Commuter students welcome news of broadening smart card system at stations around campus

Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford, Chair Karen Stinetz, and Metrolinx signed an agreement last Wednesday which made officially introduced the new Presto cards on the TTC, making it the last provincial transit system to fully sign on to the system.

Presto machines already exist on fourteen of the TTC’s busiest subway stations, but the agreement solidifies eventual total compliance with the Presto system. It is expected to be in all subway stations in Toronto by late 2013. The newly designed streetcars, which will be introduced in 2014, will be equipped with the Presto machines. This will then be followed by the buses.

The news was greeted with pleasure by commuter students at U of T.

Around campus, St. George station has already been equipped with the machines, though only at the main Bedford street entrance. Queen’s Park station already had Presto machines installed, although the announcement does mean that Museum station will soon become compatible with the broadening pay-pass system.

“Presto is a way more efficient system,” reflected Roxanne Leung, a commuter student at U of T. “But I’m concerned about how Presto charges based on how far you travel. The transit cards in Hong Kong were better.”

Lorraine TKTK said she found the system “convenient” but that the implementation of the presto throughout the whole of the TTC will not really affect her, because she doesn’t travel much outside Dundas and Union stations, which already have Presto pass systems installed.

Ontario Transport Minister Bob Chairelli hailed the signing as “a tremendous technological step forward.”

The Presto pass is a green “contactless smart card” intended to shorten lines and make access to the public transportation systems in Ontario more comprehensive. Instead of buying a ticket or a token at each individual station, riders fill up their Presto card with a total sum of money which can be done either online or at a Presto machine. Every time a rider puts the card up against a Presto machine located at the train station or bus, it automatically deducts the appropriate amount.

The intended use of the card is that it can automatically be used on any bus, train, subway, or streetcar in the Golden Horseshoe. It is already implemented in Hamilton, Mississauga, Burlington, Oakville, Brampton, and York and Durham regions, on top of the subway stations. By 2013, it will extend access to OC Transpo buses in Ottawa. About 400 000 public transit riders already use the Presto pass.

The Presto cards were first introduced during a trial in 2007-2008, which at the time only included Union GO and TTC stations, ten Oakville Transit buses. Since 2009, the program has been fully implemented over a series of four stages. It has often been compared to the Oyster card system which has been implemented in the London Metropolitan Area in England.

However, Toronto Star transit reporter Tess Kalinowski in an online question period noted that the Presto card is more complex, because of “the demands of the Greater Toronto Area .”

The card can be filled up at Adult, Children, Senior, and Student rates, and will replace high school and post-secondary student identification cards on the TTC. It will also take into account based on past swipes any discounts on train-bus connections which had been in place before the introduction to the Presto cards.

The implementation of the Presto machines on the TTC was a condition for $8.4 billion in funding from the Province of Ontario for the LRT lines which are scheduled to be completed in 2020. The total estimated cost of the project at all levels of government is estimated to be around $700 million by 2016.

There have been some concerns over the wisdom of taxpayer funding for the project, as well as links that Metrolinx has with the private sector. While Metrolinx has the property rights to technology in Canada, the global intellectual property rights to the technology are owned by a private company called Accenture. Metrolinx will receive ongoing royalties based on Accenture’s success at marketing the technology globally, as well as a multi-million dollar “lump sum” from Accenture.

Conservative MPP Frank Klees said that he was worried about Metrolinx potentially monetizing the Presto cards. “Metrolinx and Presto should not be in competition with the private sector…the technology is there. We should not be pouring millions of dollars into this organization.”

Klees expounded on this statement, saying that it was unwise for the Ontario government chose to develop new transit card technology, rather than use existing systems. Klees also added that municipalities were coerced into accepting Presto by the Province of Ontario by means of threatening to withhold gas tax products if they refused.

David Salter, a spokesperson for Bob Chairelli, said that the value of the intellectual property rights was “a very small portion of the value of Presto—the majority of Presto’s cost is for hardware, devices, and service.”

Presto cards will replace monthly GO train passes in January 2013. Presto cards are expected to completely replace tokens on the TTC by 2016. For casual riders, “there will always be a cash option,” said Kalinowski.

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