Friday, March 21, 2014

This Crazy Train's Presto Chronicles, Chapter 28: The Curse of Underpayments, Paper Tickets and Travel Windows

Before you read Chapter 28, you'll have to read Chapter 27 to get a full understanding of this email.

February 28, 2014

Reference No. 301-66143-H4PXXX

Dear Mr. Futor

Thank you again for following up with me. Your patience is appreciated.

You are correct that you can purchase a paper ticket with your PRESTO card. I apologize for my error. I incorrectly assumed that you were using the term “paper ticket” to refer to a receipt for a bus trip taken using a PRESTO card. I did not realize that you were inquiring about a separate, paper ticket paid for with a PRESTO card. I’m very sorry for this assumption, and I should have written that PRESTO customers are unable to obtain a receipt instead of “purchase a paper ticket” to clarify what I meant.

You’re also correct when you say that a local transit driver would not necessarily know what time a customer actually started their trip, since a customer could purchase their ticket at 1:00 pm, start their travel at 4:30 pm, and still be eligible for a co-fare on local transit at 7:15 pm. Passengers travelling with day passes would be eligible for the co-fare at any time of the day.

Unfortunately, I’m not privy to how local transit providers enforce the 3 hour travel window. Since co-fares are only available to paper ticket or day pass users when they are travelling to or from a GO Station, I presume that as long as a customer is boarding or disembarking at a station, the travel window is only lightly enforced, if at all.

I am unable to answer why a driver would say that the PRESTO system will block an e-purse load when there is an open trip. Again, this function does not exist as it was not identified as a requirement when the system was designed. Even if a driver had a newer version of the firmware, the system is still not designed to notify the driver of the open trip, or block the load.

You mention that other drivers have said that the system will allow money to be loaded after tapping on for a trip. That is technically correct. Funds will be loaded on the card. But, as you know, it will cause an underpayment and the intended amount will not be loaded.

We are considering how to best resolve this issue for our customers, but to update the system to allow this function would be costly and take time. In the meantime, we rely on our drivers and station attendants to prevent these types of overcharges from occurring by informing customers of the consequences of loading during an open trip. 

Unfortunately, your comments about the information you’ve received from differing drivers and the incident you’ve relayed with Josephine’s underpayment, indicate that there is some room for improvement in this regard. I have shared your observations with our Bus Operations team so that we can ensure all our drivers are educated about this important issue.

I would still like to send you a coupon to refund your previous overcharge. I will include the amount that you were overcharged on January 31st as well, but again, I need your mailing address to do so. Additionally, I trust that you were kind enough to direct Josephine to contact us so we could refund her overcharge as well.

Thank you for letting me address this matter.


Customer Service Representative

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

from: F Futor
to: MH
cc: Greg Percy ,
 "C.J. Smith"
date: Tue, Mar 18, 2014 at 9:08 PM
subject: Re: GO Transit, A Division of Metrolinx

Dear Ms. H,

Thank you for your e-mail of February 28.

I chatted with Josephine on the afternoon of March 7.  She informed me she had used the GO Transit contact information I had given her, and she had received a paper voucher refund for the PRESTO overcharges.

Based on the actions of the Durham Region Transit (DRT) employee whose bus I boarded on the afternoon of February 28, you are correct that local transit drivers rarely if ever enforce the Travel Window on paper tickets; he barely glanced at my ticket as I deposited $0.65 into the cash box.

In general, the Travel Window is poorly understood by bus drivers.  I can share with you the following specific observations:
  • The DRT driver had no knowledge of the Travel Window, and he didn’t really care.  In his words, “I log on; I drive my route; I log off.”
  • Not all GO Transit drivers know what the Travel Window is, but those who were not aware of it did ask questions to gain an understanding of the matter.
  • None of the GO Transit drivers from three different garages knew how to extend the Travel Window.  This is very disconcerting, because e-mail alerts advised that GO buses were operating up to 90 minutes behind schedule on March 12 and up to 60 minutes late the following day.
  • Per CSR RA, the ability to extend the Travel Window was included on buses to address service delays to the trip – the “actual extension rests on the discretion of the driver” (Reference # 2012005893).  That assertion presumes drivers are intimately familiar with the method to be applied.
  • Mr. A also wrote “the transfer window can be extended by GO Bus Drivers (only)”.  If the Travel Window starts with a tap on a local transit bus, why can that driver not extend it?  Local transit operators are not immune to delays; here is an extreme example.
  • Drivers commented that PRESTO instructors are not well-versed in how the system works.
  • I am aware of only one individual who seems comfortable extending the Travel Window.  Reference this well-read article and the comment dated December 27, 2013 12:50 AM
The Travel Window is an untenable contrivance.  It serves no one; it is biased and penalizes passengers unjustly.  Anyone travelling out of the eastern Niagara region to the eastern Durham region knows PRESTO will outright deny them the DRT co-fare.  From personal experience, the 15:20 Friday afternoon express bus out of St. Catharines (with train connection at Burlington) will allow me to roll into Pickering just under the wire to qualify for the DRT co-fare, whereas taking the all-stops bus at 15:27 in St. Catharines won’t.  Where’s the consistency?  Is this an equitable solution?  PRESTO pales in comparison to paper tickets, day passes, and the defunct 10/2-ride tickets and monthly passes.

Regarding the matter of loading the ePurse after tapping on, train travellers are not exempt entirely from the problem of overcharging.  With reference to the PRESTO transaction log below, the following tests were executed in the presence of two ticket agents:
  1. Press Override (I have a default trip), tap on, and attempt to load funds to ePurse.  My card was debited with the base fare, $5.20.  When we attempted to load funds, the system reported an Underpayment amount of $2.25 (full fare Pickering to Union less base fare).  As the ticket agents and I discussed, the presence of an Underpayment amount is only an indication that there may be an open trip on the card.  The situation may have been caused by not tapping off on a prior trip.  An astute ticket agent will engage the passenger in a discussion and determine the reason for the Underpayment amount.  The ticket agent and I terminated the ePurse load transaction.
  2. I hit the Correction button and cancelled the trip.
  3. Tap on (default trip); my card was debited $12.56. 
  4. When we attempted to load funds to my ePurse, the system reported no anomalies, i.e. no Underpayment amount.  Consequently, we continued with the transaction and loaded $60.00.  At this point we weren’t sure whether the trip had been closed, so I tapped on again.  The PRESTO machine rejected the transaction by flashing red and displaying an error message telling me I had already tapped on.  I thanked the ticket agents and proceeded to the train platform.
  5. Tap on bus at Burlington; my card was debited the base fare.  The remainder of the transaction log is a bit messy.  I forgot to tap off at St. Catharines.  (Colour me embarrassed.)  I asked the next Burlington bound driver to clear the Underpayment status, but he didn’t know how to.  The subsequent Niagara Falls bound driver executed steps 6 through 8.
  6. Attempt to clear Underpayment status.
  7. Attempt to clear Underpayment status by tapping on.
  8. Attempt to clear Underpayment status by reversing tapping on.
As you know, the transaction log is presented out of sequence, so I’ve indicated the order of events on the left.

I am puzzled by the statement that you “are considering how to best resolve this issue for our customers, but to update the system to allow this function would be costly and take time”.  Are you saying PRESTO was designed, built, and deployed with no means to roll out software corrections expeditiously?  What is the cost of not fixing this defect – another visit from the Auditor General of Ontario?  How expensive is PRESTO’s customer support department that was enlarged to handle the increasing volume of problem calls and complaints?

Thank you, again, for your diligence investigating these PRESTO issues.  I’ll send you my mailing address under separate cover.



TomW said...

GO Transit has to deal with two seperate issues. The first is that if you do two "trips" on GO Tranist vehicles, when shoudl be chraged as one long journey, and when as two seperate journeys?

Example: GO bus from Port Perry to Whitby, GO Train from Whitby to Union. One journey, surely? But if you arrived in Whitby at 10am, did some stuff, and then took the train at 5pm - that would be two journeys. (And I think most people are confortable with that).

Consequently, GO has to enforce some arbitrary cut-off time period for you to complete your GO journey.

For the co-fare, a similar situation applies. If I take the GO Train to Whitby in the morning, and ride a DRT bus in the afternoon, you wouldn't pay a co-fare on the DRT bus (and nor should you). HOWEVER... the time period for a co-fare should be measured from the *end* of you GO Transit journey, not the start.

I *think* that might the case, but am not sure. Have yet to get a decent answer.

Squiggles said...


I think (and this is a mighty big think and haven't figured out who to chat to about it) that the co-fare for DRT does start when you tap onto the bus, so 3 hours after that tap.

My reasoning for this was that I would tap on at Union. Tap onto DRT bus, run some errands, tap onto another bus to get back to the GO station/bus turnabout and tap onto my bus home.

I do know, I cut it pretty close a couple of times to that 3 hour window, so that is why it is a *think* and not a *know*.

As for the story, what bothers me is that these issues are pretty big issues and can take a lot of money from people who may not be able to afford it. Yet Presto/Metrolinx/whoever has decided that it is too costly (time and money) to fix this obvious bug! Shameful.

Michael Suddard said...

After reading this, I'm stuck on voting:

Love - Mr. Futor for pointing out how stupid Presto continues to be.

Moron & Chainsaw - to Mr. McQuaig and company at Presto for the issues with updates.

Now to the post:

I'm wondering if the next version of Presto that Ottawa is currently using has this issue or not. I use a monthly pass so it doesn't matter (Presto loads a monthly pass onto my card for unlimited travel between dates...i.e. March 1 and March 31st). But what about those using cash on their Presto cards who travel from point A to B , get their card loaded, and then board another bus within the 2 hour transfer window.

But does it matter that Ottawans do NOT have to tap off to close the trip as we have common fares (like TTC fares) and not fares by distance (like GO Transit)?

Alex said...


Ottawa, like the GTA systems that don't charge fare by distance, loads a transfer onto the card for the time specified by the agency (Ottawa's are usually 90 minutes, 105 minutes Sundays and Evenings). This transfer is essentially a short term monthly pass. Whether this gets cleared off or not, I doubt it, but I could be wrong.