Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On August 28th, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig was a guest columnist in the Toronto Sun

He wrote an Opinion piece that reads like a Manifesto.

I have respect for the guy but he works for the Province of Ontario and we've all learned from past mishaps and mishandling of large projects that this province's government is as efficient and transparent as a snail in mud.

In fact, after reading through his chest thumping, I couldn't help but feel insulted both as a Presto customer and a GO Transit passenger.

He claims everyone deserves to be consulted and Metrolinx has followed through on this transparency by holding focus groups to collect feedback from passengers about changes and improvements to GO Transit and its website. One of those focus groups was to discuss the online schedule changes page which GO was in the process of redesigning and improving.

One person in the group wrote to tell me he was paid $75 for his time and input only to learn when the new schedule page was officially launched, none of the recommendations, changes or suggested improvements made by the group had been implemented. The schedule application was launched looking exactly the way it did when the group was first introduced to it.

Adding further insult to injury, on July 24th, just mere days after the new schedule application was launched, it failed to work. I was emailed by half a dozen passengers expressing frustration with the Schedule Finder. I was sent screenshots with detailed explanations that routes weren't appearing, train times were blank and after several minutes of waiting, no results would appear. By the following Monday, the application appeared to have been fixed. So much for stress testing before a launch!

But it's still not perfect. Last week, Twitter exploded with tweeted frustrations from university and college students new to the system who find the schedule finder application confusing and not user-friendly. One person joked he hitched his way to Humber College because he gave up trying to understand what train and bus connection he needed to make to get to school. Even I have trouble with the bus schedules.

McCuaig writes there are more than 750,000 Presto cards in use on the system. He admits the numbers involved in the Presto project are "huge" resulting in 122 million "taps" and $479 million in fares and yet, yet ... Presto still holds GO Transit passengers' money hostage. Presto takes our money but often leaves us holding an empty bag in return. McCuaig seems to have forgotten about 2011's autoload malfuction where passengers' credit cards were charged repeatedly in a 48-hour timeframe but the money failed to show up anywhere where Presto could find it. Presto is far from a success and nothing to brag about.

He also doesn't mention that GO Transit forced its five times weekly ridership into using Presto and for many of us, we played along very unwillingly. One only has to spend an hour or two on Twitter to read about all the Presto pains, muddled information and nonsense customers have had to put up with. No need to pay a focus group for that "valuable" feedback.

As of right now, there was a widespread system glitch affecting the Presto website on September 8th that resulted in passengers who used the online load feature to put money into their Presto e-wallets to have no updated balance.  Once debited from passengers' bank accounts, this money failed to make its way into e-wallets. Passengers have been out these funds since Sunday and have had to go into stations to deposit more money into their e-wallets so they could have funds available to get to work. Worse, Presto can't even commit to a timeframe as to when these passengers will see the funds they transferred on Sunday in their Presto accounts. This is wrong. It should be illegal for any corporation to withhold funds from customers who made these transactions in good faith. For some passengers, these screw-ups cause financial hardship and inconvenience. Equally unimpressive is when GO Transit CSRs remind passengers to deposit funds at the counter at stations in order to avoid these delays. For months GO Transit promoted Presto as an ALTERNATIVE to lining up at the station and touted the fact that we could all use an online system to load the card. In fact, this was marketed as one of the benefits of Presto. And when it does work, we have to wait up to 24 hours for the funds to be deposited into our Presto accounts. Yet, I can get a coffee card from Starbucks, load it online right now with $25 and use those funds immediately.

There are claims in emails from GO Transit that Metrolinx listens to its passengers and in July, GO Transit rolled out the Quiet Zone "pilot" project across the system to respond to requests for "quiet cars". This is a project that involves no real effort on behalf of GO, other than having printed up some signs and brochures.

CSAs are instructed to give announcements during rush hour about the Quiet Zone, but provide no verbal instructions about what is expected of passengers and give no information about what it is. And for some reason, GO decided to launch this project during the summer months when the Exhibition is in full swing and tourists and families are on board. What transpired was a complete and total shit show. It got so bad that accounts were created on Twitter to mock the project and passengers were left to enforce the rules, resulting in one fist fight on August 23rd where Transit Security had to escort two passengers off the platform at Union Station from a rush hour LSE train, according to Twitter user @GregCrone.

On the Richmond Hill line, the CSAs have stopped making announcements entirely. On my line, the Lakeshore East, only one announcement was made shortly after we left Oshawa at 7:15 am this morning, and nothing after that. On the ride home last night, on the 5:10 pm train, no announcements were made.

GO Transit passengers still deserve better.

Sorry Bruce, but you've got a lot more work to do. I know your hands are tied with bureaucratic red tape on a lot of this stuff, but you really need to address the Presto problems and the GO Transit website's lack of ease of use.

If you truly want us to believe Metrolinx listens to customers, please review the recommendations that were made by the focus groups and actually put them into practice. Then you'll have me on-board in believing you when you say you are willing to use every tool available to provide effective communication, but not just about projects, but the GO system itself. Email alerts about system interruptions, delays and buses that disappear from routes due to "operational errors" should be immediate, not an hour after the delay happened or long after it's been cleared. Sometimes we don't get any information at all about why a train was late or why a bus never showed up.

Metrolinx can do better.


Anonymous said...

For a long time I was convinced you were a Metrolinx employee and I used to ride you about it... I'm sorry I was wrong. Forgive me?

C.J. Smith said...

Nope. Some of the emails you sent were nasty and juvenile. It shouldn't have taken this long for you to figure it out.

Squiggles said...

Thank you for posting this. RE: Presto outage, I think it is funny (in a sad, pathetic way) that they were advertising their autoload features and/or doing a contest about it. All I could think was the problems a few years ago and why would I go that route. Plus, with the current outage, I am wondering if they are somehow hooked up together. I do agree that there is something fishy about them keeping my money for an unspecified amount of time, but the woman I talked to this morning really couldn't care less. It is frustrating.

I just re-read the Op-Ed again this morning. About halfway through I realised that I had read this drivel before the long weekend and couldn't finish. I, too, was insulted. Not just because they think they are doing good, but that they don't realise that they are failing on the basics. They do not communicate, at least in a timely manner; they treat their passengers like inept cattle/wallets; and can't be bothered to enforce the basic rules (aka smoking on platforms which someone did at Ajax yesterday morning. Couldn't find them but would have given them an earful).

Address the fare jumpers, enforce the free perks that provide good will (aka Quiet Zones), and deal with your communications.

What is sad is that you know there will be yet another fare hike in 6 months. All to pay for something that is not wanted or needed. Only to throw good money after bad.

Oh and for the Schedule Finder: use Google Maps. It gives options for driving, walking/biking and Transit. It is pretty good and will tell you where you need to disembark (remember, de-train is NOT a word) and switch to surface/bus routes and what bus numbers you need.

Anonymous said...

Another thing I don't get with the Richmond Hill line is that the 1730 train always have to wait for the southbound train to leave the tracks just before getting to Richmond Hill.

This happens so often (pretty much on a daily basis) that I wonder why they can't just have that train leave Richmond Hill a little earlier.

This doesn't happen on the 1630 or the 1700 trains that I take sometimes.

They've adjusted the arrival time for the Richmond Hill trains by 5 min already because the train is almost never on time with the arrival. Maybe they should push it back by another 5 min so that they don't have to pay for the 15min service guarantee so often.

Anonymous said...

guess i'm not the only one who found that the new schedule page was super confusing. i had to get a colleague who takes the same line to help decipher it for me. fail on GO's part.

also glad i read this today because i just called my bank an hour ago to confirm that the $200 i deposited 2 days ago was in fact debited after i noticed it hasn't gone on to my presto card yet and i'm running dangerously low on funds.

so what happens if this problem is not fixed soon? what about for people who have already been fare checked since sept 8th? what happens if i'm fare checked tomorrow after i tried to tap in the morning and the machine said insufficient funds? is it up to us to wait in line somewhere to manually load the card? or is it GO's and presto's problem?

Dib said...

Metrolinx skewed the numbers for Presto - they fixed it so riders had no choice - that's why they have 750,000 Presto users. Not because we wanted to switch. I was quite happy with my little paper pass. Since my TTC station doesn't have a presto machine, I still have to purchase tokens for the afternoon ride to Union.

I would sincerely like to see Mr. Bruce McCuaig watch what happens at Union Station between 7:20 - 7:33 a.m. when 5 trains arrive. That's nearly 10,000 people! It's a madhouse. Many of us are stuck shuffling our way out the doors, turn left, down the stairs to the TTC kiosk; the one to the left only has one Presto machine, the one to the right that you can't see has two.

I think many of the people working in this area of the planning section failed project planning 101. How can you not realize that 10,000 people can't arrive within a 12 minute window without a complete and total clusterf**k?

Before they pat themselves on their collective backs, they should listen to their riders a lot more closely.

C.J. Smith said...

The problem with understanding who really "owns" problems with Presto is that is neither GO or Presto. It's Metrolinx. They own it.

This doesn't help you, though.
When it comes to money transactions, Presto owns the problem. When it comes to loyalty discounts, that a GO Transit concern.

Squiggles said...

@Anon 11:30

I am one of those that had money taken from my bank account and not added to my e-wallet. I called PRESTO this morning to ask where my money is to the almost unhelpful CSR. Basically it is on me to go to the Station to have MORE money added to my card so that I am not in a negative balance if/when fare checked.

As well, they are rectifying the problem by either A) adding the money to your card or B) crediting your bank account. They couldn't say who would get what option though.

Plus, what really irks, is that there isn't any notifications on the site that they are having an issue and to go to the station to add money. So how many more people will pay online and not realise this problem until too late?

April said...

I would never, ever allow Presto to debit my account and I felt that my feelings were very justified after the 2011 autoload fiasco.

I would, however, go online and use my credit card to do one time loads for myself and my daughter.

In late April of this year, Presto had another outage, and although the money was taken off my credit card, it didn't show up on my daughter's Presto card. I called Presto. They said - Tell her try the balance checker. We did and nothing was there. I called again, this time they told me "Tell her to tap on" we did, and it took the card into a negative balance and we got on the train. I called Presto again from the train. The agent I spoke to this time told me that the money wouldn't show up as long as the card was in a negative balance. When I pointed out that it had already been 72 hours (and e-loads from a credit card are supposed to take 24 or less) she just kept telling me that the money wouldn't show up when there was a negative balance and I had to clear the balance. I told her I wasn't putting another penny on the card and I wanted a refund, she said I had to wait five days and then the money would automatically go back on my credit card if we didn't tap on for FIVE.

I asked to speak to a supervisor, and one called me back. They said the money wouldn't show up if there was a negative balance. I told them that my daughter was finished school now and I wanted a refund. I was told they couldn't give me a refund but the money would go back on my card if we didn't tap on for SEVEN days.

I am getting very angry now, and tell them I want to speak to someone who can get me back my money. She tells me she will have to call someone in the IT department or some crap like that and call me back. And she calls me back and leaves a message telling me that if I don't tap on the money will go back on my card, but that the money is available now and if we tap on the money will be put on the Presto card.

I went off like a nuclear bomb, called back and this time got someone who told me that my money would go back on the card in TWENTY ONE days if we didn't tap on. Only now, four telephone calls later, was I told that there was some kind of glitch in the system affecting hundreds of customers.

I eventually won and my money was refunded but it took another three or four phone calls and returned calls before I got high enough up the food chain that someone would help me. Oh, and a threat that I was going to have my credit card company reverse the charge.

Never again will I use any kind of e-load. I will take my money and go to the counter.

Saving time . . . my ass.

Anonymous said...

I don't use GO Transit but it's my understanding that operations are covered through fares and expansion projects are covered through taxes. Well as a taxpayer, after reading through some of the comments, it appears that the Presto expansion and operation is a failure and I doubt operating Presto comes from the fare box. I will be showing this article to my NDP MPP. This is outrageous. Presto can't hold money. It is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Well at least I apologized. it appears I am abetter person than you. Once a bitch, always a biotch, I guess.

C.J. Smith said...

And that is EXACTLY why we'll never be friends. Have a nice day. On a positive note, thanks for your continued readership despite all of your threats that I'd be shut down in minutes should "GO Transit ever get wind of me". Still here.

TomW said...

I don't understand why the schedule page needs to be anything other than a list of routes. The whole drop-down thing is pointless and fails basic accessability. (It's not done through HTML...)

If you want to search for a specific schedule, then you just be slect your origin and destinatin municipality. That will produce a short enough list to be useful.

Anonymous said...

Isn’t it time we demanded Glen Murray’s head on a platter for allowing McCuaig & Co. to operate in the cavalier manner they have? Once the Minister of Transportation realizes his job is in jeopardy, his sense of self preservation will kick in and he’ll start to clean house at Metrolinx.

km said...

They need something that is more mobile friendly. I have the app for schedules (yet to use it) but the fare calculator on the site doesn't work on a phone and the schedule finder is also horrendous on the phone (used before downloading app). No problems QUITE yet as a new presto user but I'm sure it'll happen.... I have no hope lol

Anonymous said...

I have always lined up at the counter to load my Presto card. When the best is a 24 hour delay in having funds transferred, what is the point really? I am surprised there hasn't been a class action lawsuit against Presto/Metrolinx/GO yet for all of their dumbf*ckery. No wonder so many people don't bother tapping on - they are all waiting for their Presto card to autoload.

Skin Man said...

CJ, after reading your response, (read rant), I wanted to cue the hallelujah choirs!

Many thanks for being my voice of reason, as you speak for me and so many others.

P.S. I also enjoy the lol's

Squiggles said...

Anyhoodles, I just called them again. And again the story of the missing money has changed. But not to fear, the woman from today will do something about the woman from yesterday who couldn't care less that Presto has essentially stolen my money.

BUT (!!!) here is the biggest whopper of all: The money doesn't go onto the cards. Instead the money goes onto the buses and trains, THEN to the cards. All when I asked why it takes 24 hrs for the funds to appear when adding money online when Tims and Starbucks will show the money instantly. But she will take my suggestion to the manager, as they are always looking for ways to improve.

Machu Pichu said...

The fastest and easiest way to have the money show up on your PRESTO card is to load the money on the GO bus.
The reason for that is because the money balance is on your card and thats why it takes so long to show up thus as soon as you give the money to the driver he loads the card and "VOILA" just like that the money in on your card and is ready to be used.
Keep in mind that maximum load on a bus is $20 but most drivers will load any amount as long as you tell them thats all you have and to check with operations if they are not sure.
I know a lot of you are frustrated with the ticket agents at the booths but trust me they are just following orders from above they can only do so much with the tools they are given.

LC said...

I thought I would share this link with everyone. Ottawa (OC Transpo) has been trying to use Presto for over a year now with little success... this article explains some of the reasons why there is a lag between online fare loading and access to that money on your cards. This doesn't change the fact that I think the money holding is borderline criminal.

Skin Man said...

I load at my home station...never a delay.

Anonymous said...

What really irks me with Metrolinx is the Milton line pulling onto Platform 24. For those that don't konw, it's the newest platform, but it's not even finished yet. There is no operating elevator so anybody in a wheelchair has to have an attendent take them down to the far end of the platform, cross the track and halfway back down the other platform to take an elevator.

Oh, while this is going on, 4 other platforms with working elevators are EMPTY!

Metrolinx' logic boggles the mind.

Rocman said...

Here’s some logic for ya
If you have no idea why things are done SHUT YOUR MOUTH! Ask yourself why you keep taking the system??? FOAMER
Most of the Milton trains store East of Union at the Don Yard. Using track 14 platform 27 (not 24) aligns these trains directly into or out of the Don yard without having to crossing over the entire ladder while entering the station. Doing so would delay any train waiting to depart Eastward from Union and would be a complete disaster if that train were break down while on that same ladder. Don’t be selfish and think about yourself, any delays effecting arrivals or departures at Union during rush hours in excess of 20-30, you will impact close to 50,000 other passengers! Those 3 other tracks (not 4) are VIA platforms that are much lower than the platforms the GO trains use, VIA trains use a small step to reach the stairs that lead into the coach. Not the same type of trains my friend. And those platforms cannot be used.
As for the elevator issue, that is stemming from a backlog of work orders from the strike that happened during the summer. Temporary arrangements are made until these repairs and or new installations are done. Now unless you yourself are affected by that, why are complaining?

C.J. Smith said...

Whoah ... whoah...

Okay, let's see, why do I we take GO Transit.

Let me think about that. Oh yeah! Because there's no other transit system that competes with GO Transit?!

What a ridiculous retort. The rest of your statement I can appreciate but when you want to explain logistics, you can do it without the patronizing tone, m'kay?


Anonymous said...

Hey Rocan,

I'm well aware the GO Trains can't use the Via platforms and vice versa.

I take the Milton line and it is often on Platform 24 while Platforms 26 and 27 sit empty. So people in wheelchairs are inconvenienced for no reason whatsoever. Yes, that's logical isn't it?

So before you start calling me selfish....KNOW YOUR FACTS.

Rocman said...

OK some more facts for ya……
People in wheelchair’s arriving on platform 24 are in convinced because of in completed elevator installations as noted previously. Hence the reason why they are met by customer care reps that help wheel them down to the wooden walkway installed so they can use the elevators on 25 and 26. As for the other tracks being empty upon your arrival you are incorrect, trains are arriving and departing all the time from platforms 25 and 27. Hamilton, Kitchener, Milton and some LSW trains all use these platforms. So depending on your arrival time, other trains are departing or coming into theses tracks and giving someone like you (no clue on how the system works) the impression that they are empty. Don’t believe me stick around and watch !

Rocman said...

Cmon CJ you have options! Drive your car or get that candle making business happening so it becomes more profitable, not sure about the squirrel thing. Actually thanks for providing the forum for everyone, certainly an entertaining read. BTW the feet thing , what’s wrong with you people, for real!!! CSA’s always say that coaches smell like feet.

Anonymous said...


Really, they aren't inconvenienced? Ok, you're right, not at all.

Oh, and BTW, with respect to your ladder crossing comment earlier. The last I checked the Milton trains have to cross the ladder on the west side of the station if they go to the south platforms. So if they stall there, they're still inconveniencing 1,000's of people.

Why is it ok to cross the ladder on the west side, but not the east?

Anonymous said...

Bossman Bruce is just a high paid lackey sliding along until retirement.