondoggle for the TTC. I mean they are already working on a Plan B for Metropasses because the Presto conversion will not be completed by the start of 2017. Presto should have been rolled out all at once not bit by bit. Doing a bit by bit conversion made the transition needlessly more complicated. It might have worked in Mississauga and York Region … even Durham but in a system the size of the TTC you cannot doing things piecemeal.

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  7. Steve, you might be interested in the discussion of this post and of your opposition to the DRL here.

    Steve: The usual bullshit. I most certainly did NOT get the DRL killed, and have been supporting it in some form or another for decades, including running at least north to Eglinton as the TTC originally planned, not just to Danforth. There is a reason I don’t participate in other forums (“fora” for the sticklers), and that sort of comment is precisely why. People pushing those ideas get banned here, although I usually have a lot of fun watching other readers tear them apart first.

    There was a time when I wrote about the DRL as a possible LRT line, but that opinion changed a long time ago based on two factors: first, most of the line will have to be grade separated given the lack of an actual corridor; second, the projected demand is at the upper end of LRT and likely to grow if the line is extended further north.

    As for Presto implementation, there’s plenty of blame for both the TTC and Metrolinx, although the latter’s refusal to admit that there are problems with anything they do (see UPX for a prime example) gets in the way of actual “success”. That Queen’s Park forced this system on Toronto with a threat to cancel subsidies is a matter of record.

    TTC management were all set to go with a two hour fare, but it was killed off because they calculated (wrongly, I believe) that it would cost $20m annually in lost revenue, and John Tory cared more about keeping taxes and fares down than making a change that would have widespread benefits and greatly simplify Presto implementation. That’s a Toronto cock up, not a TTC one.

    Some readers prefer to interpret my positions through a lens of a “downtowner” or a “Scarborough hater” or a “Metrolinx hater” etc. There is enough “blame” and self-interest to go around among everyone, but some are rather sensitive when their pet project or agency or politician is the target.

    I could reply to the other misrepresentations of my positions, but we’ve been around those bushes many times before.

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  8. Presto is a broken system that is not likely too improve before it is fully rolled out entirely everywhere on the TTC. The worst part is after all the new Presto hardware is installed throughout the TTC and the removal of the traditional fare collector booth riders will be left with the incomplete or cobbled together software side of the Presto system. All of the news I read about Presto only takes into account people / riders with access to a credit card. What about people without access to one? Will they no longer be able to use public transit / TTC? Can someone without a credit card obtain a Presto card? How does or would a non-credit card rider go about using a Presto card in regards to “reloading” it or adding cash before the card reaches zero dollars?

    Steve: Yes! Presto was conceived by an agency whose rider model is a suburban, employed commuter who has a bank account and almost certainly a credit card.

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  9. Weren’t GO fares originally required to be greater than the TTC fare so that they wouldn’t suck customers from the TTC?

    The only fare system that would be fair to all is free.

    Steve: GO has always been concerned about being overloaded with “local” traffic inside the 416. However, between Smart Track and the RER improvements, this model is falling apart.

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  10. How come not a single person has been fired over this? Therein lies the most important difference between public sector and private sector i.e. it is very difficult to fire people in the public sector no matter how incompetent and lazy whereas people are held more accountable in the private sector. Let us have TTC at least partially privatised. This is NOT an anti-union message as we can and do have unions in the private sector.

    PRESTO = Fare Evasion; let us abolish it NOW.

    Steve: If you are going to fire people, you will also have to look to Metrolinx and Presto who are responsible for some bad design and implementation decisions. But if your goal is simply to piss at the TTC, you have missed (at least) two of the very necessary targets.

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  11. Interesting references to malfunctioning Presto readers. Brampton Transit uses Presto, and it is used by a very high percentage of passengers. In 2 years I have never seen a malfunctioning Brampton Transit or Mississauga transit Presto reader. I was recently in Toronto. The Presto machine at Kipling station and St. Clair streetcar worked but Presto did not work on 3 out of 3 busses that I also used.

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  12. There is nothing theoretically wrong with the idea of rolling out a card system. There is an urgent and critical question surrounding the issue of why we needed a made in Ontario system. There is a question as to why we are not looking to buy something that is more fully developed at someone else’s expense, where the big dollars, and teething issues, have not already been experienced,

    There is also some real questions to what the goals are of doing this, and what the end goal in a system is. I will say I understand that the province has limited dollars to expend, but that should mean it focuses its efforts in areas likely to yield the largest results in terms of capacity, transit ridership, and shaping the development of the region. We seem to continue to support the idea of encouraging developers to lead, not follow. If we allow outer ring municipalities to continue to be the only ones directing development, they will follow developers, and what these developers see as the lowest risk strategy, car oriented low density development. Ideally we want to change that, and targeted spending is the way to do it.

    The goal of the province should not be a lot of announcements but a focused few. It would make for more difference to Toronto, to have GO develop a single frequent route connected to a couple of BRT in an area not already fully developed, where the parking mandates are lifted or hugely reduced (say 1 vehicle per residence, and 0.3 vehicles per use commercial) develop transit there and build around it. The province needs to get past photo ops, and just following development, make the greenbelt work, target a municipality, and push density, by creating the support for in terms of transit infrastructure. Today, York would be the logical target, and York should be pushed to get rid of the parking mandates close to GO connected BRTs. This along with getting past the grand announcement, and down to actually shaping outcomes is where the province needs to go. The province cannot use transit cannot merely act as support for sprawl, but needs to alter the nature of development. It also needs to explicitly call out where we are, in terms of zoning, explicitly subsidizing and encouraging car oriented not people oriented development. The idea of Presto makes transit easier, but why build from the ground up, shop for a system already proven, don’t make your own. The end goal needs to shift from winning elections to shaping outcomes.

    Steve: Ontario loves to develop its own systems, and there is a lucrative consulting contract for this sort of thing. Remember that Presto was once a separate agency from Metrolinx (it reported through MTO), and the technical side of things is provided by Accenture, a private company. (I mention this because of all the slagging of public sector that goes on by some readers here.) Like so much of what Ontario does, the imperative is to show that it’s worthwhile, and the fastest way to counter that would be to say “but we could buy it from someone else”.

    I suspect we eventually will, once the current generation of Presto wears out.

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  13. I don’t understand why they had to revamp the turnstiles to gates, the way it was was fine, the way it is at many of the stations Presto is already at (Queen’s Park to College). It just seems to add to cost for something not necessary.

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  14. Are you complaining? Because I read the whole article word by word and I didn’t see any calls for resignations or any kind of investigations or any other way to ensure accountability. Far more has been spent on Presto than it has ever collected and the complete numbers are not known to the public. Ontario alone could be saving several billions of dollars in fare related costs every year if only we had the decency to make transit free (not really free as taxpayers would and should have to pay). You want to save the world from pollution, global warming, and climate change? Spending billions of dollars and still not being able to correctly implement a decades old fare collection technology and making people stand in lines for several hours every month because of faulty Presto machines, etc is NOT the way to get people out of their cars. Steve has said that people have to have a good transit service to switch to if we are going to get them out of their cars but what about incompetent fare collection methods that waste people’s time unnecessarily? We should really think about making transit free. Several other municipalities have done this around the world with very positive locally and immediately measurable results such as improvement in air quality, fewer deaths and injuries from accidents, higher birth rates (since people spend less time stuck in traffic and more time in bed), etc.

    Steve: I am reporting.

    If you can’t figure out that simply by reporting the issues (often in far more detail than the regular press) and by digging into issues at Metrolinx, the TTC and the City I am effectively calling out the people responsible for these situations, then you have not been paying attention.

    Accountability and setting severed heads on pikes around City Hall is a whole separate matter.

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  15. I wonder what the eHealth of Presto is? Perhaps the card colour should be Ornge.

    Steve: When you are asked for a Presto card in Emerg, you will know that it’s time to move to another province.

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  16. Oooh, another mess; along with some $hift and $haft potential to make TO transit users pay more. Which got me thinking: that old stat from Vancouver of 20 years back of Vancouver finding every car there has a $2700 annual subsidy, 7X more than transit, if, and a big IF, we had the integrity and neutrality to do the same sort of robust/honest analsysis here, likely best done by Todd Littman of VTPI helped perhaps by APTA, maybe the figure would now be c. 10X as climate change is biting evermore, and transport still leads sectors in some ways. So while there’s some millions and delay etc., maybe the big savings are to make the transit free and have the same degree of user pay put on to the private vehicles as the TTC now has? Or the Island Ferry? Apparently c. 300,000 private vehicles enter Caronto every day too; so that’s a LOT of congestion/pollution/space/surface to be serviced, so with c. 52 entry points into the City, time for tolls?? Most everybody elected is pretty carrupt and caraven as the votorists are everywhere, and at times/places yes, the cars are very useful compared to trans*it, but the ‘caronic’ denial of automobility costs, including health care costs, is anchor-like.
    But I’m glad Steve has again punctured the complexiities, thanks.

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  17. Steve wrote “And, oh yes, with the capability to require “tap out” for all passengers (ignoring that a huge volume of passengers transfer to and from surface routes without using a turnstile)”

    While anyone coming from a surface route won’t be tapping in, all Presto riders will either tap out at a turnstile, or onto a surface route (on board the vehicle). It remains to be seen how or if this is enforced, when the bus is typically idling in the station with all doors open, a throng of people, and often no driver.

    All seems so unnecessary.

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  18. Steve: If you are going to fire people, you will also have to look to Metrolinx and Presto who are responsible for some bad design and implementation decisions. But if your goal is simply to piss at the TTC, you have missed (at least) two of the very necessary targets.

    I NEVER said that only incompetent TTC staff should be fired; that should extend to all agencies. The best thing to do now would be to abandon Presto and adopt something that is already known to work in other parts of the world.

    Steve: You quite clearly implied this was a TTC problem:

    “Let us have TTC at least partially privatised.”

    The private sector is just as capable of screwing things up. Don’t forget that the underpinnings for Presto were developed by a private company under contract to MTO.

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  19. Steve: The private sector is just as capable of screwing things up. Don’t forget that the underpinnings for Presto were developed by a private company under contract to MTO.

    Don’t forget Bombardier, so I agree with you that the private sector is just as capable of screwing up only it costs us less for the private sector to screw up than it does for the public sector to screw up with skyrocketing public sector salaries and benefits.

    Toronto Star: As TTC’s new streetcars lag behind, Detroit and L.A. stay on track. As Bombardier concedes it ‘failed to meet expectations’ in Toronto, deals with other companies bear fruit.

    What I suggest is that Presto be abandoned and a new supplier be found for the streetcars ASAP. We were told that Bombardier was the only company capable of building streetcars unique to Toronto’s needs because of a different gauge size amongst all possible lame excuses but what about for Eglinton LRT, Finch West LRT, Waterloo Region LRT, etc? They are all being built to international standards and yet why is it that Bombardier got ALL of the contracts not just for Toronto’s streetcars and subways but for all those new LRT lines as well? Something fishy is going on here. Bombardier has already heavily delayed not just Toronto’s streetcar fleet but also delayed the expected opening of the Waterloo Region LRT and Eglinton LRT and yet Bombardier seems all set up to receive all future rail vehicle related contracts in Ontario. This is beyond wrong and if you are not willing to oppose this, then you should not cry when there is not enough money left to build DRL, Waterfront East LRT, Waterfront West LRT, etc. Metrolinx should also be abolished as the only thing that they are good at is wasting public money. As for the TTC’s lawsuit against Bombardier, any money awarded would come from the Government of Canada and/or the Government of Ontario giving Bombardier little incentive to succeed as a company as they are guaranteed contracts and guaranteed free government bailouts a.k.a. handouts (the Government of Quebec does the same for Bombardier’s screw-ups in Quebec).

    Steve: No, we were not told Bombardier was the only company capable of building streetcars for the legacy system in Toronto. Siemens bid on the Toronto work, and two other suppliers were considering this. Even Bombardier, in the article you cite, admits that was not the cause of their problems.

    [Bombardier spokesperson Marc-André Lefebvre] said accounting for the unique specifications of Toronto’s streetcar tracks has not been a factor in the delays, but rather something Bombardier planned for in its initial schedule. Lefebvre said the issues that have slowed down production are internal to Bombardier.

    The Transit City lines were originally TTC projects, and the cars for them were ordered as part of one big contract to save on having to procure two separate orders and to get a lower unit price. When Queen’s Park took over these projects, they also took over part of the Bombardier contract, again to avoid having to duplicate the procurement process. Waterloo and others were piggybacked on the order because the total quantity had included cars for lines that are not going to be built soon, if ever (Don Mills, Jane).

    As for government support for Bombardier, that’s a long-standing political problem in Canada. As long as they were a dependable supplier (which they have been for years) of rail cars, nobody was complaining, but their corporate obsession with the aircraft business has severely damaged the company as a whole.

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  20. From a thread at another forum describing how octranspo is dealing with presto

    OC Transpo is taking a slightly different approach to PRESTO than Toronto is. In Toronto, Metrolinx is managing the entire system, including owning all of the equipment. Toronto has said that they want single use media, and Metrolinx is implementing that through PRESTO.

    In Ottawa, while we have the same Gen 2 PRESTO equipment, it’s all owned by OC Transpo, and we could theoretically use it to process payments through a system other than PRESTO. OC Transpo seems intent on maintaining this flexibility, and while that may be a pessimistic view of PRESTO, it’s probably realistic. An example of this is that the new Smart UPasses are not based on PRESTO, but rather the STO’s Multi.

    Rather than have some form of disposable contactless fare media, OC Transpo has decided to leverage the existing transfer printers on buses and include a barcode on the transfer. All of the station entry gates will read these barcodes, so transfers can be made into O-Train stations from a bus. The addition of a barcode allows very simple disposable media to be sold by vending machines. Tickets could continue to exist, as long as they are machine readable, so they can be swapped for a ticket/transfer at the machine or existing farebox.

    Work is currently underway to add these machines to the Trillium line stations. Unlike the smaller, less capable machines that were designed for Toronto, OC Transpo is going with off the shelf machines from Scheidt and Bachmann that are capable of a huge range of things. Once we have a few of them rolled out, I think we’ll probably see them around the rest of the system pretty quickly. The fact that these are OC Transpo machines and not PRESTO machines should help things.

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  21. Ottawa man writes

    OC Transpo has decided to leverage the existing transfer printers on buses and include a barcode on the transfer. All of the station entry gates will read these barcodes, so transfers can be made into O-Train stations from a bus. The addition of a barcode allows very simple disposable media to be sold by vending machines.

    Prior to OPUS, Montreal buses issued punch-card transfers (the patterns looked like braille with holes of two different diameters) that could be read by turnstiles at the Metro station. Montreal’s transfer rules are similar to Toronto’s so the transfer information included the route number, route direction, date and time. This information was also printed on the transfer in case you needed to transfer to another bus.

    The reader at a Metro station is programmed with all the acceptable bus numbers and directions and only needs to keep track of the date and time. Easy to program, doesn’t need a particularly powerful computer and quite reliable. I”m not sure if there was a central computer or if each turnstile had one, but it’s certainly the kind of thing with a small footprint which could be run either way. I don’t remember the system ever not working.

    It’s easy to imagine a punch-card “presto” where readers are installed on buses as well. I would drop the GPS component, since that overdetermines the transfer problem and requires more hardware and computing. All a reader on a bus really needs to know is all the possible transfers for a given route and the time. Short turns? Print the info on the transfer and you can show the driver. More than one route? Make it so that the reader punches an additional bus number on your transfer. In fact Montreal buses did do this when they moved to magnetic transfers. Since it would also print the info, you could see a summary of your trip on the transfer!

    If anything, the transfer “logic” is overdetermined in general because “illegal” transfers under Toronto and Montreal’s rules have little to do with intersecting routes and moreso to do with boarding the _same_ route where it is issued. The stipulations regarding an actual transfer of routes are the “can’t walk to next stop” rule and the (hopefully) defunct “not valid at surface routes leaving this station” rule for transfers issued on the subway system. The latter makes it impossible for riders who begin their journey at a fare paid loop to have valid POP if they board a new streetcar (think 510 from Spadina station). If the former is so important to the TTC that they need to interface your system with an onboard GPS, it must be costing millions in “lost” revenue.

    Of course none of this addresses the things that people supposedly want, such as payment by credit card and surveillance of your transit patterns. Presto is not progress.

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  22. @ Ottawa Man: TTC is at least 20 years away before it gets to the by now ancient barcode technology. TTC is a legacy system and not suitable for cutting edge technologies. It took them decades to only recently fix the chronically leaking water issues at Spadina station walking tunnel. It is things like that a private system can be much more competent at.

    Steve: Please give it a rest with the “private system can be much more competent” crap. A “private” TTC would require substantial subsidy, and this would almost certainly not be enough to sustain proper maintenance, let alone dividends. Even the so-called private sector participation in public infrastructure is much more commonly by way of investment in a guaranteed revenue stream, not a risky venture with uncertain future ridership and the need for constant and growing re-investment in aging plant and equipment.

    The TTC has an ongoing program of tunnel leak repairs, but some locations are easier to fix than others in part because the original construction did not necessarily take groundwater problems and underground streams sufficiently into account. At some locations, such as Bloor & Yonge, it’s not easy to reroute underground water, and a stream underneath The Bay is a perennial problem for Yonge Station.

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  23. Small Minded Mike said:

    It is very difficult to fire people in the public sector no matter how incompetent and lazy whereas people are held more accountable in the private sector. Let us have TTC at least partially privatised.

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but whoever is running the Presto project is most likely non-unionized, no?

    Partially privatised is just going to bring a profit motive into the system. Good luck selling them on rapid transit in Scarborough.

    Kumar said:

    Far more has been spent on Presto than it has ever collected and the complete numbers are not known to the public. Ontario alone could be saving several billions of dollars in fare related costs every year if only we had the decency to make transit free (not really free as taxpayers would and should have to pay).

    The Operating Budget for the TTC was $1.7B and by far is the largest in Ontario, so it’s very doubtful we ‘could be saving several billions of dollars in fare related costs every year’. If you look at Tallinn, Estonia, fare-free transit (for residents) has resulted in more transit use (and less walking) while auto use is also up. There is an issue of transit becoming de facto homeless shelters.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Steve: Please give it a rest with the “private system can be much more competent” crap. A “private” TTC would require substantial subsidy, and this would almost certainly not be enough to sustain proper maintenance, let alone dividends. Even the so-called private sector participation in public infrastructure is much more commonly by way of investment in a guaranteed revenue stream, not a risky venture with uncertain future ridership and the need for constant and growing re-investment in aging plant and equipment.

    Mind you, some of the best and cleanest transit systems on Earth involve private players. You need to look no farther than Asia i.e. Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The TTC management is trumpeting switch to one crew trains as a major step in modernisation but look at those advanced countries and running zero crew trains is quite common. Some of the trains in New Delhi, India and nearby Gurgaon are also driverless and private players are involved especially so in the latter. Private sector is good at cutting costs like fully automatic train operations. If you want to unnecessarily employ as many people as possible running things that even poor countries like India can do automatically, then don’t attack Scarborough subway when you no longer have money to pay for the Downtown Relief Line and various LRT projects in Downtown. There will be plenty of money for all those projects if TTC switches to 100% automatic train operation. In a day and age when Google can run driverless cars on busy high speed highways, at least streetcar operation on lines with their own right of way can be automatic but TTC union won’t let it happen as they want to keep as many people as possible unnecessarily employed.

    Steve: I hate to tell you this, but the vast majority of people involved in “running” the subway do not drive trains. They maintain them and the infrastructure, the tunnels, stations, tracks, power and signal systems, and so on. As for private players, be sure to check whether these are companies that receive direct subsidies on a concession basis, or if their systems are really free from all public funding. Also, be sure to check whether there is a parallel enterprise such as the property development machinery in Hong Kong that cross-subsidizes the transit system. Finally, have a look at population densities.

    Also, would you please pick one userid and stop inventing new ones for every post. How stupid do you think I and my readers are to think that you are all separate people?

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  25. Pedestrian said:

    Mind you, some of the best and cleanest transit systems on Earth involve private players. You need to look no farther than than Asia i.e. Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

    The other three countries you listed need a bit more depth. However, half of your examples are easy to poke holes in:

    China – you serious are using China as an example of “private players”? I guess if you count state-owned entities as “private” then maybe.

    Taiwan – Taipei Metro or Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit? KMRT started operating in 2008 as a PPP with the “Private” side being China Steel Corporation, Southeast Cement Corporation, RSEA Engineering Corporation, China Development Industrial Bank, and the Industrial Bank of Taiwan. Taipei Metro was built by various state agencies.

    Hong Kong – the MTR was wholly owned by the government before its IPO in 2000. It was profitable prior and after, but still receives public subsidies.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Elsewhere on this blog I posted my recollection of two London Bus Drivers chatting in the upper level at the front. They were looking at a route and a veteran was describing the intricacies to an operator who was going to be assigned to this route. In the meantime they also chatted about the tendency of their private sector operator to send out buses that needed maintenance – without that maintenance – because the private sector operator did not want to incur the penalty for not having that bus in operation. Whatever pseudonym you are using – do you, private sector advocate – want the TTC to be using buses that are not mechanically sound?

    It is hard for me to see where the supposed saving is located. If a single lawyer has a law office – it may be beneficial to outsource the bookkeeping function to someone who comes in one afternoon a week. That is where outsourcing makes sense. Running a transit system with thousands of employees, the only way to save money using outsourcing is to shortchange the employees. You are in the “private sector now” is a lousy way to tell someone that their life is in a nosedive. (Did anyone mention Veolia) Other than the cruelty, it is not apparent to me where the “efficiency” lies. This is all fine and dandy (if you have no conscience) except, we all have to remember that the next efficiency maybe “me”. Not so good then is it.

    Our society thrives because it has a middle class. A good proportion of that middle class is made up of TTC employees who are paid fair wages and happen to be in the public sector. Not only do these employees do a good job for us operating a transit system, they are also part of a functional society sending their kids to school, camp and college or university. Taking away those fair wages so that rich people who are ashamed to put their real name on this forum can pay a little less tax is a travesty.

    I am proud to pay my taxes. I also enjoy the TTC. It is amazing how those (awful) union entitled TTC employees treat me when I smile and say Thank You. In fact, in my experience, nice kind, helpful people is who they really are. More smiles and more Thank You might enhance the experience for all.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Michael Greason said:

    “Elsewhere on this blog I posted my recollection of two London Bus Drivers chatting in the upper level at the front. They were looking at a route and a veteran was describing the intricacies to an operator who was going to be assigned to this route. In the meantime they also chatted about the tendency of their private sector operator to send out buses that needed maintenance – without that maintenance – because the private sector operator did not want to incur the penalty for not having that bus in operation. Whatever pseudonym you are using – do you, private sector advocate – want the TTC to be using buses that are not mechanically sound?”

    I personally do not really believe that this is a public private issue, especially when it comes to larger operators, but rather a question of goals, and management. The real issue in letting a private contract, is not allowing yourself to leave holes in the deliverable. The real issue in managing a public agency, is being clear what you are trying to achieve, and making sure the funding and the way in which you are managing service truly aligns with those goals. The real issue in Toronto, seems to be a combination of a poor measure of service management, and a lack of capital and operating funding to actually follow through with what is deemed to be required to make service function well. I strongly suspect that there are many areas in dispatch and route management, where a little basic technology, would make things a lot easier, and help make it clear to drivers what was actually wanted, while actually forcing management to actually be clear in terms of what is wanted. The decisions required in terms of a gap management and dispatch system, forcing them to make a real decision in terms of what service management is.

    Steve: At his “state of the city” address yesterday, City Manager Peter Wallace noted that outsourcing often brings unexpected additional cost when the specs in the contract are for the service the city delivers in theory, but not in practice due to cutbacks. The expected saving does not materialize because the contract says “we want 100% of X” not “90%” or “80%” or “whatever you can achieve”, and moreover that contract has to be actively monitored and managed to ensure that 100% is delivered.

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  28. Some motorbiker offered this: “It took them decades to only recently fix the chronically leaking water issues at Spadina station walking tunnel. “

    Maybe a year ago, there was work done, but ahead of that I got to looking at the issues, and the main reason was the Toronto Parking Authority lot atop the west entrance being graded to drain mainly behind the station exit/entry and then ponding on sidewalk atop the subway tunnel. While there’s a question of “why” have parking atop a subway system, surely there should be some enforcement of proper drainage and not using a costly subway instead. The new concrete is not completely adequate for draining either – there’s still ponding. The TPA should likely be on the hook for the cost of the repair, whatever it was, but there’s likely zero accountibility, or folks who are willing to chase that wealthy civic body.

    Steve: A few years back there was severe leakage into Bloor Station roughly at the point where the east concourse meets the northbound platform, and at the comparable point directly below in Yonge Station. This was caused by the demolition of buildings that had sat on top of the subway since the 1950s and redirected any rainfall into the sewer system. No buildings, no drainage, wet subway station. Now that 1 Bloor East is sitting there, the problem has gone away.

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  29. Steve said: “At his “state of the city” address yesterday, City Manager Peter Wallace noted that outsourcing often brings unexpected additional cost when the specs in the contract are for the service the city delivers in theory, but not in practice due to cutbacks. The expected saving does not materialize because the contract says “we want 100% of X” not “90%” or “80%” or “whatever you can achieve”, and moreover that contract has to be actively monitored and managed to ensure that 100% is delivered.”

    Exactly, however, that is both the advantage and disadvantage at the same time. You need to make a relatively public agreement to reduce service in exchange for reduced costs, as opposed to simply cutting a public agency, and then blaming the agency, when your cut made the service impossible to deliver.

    However, the real answer, in the end, is a public aware enough to understand the notion of managing the specifics of what is deliverable, and the number of buses on the road for instance required to deliver that service. Today, politicians shave the capital that might make service delivery more efficient, then vote for massive projects instead.

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  30. The TTC has been rolling out PRESTO on the bus network garage by garage but if a bus was equipped it was ‘turned on’. It seems that the bus roll-out has slowed or ceased – maybe due to the high level of failures. Any ideas what’s happening?

    Steve: I have not been asking. Throwing this question out to readers who may be close to the front lines.

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  31. How is incorrect GPS location going to work for transfers?

    According to my card summary I got on the 512 Car at ‘Manitoba & Strachan’. I have boarded the 89 Weston at Wilson Stn, Mt Dennis Garage, Oakwood & St Clair South Side, 120 Industry St, and “0”.

    As most of my trips involve the 512 car I pay once and get the 2 hr transfer and don’t tap again.

    Steve: It’s not going to work, and this will be a big problem considering how commonly the GPS is off, and the effect this will have on billings.

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  32. Steve: At his “state of the city” address yesterday, City Manager Peter Wallace noted that outsourcing often brings unexpected additional cost when the specs in the contract are for the service the city delivers in theory, but not in practice due to cutbacks. The expected saving does not materialize because the contract says “we want 100% of X” not “90%” or “80%” or “whatever you can achieve”, and moreover that contract has to be actively monitored and managed to ensure that 100% is delivered.

    Facility cleaning is a good example of outsourcing being over sold and under delivered. In 2012 under Mayor Ford, they estimated outsourcing could save “$20 million or more”. It was forecasted by staff to save $800K per year.

    The audit completed in June estimated that the City paid $8.3M to contracted cleaners and is paying for 35% more cleaning than necessary (contracted hours vs. ISSA Cleaning Time Standards for the same work), vendors are providing 17% fewer cleaning hours than contracted, the contract had 25% extra hours ($1.5M per year) over the RFP without any explanation, while several bidders had been disqualified by submitting bids with fewer cleaning hours (industrial standards) than specified in the RFP.

    Maybe we need to outsource the outsourcers?

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Brampton has GPS on its buses, ambulances and fire trucks. It connects into a private wifi network through out the city that measures a vehicle’s speed and location and then uses this to figure when it will get to an intersection to make sure the light is green when an emergency vehicles arrives and extends or starts greens early for buses that are more than a certain amount late. According to my source in Brampton Transportation a number of the ZUM drivers are purposely leaving the terminal late so they can make use of the transit signal priority ZUMming along at 85+ km/hr. GPS can give an accurate location if it is a good one and used properly.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. First, as a long time reader of this site, I want to say a big thank you to Steve. This site is clearly a labour of love and IMHO an important contribution to the public sphere.

    Where I differ with some of the views expressed here is that I was excited when Presto was finally rolled out to my neighbourhood subway station. I find it convenient and modern, especially with auto-load set up, and as a frequent transit user I’m happy we’re finally catching up to what other cities provided to customers (for payment) one or two *decades* ago.

    There are clearly implementation issues, which Steve has ably called out. However l’d suggest we separate the goal (laudable) with the implementation (has issues) in discussions.

    Steve: That’s precisely my desire, although the two factors can interact when/if we find that the fare structure is dictated by technical limitations either in Presto itself, or in an agency’s insistence on retention of a difficult policy (e.g. TTC transfer rules). Also, there is a tendency by Metrolinx to never admit a mistake because this would embarrass Queen’s Park. Better to own up to problems and actively work to fix them. Sadly, the experience with Presto elsewhere suggests that they have a lot to learn on that score.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. What never cease to amaze me is that the stated purpose of Presto was fare integration and flexibility that only using a computer based system could bring.

    Yet that’s the thing that’s missing, nothing of the sort is even planned for the GTA unless you think that stealth fare by distance is the flexibility you wanted, in Ottawa a different system had to be developed so we could cross the river using the STO and even worse for our university students we went with the STO’s Multi system as Presto could not deal with this clientele.

    The only changes I have seen in Ottawa are strictly policy based and could and should have been done with the paper based system.

    The reason we were given for putting the info on the card as opposed to back-office calculation is that the telecoms bill would have been onerous, at least that’s the excuse in Ottawa.

    If that’s the case I wouldn’t expect any change about that.

    Then the question becomes why do we persist? We the users do not derive any benefit. But I suppose that deep down I know why … because some are making a ton of money. Sad really, in Ottawa all that we spent and will continue to spend whether on Presto or something else would have paid for a 10 min or less network.

    On a different forum I have been criticized for writing there’s no benefit for users, as some appreciate being able to set the auto-reload function and not have to go to OC Transpo or the local vendor. I am saying it’s not worth the price.

    Ask yourselves and do ask your politicians what are you not getting in terms of service on your local system because we spent that money on Presto.

    It’s not about being against technology it’s about proper stewardship of public finance and providing proper services to the community. Of course one could make the argument that we always seem to have money for structures and contracts but not to provide services.

    I think that because Presto is based on such a shaky edifice it’s inevitable that there would be significant problems.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Erick writes “Of course one could make the argument that we always seem to have money for structures and contracts but not to provide services.”

    One inevitable problem is that politicians who control the purse strings can point to a new structure – attached to the Gardiner Expressway, for example – and say, ‘Look at what we built! Isn’t that fantastic! It’ll be here for *years*! And what a great benefit to the taxpayers!” (They *don’t* talk about how much it’ll cost to maintain said structure in 10 or 15 years once the concrete starts falling onto the streets below or the reinforcing steel has rusted and needs to be replaced – and they’re certainly not putting aside any money each year from all those non-increased taxes….)

    Contracts are a necessary evil to construct said structures (and for other reasons) and if those who let the contracts out for Tender do not do so regularly, they run the risk of getting caught by forgetting to incorporate components that then must be paid as extras. It’s similar to some of the issues that came up when the TYSSE was being built – prior to that, no one had designed a subway since before the Sheppard Subway opened in 2002 and between contractor issues, the Ministry of Labour deadly accident investigation and bad pre-investigation, among other things, costs overran substantially – and had to be paid. And, trust me, experienced contractors are *very* familiar with analyzing contracts for hidden extras and bidding appropriately to make the most money for their owners/shareholders.

    Meanwhile, it’s very hard for City Councillors to get a photo-op while saying, “We have 200 more people a day riding this bus route” or “The new Spadina Flexity streetcars have brought dozens more riders into the downtown core.” That’s not sexy and that’s not something you can put in your councillor newsletter or use when knocking on doors for re-election.

    Erick then notes “Ask yourselves and do ask your politicians what are you not getting in terms of service on your local system because we spent that money on Presto.”

    *But pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! The magic of a “system” will save us all!* Never mind that if you don’t know the result you want up front and use that to define the parameters of the system up front, you will not end up with a functioning system that is of benefit to anyone except the person who sold you the system (cf. Federal Government Phoenix Employee Payment System). As a computer guy, Steve might tell you that’s an example of GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out – but if you get caught up in all the bells and whistles, you’ll be too busy getting caught up in a payment system for a transit system with neither serving the end user well.

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  37. Erick said:

    What never cease to amaze me is that the stated purpose of Presto was fare integration and flexibility that only using a computer based system could bring.

    Hindsight is always very good. It wasn’t until 2003 when the first popular Blackberry came out (same year as the iPod was introduced) and 2007 with the first iPhone. The Presto RFP was in 2006 and the machines were trialled starting on June 25, 2007. It was at this same timeframe that cloud computing became a reality (2006 to 2008).

    This was in the age of GSM before 3G networks. A centralized system didn’t make sense for the historical context. The larger issue is that Presto has failed to adapt sufficiently quickly to the rapidly changing world of mobile technology.

    If you ignore the TTC, the GTHA has integrated fares with two-hour transfers. Thus, I can leave Kipling Station on a MiWay bus (101 Dundas), switch at Trafalgar to an Oakville Transit bus (5 Dundas), switch at Walkers Line to a Burlington Transit bus (101 Plains Express) to arrive in Hamilton at Jackson Square. I’d be insane to do it, but it’s possible.

    Erick said:

    Then the question becomes why do we persist?

    It’s the question of sunk costs. The benefit needs to be more than incremental as you basically need to build two new generations of technology (transitional and ‘modern’).

    Erick said:

    Sad really, in Ottawa all that we spent and will continue to spend whether on Presto or something else would have paid for a 10 min or less network.

    Are you talking operational or capital or everything? As a rule of thumb, you need 1 bus per 1.5km of 10-min network with a price tag of $1M per km capital costs. Operationally, my ballpark estimate is $200K per year or in other words a 10km square network with routes spaced every kilometer for 6.9 years (using the $276.7M TTC implementation cost) or if you prefer a 20km network for 1.7 years.

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  38. Robert Wightman said:

    “Brampton has GPS on its buses, ambulances and fire trucks. It connects into a private wifi network through out the city that measures a vehicle’s speed and location and then uses this to figure when it will get to an intersection to make sure the light is green when an emergency vehicles arrives and extends or starts greens early for buses that are more than a certain amount late. According to my source in Brampton Transportation a number of the ZUM drivers are purposely leaving the terminal late so they can make use of the transit signal priority ZUMming along at 85+ km/hr. GPS can give an accurate location if it is a good one and used properly.”

    While I do not think the idea of leaving late is a great one, the idea that buses that are running late, or on busy routes, running into a larger gap, makes a great deal of sense for much of Toronto. This is exactly the sort of thing that can create better service, with a increase in expenditure for one period only. Constantly avoiding spending dollars this year for the budget’s sake means that you need to have more buses on the road, to deliver the same service.

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