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:
- 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.
- The digital monthly pass can apparently only be purchased at the HSR ticket office in the GO center on Hunter street.
- The HSR ticket office in the GO center on Hunter street is only open from 8 to 4 on weekdays.
- I work from 8 to 4 on weekdays.
- 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.