Images from prestocard.ca
Today’s newspapers are fawning over a new farecard (see yesterday’s and today’s headlines posts), to be called Presto, that will be used by GO Transit and the suburban bus systems in the 905 region surrounding Toronto. The project is heavily promoted by the province, which promises a seemless, integrated transit system by allowing commuters to store all their fares on one plastic card. A website is up and the initial testing will begin at two GO Stations in Mississauga on the Milton Line, along with Union Station and four Mississauga Transit bus routes.
The project is being undertaken by Accenture, and it will cost $250 million to develop and maintain for ten years for GO and eight 905 transit agencies. The Presto card will allow each system’s fares to be stored on one card, which would work in a similar fashion to London’s Oyster or Hong Kong’s Octopus cards, with fares being deducted from a RFID chip that would merely require being held in close proximity to a card reader machine.
Besides the ability of being able to store all fares on one declining-balance card (mitigating the need to carry separate fares, paper transfers and change), a benefit will also be a registration option, to allow the value stored on a card to be carried onto a new one should it get lost or stolen. These are the biggest benefits of the system planned for the GTA.
One of the main reasons why this farecard is being rolled out is because GO Transit’s current ticketing system, which uses paperboard tickets and ink-based cancelling machines, dates from the early 1980s and is now obsolete. However, this is barely mentioned as the impetus for this new system.
To hear some of the politicians, it would seem that this is some sort of breakthrough that will solve Toronto’s interregional transit woes. “It’s the only way we’ll have efficient rapid transit in the GTAâ€ touts Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion.
“We need to move people easily. This is the only way to do itâ€ adds Donna Cansfield, the provincial transportation minister.
But is it as much as it seems?
The Toronto Transit Commission, which moves the vast majority of the GTA’s transit riders, isn’t so keen. It would cost the TTC an additional $300 million to implement it on its 1600 buses, 250 streetcars and 69 stations, plus $25 million a year to operate it. Meanwhile, as the TTC’s monthly Metropass use rises, more riders are already dispensing with cash, tickets, tokens and transfers. Chair Adam Giambrone and the TTC has not been overly enthusiastic about signing on, particularly because of the costs, and that they do not have an immediate need to replace their system of no-tech drop fare boxes and magnetic swipe turnstiles.
Without the TTC’s participation, the Presto card will not be entirely useful. While there will be machines at the TTC’s Union, Downsview, Finch, Islington and Don Mills stations, they are designed only to allow card holders transferring from York Region or Mississauga or a GO Train at Union to get into the TTC using the card, but those passengers will still have to keep their tokens handy as they will still need them to get back to those five stations in the afternoon. Plus, other stations that offer connections to GO Transit, such as Dundas West, Yorkdale or Scarborough Centre will not have card readers.
Finally, the issue of a real integrated fare structure, a major benefit of an integrated farecard, is not being discussed. Yes, it eventually be possible to pay all fares on the Presto card, but there will yet be no fare incentive for transferring between GO and the TTC, a crucial barrier to a real integrated network. Vancouver and Montreal have fare discounts and transfer privileges between their transit systems and commuter rail lines, and London and many other cities have long had full fare integration between its bus, subway and regional rail network. There will also still be a full fare penalty for crossing Steeles Avenue or the Mississauga border. A real smartcard would be able to provide a fairer fare structure.
Adam Giambrone is probably right — there are bigger priorities for the TTC than a farecard, such as overcrowding on many bus routes, and maintenance of its large system. The province is paying for the implementation costs for GO and the 905 transit systems, if they want the TTC involved, why not at least help subsidize the cost?