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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

This Crazy Train's Presto Chronicles, Chapter 27: Unexplained Phenomena

Back in Chapter 25 of my Presto Chronicles, which now stands at a whopping 27 Chapters, and all tales of woe - it's like this Frog ain't ever gonna be a Prince - my roving man on the GO, Frank E. Futor, discovered some issues with PRESTO's travel window. After Chapter 25 was published, he sent it off to GO Transit for further analysis.

Here's what's come back so far. Grab some tea. Hell, grab the whole pot.

Subject: GO Transit, A Division of Metrolinx
From: MH 
Date: 12/13/2013 7:14 PM
To: FE Futor

December 13, 2013
Reference No: 2013067xxx

Dear Mr. FE Futor:
Thank you for your email regarding the 3 hour PRESTO travel window and your December 8th PRESTO transactions.
I am currently looking into these matters and I will be in contact with you again when I have more information for you.

Thank you for your patience.

Sincerely,
MH
Customer Service Representative

Subject: GO Transit, A Division of Metrolinx
From: MH
Date: 12/18/2013 1:57 PM
To: FE Futor

December 18, 2013
Reference No. 2013067xxx

Dear FE Futor
Thank you again for your recent email. I certainly understand how crucial it is that our representatives provide the correct information to our customers. Unfortunately, our social media agent was mistaken when he mentioned that the 3 hour PRESTO travel window extends every time the PRESTO card is tapped.

The PRESTO travel window is a single 3 hour period which starts when a customer initially taps on to the GO system. It does not extend when customers tap again to transfer. The agent that tweeted this information has been addressed and we have provided him with the appropriate coaching.

I’ve also investigated your December 8th transactions, detailed in the attachment that you sent.  When you tapped your PRESTO card on the bus at Burlington to start the next leg of your journey, this opened a new trip. Normally, you would tap off at your destination, the system would recognize that you took this trip within the transfer window and a transfer credit would be applied.

Unfortunately, when the Station Attendant loaded your $80.00 after you had tapped on the bus, it closed this trip since the PRESTO system cannot load funds to the card when there is an open trip. Since this trip technically closed without receiving a tap off, an underpayment of $6.65 was charged.

Because of this, your tap off at St. Catharines was considered a tap on and another new trip was opened. You were charged $4.85 for the base fare and the next time you tap your card on the GO system, an additional $0.30 will be charged for this underpayment. A trip from the Mimico GO Station to St. Catharines with a transfer at Burlington should have only have cost $11.99 on a PRESTO card. Due to these two underpayments, you were charged a sum of $24.31 for this trip and so, overcharged by a total of $12.32.

If you could provide me with your mailing address, I would be more than happy to send you a coupon for the amount that you’ve been overcharged. Please let me know at your earliest convenience.

Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention.

Sincerely,

MH
Customer Service Representative

Cc.       Greg Percy, President, GO Transit
             C.J. Smith, This Crazy Train

This e-mail message is privileged, confidential and subject to copyright. Any unauthorized use or disclosure is prohibited. Le contenu du present courriel est privilegie, confidentiel et soumis `a des droits d'auteur. Il est interdit de l'utiliser ou de le divulguer sans autorisation.

Subject: Re: GO Transit, A Division of Metrolinx - Reference No. 2013067xxx
From: FE Futor
Date: 1/4/2014 9:45 PM
To: MH
CC: Greg Percy , "C.J. Smith"

Dear MH:

Thank you for your e-mail of 2013/12/18.  I appreciate very much the detail of your reply, which piqued my interest and has raised some additional questions.

With regard to the Travel Window, I have the following questions:
  1. Is it correct to say that all "GO to GO" and "GO to local transit" transfers must occur within the three hour time limit in order for transfer credits and co-fare discounts to apply?
  2. You stated that the Travel Window "starts when a customer initially taps on to the GO system".  If a multi-leg trip starts with tapping on a local transit bus, is it true that the Travel Window clock does not start until the "local transit to GO" transfer happens?
  3. If one were to follow the advice of CSR ^RA and purchase a paper ticket with their PRESTO card, is the cost of said ticket the full adult fare, or is it the PRESTO discounted fare with transfer credits applied?  For example, if I boarded the bus in St. Catharines and requested a ticket to Pickering, what would that ticket cost, if I paid with my PRESTO card?
With regard to my trip of December 8, I have the following questions:
  1. Subsequent to the incident of that day, drivers advised me that PRESTO terminals on buses prohibit loading funds after a passenger taps on.  Why did the ticket agent's PRESTO terminal behave differently?  At the very least, the system should have apprised the ticket agent that there was an open trip on the card.  The system assumed the trip had ended, when in fact it had never begun.  This is a PRESTO system bug that needs remediation.
  2. I examined the next trip in my PRESTO transaction history (below), but I can find no line item for the $0.30 underpayment charge you wrote of.  However, this amount appears to be "blended" into the $4.85 tap on that occurred Dec. 13 at 3:49 PM in St. Catharines.  The Balance amount tells the story, i.e. 74.66 - 4.85 - 0.30 = 69.51.  The next line item requires an explanation.  How does an "e-Purse Load" of $0.00 change the Balance amount to $74.36?  Obviously, this is supposed to be the $0.30 underpayment, but it's reported incorrectly and out of order in the transaction register.  I'm not sure how this functionality passed Metrolinx's internal financial auditors' tests.  This is another PRESTO system bug that requires correction.
  3. Thank you for offering to mail me "a coupon" for the amount I've been overcharged, but the request for my mailing address has me baffled.  That information was put on file when I registered my card.  When Service Guarantee refunds are issued to PRESTO cardholders, those transactions are handled electronically.  Why can this refund not be handled the same way?
  4. The statement that "the PRESTO system cannot load funds to the card when there is an open trip" puzzles me.  Why not?  The business process of fare payment is independent of the process of loading the e-Purse.  We can easily simulate the desired behavior with no more than an envelope containing cash and a pen to record trips on the envelope.  Money can be put in the envelope at any time.  Why can't PRESTO do the same?
PRESTO Transaction History

 

Thank you for your on-going assistance regarding these matters.

Sincerely,
FE Futor

Subject: GO Transit, A Division of Metrolinx
From: MH
Date: 1/8/2014 7:54 PM
To:  FE Futor

January 08, 2014
Reference No: 2014002xxx

Mr. Frank E Futor

Dear Mr. Futor:
Thank you for your follow up email regarding the PRESTO system. I’m looking into the additional questions you’ve raised and I will be in touch with you again once I have more answers for you.

Thank you again for your patience.
Sincerely,

MH
Customer Service Representative

Subject: Re: GO Transit, A Division of Metrolinx
From: FE Futor
Date: 1/9/2014 6:09 AM
To: MH

Dear MH:
Thank you for your update.  Please take as much time as you need for your investigation.

Sincerely,
FE Futor

Subject: GO Transit, A Division of Metrolinx
From: MH
Date: 1/17/2014 11:16 AM
To: FE Futor

January 17, 2014
Reference No. 2014002xxx

Dear Mr. Futor

Thank you again for your follow up email. I appreciate your patience while I’ve looked into your questions.

With regards to the 3 hour travel window, you are correct in saying that all “GO to GO” and “GO to local transit” transfers must occur within the three hour time limit in order for transfer credits and co-fare discounts to apply. In the case of a multi-leg trip that starts with a tap on a local bus however, the PRESTO team has clarified for me that the travel window clock actually begins with the initial tap on local transit. I’m very sorry for my mistake.

The advice that R.A. provided is also incorrect. Customers are unable to purchase a paper ticket with their PRESTO cards. However, the 3 hour transfer window is not exclusive to PRESTO. If a customer had a paper ticket and wanted to board local transit, they would still have to do so within 3 hours to be eligible for the co-fare.

Unfortunately, the function to load funds in the middle of a trip was not identified as a requirement when the system was designed and the bus machines work the same way that the station attendant’s did. If a passenger taps on for a bus trip, and then tries to load funds onto the card, the trip will close and the passenger will be charged an underpayment.

The system does not notify a station attendant that there is an open trip before loading funds. There is not usually a need to do so, as what happened on the 8th is a very rare situation. Generally, if a customer has already tapped onto the bus, it is because the bus is leaving shortly and usually customers do not have time to then go into the station and load funds before their bus leaves. If a customer tries to load funds with the driver during the trip, the driver knows whether the customer has already tapped and should let the customer know that the PRESTO system does not allow a load during an open trip.

As you’ve identified, the “load purse value” of $0.00 is actually the $0.30 underpayment you were charged. Underpayments will sometimes display as $0.00 instead of the actual value and occasionally, out of order. We are actively working to correct issue and a fix will be implemented with the release of a future system upgrade.

While you may have listed your personal information with PRESTO when you registered your card, we cannot view this information. Even though PRESTO and GO share the same parent company, we are still a third party, and so your private information (including your mailing address and potentially your banking or credit card information), is protected by PRESTO’s privacy policy.

Although Service Guarantee claims are able to be uploaded directly to customers PRESTO cards, this is through a separate, specific agreement with PRESTO, and so I still require your mailing address to send you a coupon for what you were overcharged.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to answer your questions.

Sincerely,

MH
Customer Service Representative

Cc.       Greg Percy, President, GO Transit
             C.J. Smith, This Crazy Train

This e-mail message is privileged, confidential and subject to copyright. Any unauthorized use or disclosure is prohibited. Le contenu du present courriel est privilegie, confidentiel et soumis `a des droits d'auteur. Il est interdit de l'utiliser ou de le divulguer sans autorisation.

Subject: Re: GO Transit, A Division of Metrolinx
From: FE Futor
Date: 1/20/2014 6:49 PM
To: MH
CC: Greg Percy , "C.J. Smith"

Dear MH
Thank you for your detailed reply to my query.  I appreciate your efforts to assemble this information.
Please allow me some time to digest these points, and I'll be in touch once my research is complete.

Sincerely,
Frank

Subject: Re: GO Transit, A Division of Metrolinx – ReferenceNo. 2014002xxx
From: FE Futor
Date: 2/5/2014 8:54 PM
To: MH
CC: Greg Percy , "C.J. Smith"

Dear MH

Thank you for your detailed reply to my query.  I appreciate your efforts to assemble this information.

I agree with you that all “GO to GO” and “GO to local transit” transfers must occur within the three hour time limit in order for transfer credits and co-fare discounts to apply.  I tested this functionality, and the correct co-fare was charged when I transferred to a DRT bus just before the three hour limit was set to expire.  I had long suspected the Travel Window started when tapping on initially with local transit; thank you for confirming this.

I take issue with the advice you were given regarding paper tickets.  If CSR R.A. was wrong, then so is every bus driver and ticket agent that I have talked to regarding purchasing paper tickets with a PRESTO card.  This payment method is valid and is documented in the GO Transit “Companion fares” section of Fares and Travel Info of the PRESTO web site as follows:

“You can use your PRESTO card to pay for paper tickets for additional passengers. Visit a Customer Service Outlet or GO Station attendant to purchase paper tickets with your card.”

Can you share with me how the three hour travel window for paper tickets is enforced?  Given that a trip with a paper ticket must start within four hours of purchase (reference the Single-Ride Ticket tab on the Ticket Types page), how will a local transit driver know when the passenger actually started their trip?  The same question applies to day passes.

Whereas head office staff may consider it rare for a passenger to tap on a bus and then rush off to the washroom, let me assure you it is quite common at Burlington, because the trip to Niagara Falls takes over an hour, and GO buses are not equipped with washrooms.  Drivers and passengers alike frown upon requests for en route emergency stops.  From the time the train arrives at Burlington until the bus leaves, there is time to “conduct business” – commerce or otherwise.

I concur with you that bus POS terminals work the same way that the station attendant’s did.  My belief that the bus machines behave differently was based on discussions with drivers who – even as recently as Monday of this week – advised me that the terminals on buses block e-Purse loads with an error message and audible tone when a trip is open.  However, other drivers have told me that the system allows money to be loaded to a card after tapping onto the bus.  Are multiple versions of firmware installed in the fleet?

I witnessed the bus POS behaviour on January 31 when a student, Josephine (an alias), applied $10 to her card.  Josephine and the driver did not believe me when I stated the full amount had not been applied to the e-Purse.  We examined the transaction receipt and saw the Underpayment amount of $4.75 had been subtracted from the tendered amount.  I explained the system had closed the trip and charge her full fare from St. Catharines to Burlington, i.e. $4.85 (tap on) + $4.75 (underpayment) = $9.60 full price).  To make things worse, I continued, Josephine would be charged $4.85 when she tapped off in Burlington, since she would actually be opening a new trip.  I could offer no estimate to what the Underpayment charge for that nonexistent trip might be.

Josephine’s eyes were wide with disbelief and our driver was skeptical of my explanation.  I suggested to the driver we conduct an experiment at the end of the trip to test my theory.  He agreed.

Josephine tapped off at Mapleview Mall, and as expected, the amount on the POS display was $4.85.  At Burlington station, I stayed behind and had the driver load $5.00 to my card before I tapped off.  True to form, I was hit with an Underpayment amount of $4.75, so the net amount loaded to my card was $0.25.  I informed the driver that insult would be added to injury, because the transfer credit for the train portion of my trip was lost, too.  Here is the receipt:



The PRESTO transaction history for the trip (in reverse chronological order) follows.  You’ll notice that there is no tap off from the bus, as the e-Purse load took care of that.  Also, the tap on to the train is inflated, as the transfer credit is missing.  The train trip has no tap off, since it’s a default trip.



I agree with you it is unfortunate that the ability to load funds in the middle of a trip was not identified as a requirement when the system was designed.  However, that in no way validates the current behaviour of the PRESTO point of sale devices in the situations cited.  It does indict the business analysts who wrote the use cases and/or software requirements specifications.  The assertion “that the PRESTO system does not allow a load during an open trip” is a business rule, a very important one that the business analysts did not capture and document clearly.  Why is the onus now on front line staff – and passengers – to compensate for the failings of IT professionals working for PRESTO?

In conclusion, the evidence clearly shows that PRESTO steals money from passengers.  When will this serious software defect be corrected?

Thank you for your assistance.

Sincerely,
Frank

Subject: GO Transit, A Division of Metrolinx
From: MH
Date: 2/14/2014 6:12 PM
To: Frank E Futor

Dear Mr. Futor:

Thank you for following up with me. Please forgive the lateness of my response as I was unexpectedly away from the office for a time. I’m currently looking into the further concerns you’ve raised and I will contact you again when I have more answers for you.

Thank you again for your patience.

Sincerely,
MH
Customer Service Representative
------------------------------------------------------------

Still with me?

I'll publish the outcome when this tale ends.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well I need a beer.

Anonymous said...

Although I admit this was frustrating to read because of all the Presto Pain, I have to give mad props at MH and her degree of professionalism. It goods to see GO isn't ignoring passengers concerns and I feel bad that Presto causes them so much grief. You want to believe someone is willing to fight for you.

Bicky said...

Holy crap on a cracker. I'm not sure I'd have the patience for this adventure.

Squiggles said...

Wow. Just wow.

I have to admit, I am glad I started loading at Union Station. All because I take the bus to the GO station and have been known to load between the bus and the tap onto the GO. I wonder how many other people have been over-charged by doing this?

That is a pretty serious oversight.

Anonymous said...

Poor MH will end up in the MH.

George said...

Thank you Accenture and the Lieberals for giving us such a spendid system.

Pat Centeno said...

That's the problem when you load your card at the bus driver. To be safe load your card at the agent.

C.J. Smith said...

In an ideal world none of us would ever have to load funds on a bus.

Michael Suddard said...

I will duly accredit a celebrity in this case on how I'm feeling.

"Good Grief" - Charlie Brown

TomW said...

If you travel only by GO bus (and thousands do), and don't have a credit card, loading on the bus is the only practical option.

Frank said...

@Pat Centeno:
Please don't point fingers at the bus driver. This whole problem came to light by having an agent at Burlington station load funds. It's all in Chapter 25 of the Presto Chronicles. I believe the problem can be reproduced at a train station with no buses in sight.

April said...

I tried to post this from my phone. Clearly I am not smart enought to use a smartphone.

"The system does not notify a station attendant that there is an open trip before loading funds."

I call bullshit. My niece was travelling from Oshawa to Barrie. She tapped on at Oshawa and tried to load more funds on her card at Union while she waited for her connecting train. CSA at the ticket counter told her she needed to tap off first.

If the system does not notify the station attendant that there is an open trip, then how did the attendant know my niece needed to tap off?

Al said...

I have to agree with April, I was told the same thing when I tapped on at union and tried to load funds before I tapped off at ajax, to avoid paying a debit amount (I was going to be about 0.50 short for the trip) I would have then had to pay .25 fee to reload my card. Well I had to tap off as I couldnt load while I had an open trip and had to pay the extra quarter for the overdraft.

David said...

This is amazing. And I need to take a nap now after reading all of that.

Frank said...

April & Al,
Thank you for your input. That's very interesting. In both your cases the tap ON was at a train station, whereas the scenarios on Dec. 8 and Jan. 31 involved tapping ON a bus. Were the trips you cited default trips, or did the cardholder need to tap OFF at journey’s end?

Anonymous said...

That doesn't sound very Easy.

Anonymous said...

I hope you gave Charles a nice compliment with all that stuff.
The machine on the bus only does one transaction at a time. If you tapped on and then wanted to load some funds you would need to reverse the tap on first. But if the bus moves from it's location you won't be able to reverse the tap. If your not sure you have enough funds the driver can check before tapping. Now also the problem of forgetting to tap off and trying to tap off from another bus won't work either. So for example
Bus #1 going to the falls Tap on Burlington $5.20 forget to tap off in St Catherines card goes into underpayment of $6.85 because the trip was going to the falls and will charge you to the falls.
So Bus #2 comes along going east and you think your gonna tap off but in fact it's tapping you on a eastbound trip now. So another $5.20 (initial tap) and charges you to Burlington in underpayment of 4.95. I see so many mistakes like that happen because the reader is specific to the bus. If you forget to tap off stay away! from any other bus reader unless it's the same one you tapped on.

Just a couple words from a GO bus driver.