My problems with Presto

Here in south-central Ontario, they’ve been talking for a while about introducing ‘the Presto card’ for public transit – it’s a single plastic card with an RFID chip in it, that you can use for lots of different local bus companies and other transit agencies. It’s a good idea, and I’ve had one and been using it for nearly a year now, I think, mostly with Burlington transit buses and the GO commuter trains, because those were the systems that I used that adopted it first. I thought it worked quite well overall, but just recently I’ve hit a few annoying ‘this should be working better’ moments.

First, Hamilton Street Railway went online with Presto in May, though there wasn’t a big announcement beforehand that May 1st was the day that all those Presto readers in the bus would suddenly switch from testing-only to live. (There were a lot of general info ads about them popping up in the shopping malls and so on, but I knew that it wasn’t live on the day that I first saw an ad, so they really weren’t that helpful specifically.)

But as May came to an end, I started to wonder if I should forego getting my usual plastic monthly pass for June and just go with Presto. A bit of digging, though, revealed the following issues:

  1. It seems that to get the monthly pass price for Hamilton on Presto, you can’t just load it with money as usual and have the system cap you out once you’ve used enough money on HSR fares to equal the monthly pass price. You specifically need to buy a digital ‘monthly pass’ and have that loaded onto your Presto card.
  2. The digital monthly pass can apparently only be purchased at the HSR ticket office in the GO center on Hunter street.
  3. The HSR ticket office in the GO center on Hunter street is only open from 8 to 4 on weekdays.
  4. I work from 8 to 4 on weekdays.
  5. My job is in Burlington, at least 20 minutes away from Hunter street in Hamilton.

When I’d finished putting this together, about 15 minutes before the Hamilton Writer’s meeting on the night of May 31st, (about 6:15 pm,) I just went ‘ah, screw it,’ went down to Gore Park, found a convenience store that was open, and bought myself a little plastic monthly pass for June. I’d like to use the Presto card for Hamilton, but not if it means fighting the Catch 22.

The other issue was related to the Go train. Now, because the commuter train fares are dependent on where you’re coming from and going to, they need to use the cards in a slightly different way than pay-one-price local bus systems. I knew that you could get a ‘default trip’ encoded on your Presto, and just tap once if you were going to use the default trip, otherwise you had to tap once where you board and a second time when you had reached your destination.

That seemed simple enough, I had my default trip set as Burlington to Union station in downtown Toronto, and actually never needed to use any other GO trip until mid-April, when I wanted to go join the Toronto Script Frenziers at the Runnymede Starbucks. (That was my very first ‘odd Friday at Runnymede.)

So, I went to Google Maps public transit, and plugged in the trip from my office to Runnymede and Bloor, rather expecting that it would tell me to take the GO train to union, north on the University subway line, and then west on the Bloor line. To my surprise, Google said to get off at the Mimico GO station, in southwest Toronto, then take a TTC bus up to the Bloor line, and go a few stations East to Runnymede. That looked good to me; it seemed to be shorter than going through Union, and even save a bit of GO fare.

The theory didn’t work out well into practice, that time. I tapped my Presto at Burlington, got deducted the usual seven bucks and change, then tapped again at Mimico – and that cost me another four something. There wasn’t even anybody at the Ticket booth that afternoon to complain, as I recall, so I just headed up to Runnymede, had a great time.

After I got back home, I sent an email to Presto customer service, and they passed the buck to GO transit. Someone from GO ended up calling me, asking if I’d pressed the ‘Override’ button when I tapped on at Burlington. Well – no, I hadn’t realized that I needed to.

So GO transit actually mailed me a little coupon for the amount that I’d accidentally overcharged myself, which I ended up using on a Union-Hamilton ten ride ticket instead of the Presto card, since the express GO buses still don’t have working Presto readers. And the next two trips through Mimico station went well enough, using the override button.

Yesterday, though, the fool card charged me the same as it did the first time, even though I know I pushed the override button. I’m fed up with it at this point, and when I call to complain, I’m going to ask if it’s possible to avoid having to deal with any override button if I just get the default trip taken off my card.

I suppose these issues aren’t anything big in the scale of human affairs, but I do get frustrated having to worry about them. As Douglas Adams said, “We notice technology. We don’t notice things that actually work all the time.” By that metric, these Presto cards are still somewhat technological.

15 Responses to My problems with Presto

  1. roguemutt says:

    You should be like most patriotic Americans and get a car.


  2. Arlee Bird says:

    The conveniences and seeming practicality of things such as the Presto card sound great and do make a lot of sense in some ways, but in the grander scale of what may be in store for us in the future much of it seems like it could be pretty sinister.

    Tossing It Out


  3. Liam says:

    Every new technology or system is associated with some drawbacks and bugs in the beginning and the presto card is no different in this way. Also you need to see the big picture – the main goal of presto card is to unify the fare payment in every transit system in the whole Greater Toronto Area so it will make traveling for people who make various long trips around Toronto much easier.


    • Yes, I understand the upside. My GO transit issues are somewhat sorted out, and I haven’t once forgotten to ‘tap off’ at either Union station or Mimico now that the default trip is off the card.

      In my mind, they won’t have unified the fare payment system until Hamilton gives working riders a convenient way to load a monthly pass on the card – but I don’t particularly mind staying on the plastic Hamilton monthly passes as long as they sell them near me.

      This post was intended as a ‘let me get these frustrations off my chest’ kind of rant, and not as a serious indictment of the Presto system. šŸ™‚


  4. jane says:

    I suddenly find myself in need of a monthly pass (so I was googling around, which is how I found this post) but like you, the hours I work – 7 – 7, 8 – 4 – make this almost impossible to get. Ugh.


  5. Sean says:

    Thanks for your frightening reviews of Presto. Here in Barrie it is not used except on GO Transit so I had no reason to use it. But GO has discontinued the 2-ride ticket I used for my round trip so there’s no buying it in advance anymore unless I invest in a Presto card that I’ll rarely use (do I lose my money by default if it goes unused for six months or so?) I’m digging for info tonight and came across your posting. Thanks for the insight.


    • Thanks, though I’d characterize that post as a bit more rant than review. The issues with GO transit and Presto have mostly been sorted out for me, ever since I got my default trip setting turned off. It’s been a while since I’ve gone to Runnymede, but the habit of tapping off when I get to my destination is easy to remember.

      I’m still annoyed about the Hamilton monthly pass thing, but plastic passes are generally easy to get. I’m going to be going without a monthly pass of any kind in July, driving more, and possibly using the Presto at 2.50 a ride if I want to take the bus, just to see how that goes, and because of the timing of my Kansas workshop this summer.

      If GO transit is discontinuing the 2-ride tickets, I suggest you take them some cancelled 2-rides if you have any lying around, and ask if they’ll pay the registration cost for your Presto card. If it’s registered to you personally I’m pretty sure that you can’t lose your balance. Plus, you’ll save 10% or so per trip, compared to 2-ride tickets!


    • uncleakbar says:

      @ Sean : The balance is never lost and is refunded back to you in case it goes unused for a year or so. Check the presto website for the most recent information (as it keeps changing).

      However – know that they require you to tap at least once in 7 days after your electronic reload. Read my review on yelp dot com for Presto card in Toronto. I have had my own nightmares with Presto.

      @kelworthfiles : Spot on – good to know some other kinks associated with the Presto card system.


      • Actually, I believe the ‘tap after reload’ time is 30 days, but I still managed to miss it, as I shared here:


      • Sean says:

        I tried to make contact with Presto about this. I think I found out too late as answers weren’t always quick in coming. But I did get my Presto card and I was told that instead of the “tap on” gimmick, I could simply use the balance check feature. How was I to know that the nearest GO station (the end of the line) didn’t have such a machine? I had to go to the south end of the city – out of the way but what’s an extra hour on the city bus? They had one there. I didn’t realize that in order to read the display I had to “tap” as they call it, and hold the card there since the readout disappeared as soon as I removed my card. Now on the website it says it’s activated, registered, etc with the full balance I deposited intact, less the six bucks. Some people said that fee is waived but I’m special. It still cost me six bucks. That means I’ll have to take several excursions to make it worth the fee. I calculated the “savings” (yeah right) for a Barrie – Hamilton round trip. That is, Barrie to Toronto train, Toronto to Burlington train. A discounted transfer to Burlington Transit with a free transfer privilege to HSR. I figure I can shave off another dollar by boarding at Barrie South and exiting the train at Appleby. But is the extra time worth it? Probably not. It’ll be mid-morning by the time I get into Hamilton even if I catch the first train out of Barrie. But it said my Presto fare is still intact and just in case, I have the receipt. I still am contemplating if I need one of those “sleeves” that protect against unauthorized hijacking of smart cards…..


  6. I tapped the “Balance Check” button to check my balance after my card was set up for senior fares. I got dinged for a $1.65 fare at the same time. It’s two weeks now and the problem hasn’t been resolved. Presto took the full five business days to get back to me and then told me it was the carrier’s responsibility for resolving the problem. I live in York Region and it is the YRT, It’s two weeks altogether and I’m still waiting for a resolution. I don’t have any confidence in the PRESTO system.


  7. Update: I finally received a refund in the mail (September 27th, 2012) for the $1.65 (see above). It was a YRT Senior ticket as they weren’t able to issue a credit on my Presto card. The person from YRT who called me said it was a “one time only courtesy” since I incorrectly tapped my card after the yellow light was off. The total time that elapsed between my initial complaint and receiving the refund was 15 days. I was later advised by a YRT supervisor that in future I would be better off to check my balance on-line as they have had numerous complaints regarding the balance check feature on the Presto machine. User beware!!


  8. April 4th My son’s presto card was taken at his school and not found. I reported this right away to presto and was told I would have to buy a new presto card to register it after 24 hours. The next day I went to purchase a new card and could not get it without loading it with 10 more dollars (even if I did not need it). I was then told to wait 24 more hours to register the new card. Problem was the next day was Sunday and I could not do it until Monday. The terminal opens after my son is at school, so I called Presto again to see if I could register it with his I.D. myself. I was then told that I could not get a monthly pass this way, I had to fill out Presto info online and wait 7 business days for a new card that I would be charged 6 dollars. I called back a third time when I could be on the computer and spoke to another Presto employee. He walked me thru the online process to the end. I was told to check for an email from them and in 7 business days I should have it. That was Sunday April 6th. The following Friday April 13th I called again to a not so friendly employee who knew nothing, so I asked for a manager. Was told it takes 1-3 days to get back to me. In 3 hours a woman called back and took my reference number. She then told me nothing was registered online and now it was too late to get a pass. She divided the pass 100 dollars into 30 days and told me they would send a reinbursment for 84 dollars. Wait 7 business days. April 23 I called again, gave a reference number and the lady told me to wait a few more days. I asked for a manager again. Waited a day before they called. Another lady manager informed me they only write out checks on certain days and it was just sent April 22nd. In the meanwhile I have had to pay adult fare for my son for a week until they registered a card for him, and pay 25 dollars more ;last week. Looks like I will be paying another 25 dollars this week as well. Hopefully It will come before May 1st. Presto says its the carriers regulations (I think that is Brampton transit). And Brampton transit says its Presto. Who is accountable ? I have no options., He has to ride the bus. He needs a pass for the month. Just so you know if it was just money on the card I would have had it back within 24 hours, Presto says. Excluding any monies used by the thief in the first 24 hours. I think Brampton transit should be held accountable. Stop passing the buck!


  9. Sandra says:

    How does the driver know if a Senior card or Adult card was tapped ? I am assuming both the cards look the same. The fare that’s displayed on the machine ( either adult or senior ) disapperas quickly , so its hard for the driver to see if it was an adult fare or senior fare that was deducted. So if an adult gets on a Brampton/Mississauga bus ..not a GO bus or GO train ..and tries to cheat the system by tapping a seniors card ( say his mom or dads ) and gets on the bus ..will the driver know that ? I am assuming the GREEN light comes on if an adult card is tapped and the YELLOW light comes on if Senior/Child card is tapped that true.


    • I don’t know. I’m not affiliated with Presto, have never worked as a bus driver or train fare inspector, and never used a card set up with a Senior fare, (or a student/child fare.) Good questions though.


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