Sunday, January 30, 2011

"How does Presto work?" asked Jill on a cold January morning. "How the hell should I know?" was my reply

I hadn't really been paying much attention to this supposed card of the future, appropriately called "Presto", as in "presto", your money's gone. Ha ha. No? Sorry.

I understand change isn't easy and automation tends to put people out of work, but paper passes aren't the best method anymore, and never really were. If you lose your paper, flat-fee, monthly GO pass, the only hope in hell you have for recovering it is a shout out in a commuter newspaper and the kindness of others to bring it to the Lost and Found at Union Station. Balls, right?

I've never lost a pass but I did get one wet when it fell into a puddle one crazy morning at the first of the month. It was still fresh from the ticket booth and I was in the process of putting it into a zipped compartment of my satchel when it slipped from my fingers. It didn't dry well and resulted in a glare of disgust when I had to present it for inspection one evening to a GO transit inspector, who lectured me on "proper pass handling" and said "perhaps I need to carry mine in a Ziploc bag". True story. Perhaps I should be riding the short bus. With a helmet - seeing as I lack the skill needed to carry a monthly pass.

If you lose or have your Presto card stolen, your balance is protected and transferred to a new card. That's fantastic.

Throughout January stood the two Presto dudes with their colour pamphlet peddling the card to those boarding at Oshawa. Jill and I decided to figure out how the card calculates fare. The pamphlet didn't help. I can't make change from a dollar let alone figure out what 87.5% of an adult one-way fare is, let alone calculate how the fare is deducted when the card is used.

Jill and I expressed our confusion to another train buddy of ours, affectionately known as Uncle. Uncle created an Excel spreadsheet for us so we could plug in the values to view how the discounts work.

For me, the best feature of this card is the fact that I can reload online, anytime. No more schlepping to the station at 11 pm at night on the last day of the month so I can avoid the 30-minute line up the next day (and miss the train). Why I can never remember to buy my pass when I am at the station only proves how focused I am at just getting off the train and getting the hell home. On a short bus. With my helmet.

GO Transit hasn't implemented a Presto fare calculator on their website and this is a huge customer service oversight. People have to understand a product to use it effectively or at least understand how it offers a discount as opposed to full fare.

UPDATE (based on comments below)
As Dan pointed out, Presto will soon replace the current paper-pass method, so it has to be comparable, and it does work like a monthly pass assuming you go to work everyday for the full working month.

And as Kary pointed out, rather than purchasing a monthly pass at a flat fee, Presto also takes into account:
a) sick days
b) vacation days

Therefore, you only pay for rides you actually take and not for the two weeks where you didn't go to work, but paid for the fare anyway through a flat monthly pass amount, because you contracted the plague (like me in December) and paid $272 for 14 days of travel (losing $41 in fare that does not carry over).

I hate paying for something I didn't use.

Download the Presto Fare Calculator spreadsheet (Updated for 2012). Key in the values where specified.


Dan said...

The idea behind the Presto card is that it will eventually replace most, if not all, paper fare media.

Initially (now) you have the option to use it or not, but in the long run once all the bugs (and there are bugs) have been worked out and the system is fully implemented, it will become the primary means of paying for your GO ride.

C.J. Smith said...

Sweet. That's how it should be. Do away with those paper passes that I must carry in a Ziploc bag. On a short bus. With a helmet.

kary said...

I did the math. It will cost me basically the same as a pass, but on a month when I am not going into work every day (like next month when I'm on vacation) I will pay considerably less.
The only thing I don't like is the daily tapping.
And I hope there are machines at the Bay St entrances because I never go into union station.

C.J. Smith said...

Exactly Kary. That's the one real benefit. You only pay for rides you actually take. Love it. Why did it take so long!?

C.J. Smith said...

Thanks guys for the input. It helped me explain the benefits better and the post has been updated.

TomW said...

A few useful points:
1) Union has machines at all the entrances I've been through (which is most)
2) If you're doing the same trip every day (like most people), get a default trip set when you but the card, so you onyl have to tap on.
3) The spreadsheet can be automated a bit further... a 10-ride is always 9.25 times the single ride cost, roudned to the nearest 25c. A monthly pass is 33 times a single ride, rounded to the nearest dollar.

Stacey said...

One other point, if you ride the train for 30 consecutive days you get a discount; for example I just rode the train today for 83 cents. Not bad compared to my $ 6.11 one way.

But I do hate presto!!!

sue said...

Why do you hate Presto, Stacey?

TomW said...

Umm... Stacey... the whole discount thing... that's what the whole point of the post is...

Kary said...

One other thing I found out. You have to use 32 trips in a month in order to qualify for the tax deduction. You'll receive the tax receipt in the mail, I assume at years end.

I had a bit of a bonus when I converted my monthly pass to the presto card. I handed in my January pass on Friday the 28th, when I got back into Oshawa. I received over $30 credit on the presto card for my January pass, even though I would only be using 1 more trip on it. Basically it works out to a free ride.

C.J. Smith said...

Picked mine up tonight and even tho it was the end of the month, my monthly paper pass for Jan was worth $15.25. I loaded $250 onto the Presto card. Now I just have to remember to tap the thing.

Anonymous said...

Would love to hear about your experience with the presto CJ. It will be good for the rest of us considering buying one to know about the good and bad.

Also, what if you really rely on that tax deduction? Someone said above that you have to use 32 trips in a month - can you elaborate? I gather than means you'd have to go to work for three weeks and a day?

TomW said...

See for details about the tax credit. If you have registerred your card online via the Presto website, and made 32 or more trips on a transit system in a given month, then you can claim a tax credit.

Anonymous said...

How will the ticket inspectors know if you tapped your Presto card for the ride?

Anonymous said...

I wish I saw the spreadsheet before I did the calculations earlier! It's 20 cents more expensive than the monthly pass (assuming you use the train for 40+ rides). It's also 15 cents more expensive for 30 rides as opposed to 3 10 ride passes. The only way this is a better deal is if you consistently use less than the 40 trips (which for me is rare and on months like this one where it's short and I have vacation, I get 10 rides anyway). Even if you do use a couple days less, you'll only save a dollar or two.

I love monthly passes because I forget to punch the 10 rides most of the time anyway. Also, I'm assuming you will no longer be able to bring a friend with you on the weekend for free like with the monthly passes. I'm not sold.

Robbie said...

It's the cost I don't like. 400 million for Toronto alone (i welcome corrections on that amount), for what....allowing people who are clumsy to replace their lost passes? Why am i paying for others inability to plan or be careful?

I've lived on both sides of T.O. and within it, and have never had a problem getting anywhere without some planning.

Here's a novel idea, keep $20 in your pocket and you can ride easily from one side of the system to the next, without costly computers and overly elaborate systems.

Byron said...

Robbie, your tax dollars are not being used to fund Presto, so you're not paying for others' "inability to plan or be careful." Don't misplace your frustration with fellow GO riders -- it wasn't our decision to implement the smart card system.

The whole point of having a public transit discount program is to give frequent commuters an incentive not to drive and clog our highways which are already over-congested with people who are fed-up with our transit system -- and rightfully so.

However, I am reluctant to get on board with Presto for a number of reasons.

Presto operates privately and independently of the transit systems it serves, which means that they can and will charge additional administrative fees for other transactions, such as the current $3 fee for resetting a card that was blocked by GO Transit because a rider forget to tap-off.

While GO Transit has welcomed Presto with open arms, TTC is still in the pilot stage, with only select subway stations participating and no buses have been equipped with Presto readers.

TTC is currently exploring an open fare system that would allow its riders to purchase fares using credit and debits cards, or even with their mobile phones, using a contact-less card system similar to the Speed Pass. TTC, for once, might just be on the right track.

Presto is nothing more than another elaborate corporate scheme aimed at gouging the residents of the GTA for a product that is well on its way to being obsolete.

Anonymous said...

Under the file menu in google docs (left hand side, under the words "go fare calculator.xls). there's a download feature. click it.