Monday, May 4, 2015

This Crazy Train's Presto Chronicles, Chapter 31 (!!!): PRESTO? No. It’s more a matter of hurry up and wait …

by Ali Gator
Special to

Per the Metrolinx Web site:

Metrolinx and our transit partners across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) are working towards a consistent approach to transit fares in the region.

We want to make crossing municipal boundaries and switching between transit systems simple and hassle-free.

How’s that working out for you commuters?

One aspect of this fare integration is the co-fare, which has existed for some time.  I’ve used it on Durham Region Transit (DRT), and it worked well in the days before PRESTO.  Ever since DRT adopted PRESTO on their buses, the co-fare is applied inconsistently.

The following is taken from DRT’s Web site:

DRT has misled the public by failing to mention that the tap must occur within the insidious Travel Window, which is currently three hours from when you first tap on for your trip.  Followers of TCT’s PRESTO Chronicles know that passengers travelling from Niagara Region to Durham Region are not guaranteed of meeting this artificial and arbitrary PRESTO constraint.  Per Metrolinx CSR R.A., there are other trips that violate the Travel Window.

There exist local transit systems – without PRESTO – that have more equitable co-fare arrangements for PRESTO cardholders.

Milton Transit’s implemented co-fares as follows:

Simply present your valid PRESTO card, GO pass or ticket to the Milton Transit operator upon boarding, then deposit the discounted fare into the farebox (or show your valid monthly pass). Please note that you must be connecting to or from GO Transit services at the Milton GO Station.

The discounted fare applies to GO Transit train and bus passenger transfers (outbound and inbound) at the Milton GO Station only. The discount does not apply to any bus-to-bus connection outside the Milton GO Station.

The following are not accepted as valid fare media:
·         GO Transit Group Passes
·         Metrolinx / GO Transit Employee Passes
·         GO Transit photo ID or school-issued ID cards

Guelph Transit implemented co-fares as follows:

Effective April 13, GO Transit riders will be able to take advantage of the $0.60 co-fare when they board a Guelph Transit bus and present one of the following:

·         A valid single-ride GO Transit ticket when connecting from a GO Train or GO Bus at Guelph Central Station on any service day. Transfers will be issued for the Guelph Transit system upon request.
·         A valid GO Transit day-pass when connecting to or from a GO Train or GO Bus at Guelph Central Station on any service day. Transfers will be issued for the Guelph Transit system upon request.
·         A PRESTO card between 5:45 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. and between 6:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. on buses scheduled to arrive at or depart Guelph Central Station during regular weekday service. Transfers will not be issued if passengers are required to take more than one Guelph Transit bus to reach Guelph Central Station; these passengers will be required to pay the co-fare at each boarding.

Riders will no longer be able to use the PRESTO card to receive the co-fare rate on Guelph Transit outside of the specified hours.

Milton Transit and Guelph Transit riders are not constrained by the PRESTO Travel Window.  Do you see where you erred, Durham Region Transit?

GO Transit, please update the Are there co-fare discounts with PRESTO? section of your Web page GO with PRESTO with the following:

For GO Bus and Train riders whose trips with us exceed the Travel Window:

·         On Friday afternoons, after a hard work week, Pickering Pedro heads home to see his family…
·         He taps on the GO bus at Fairview Mall in St. Catharines, and the minimum GO fare is deducted from his card’s balance.
·         During the bus ride, Pedro prays to the transit gods begging them to look favorably on the passengers to permit the bus to connect with the train.  Even though the bus’ PRESTO machine has functionality to extend the Travel Window for delayed trips, Pedro knows it doesn’t work.
·         When he arrives at Burlington, Pedro taps off, and the remaining balance of the GO fare for the bus trip is deducted from his balance.
·         Pedro paces the corridor in front of the electronic monitor checking the time to ensure he does not tap on more than 15 minutes before the train is scheduled to arrive.  Pedro learned this from a prior bad experience when he inadvertently violated the GO Train Service Guarantee claim procedure.
·         When it is safe to do so, Pedro taps on the train at Burlington GO station, and once again the minimum GO fare is deducted from his card’s balance.
·         When Pedro taps off at Pickering station, PRESTO’s smartcard technology calculates the cost of this leg of his journey applying the transfer credit at Burlington and deducts this amount from his account.
·         Pedro joins the throng of passengers who trudge up the stairs and walk the bridge across Highway 401 to Pickering Parkway.  Pedro ponders when the Durham Region Transit Route 103 bus will arrive, because although DRT has display cases for schedules inside the bus shelters, DRT never posts them.  Pedro longs for the days when the 103 bus picked up passengers in the bus loop at the train station.  As he paces the bus platform, Pedro wonders why the evening 103D bus takes on riders at the station but not the daytime bus.  While Pedro waits, the PRESTO Travel Window clock runs out.
·         Pedro taps on the DRT bus.  PRESTO’s smartcard technology recognizes that it has been more than three hours since Pedro started his journey and consequently charges his account a full adult fare.  No co-fare for poor Pedro.

In closing, let’s visit the Metrolinx Web site one more time:

Our vision for integrated fares across the GTHA

For customers:
·         A customer-focused transit system – simple, harmonized and consistent
·         A simplified customer experience– switching between systems is quick and hassle-free
·         Fares that reflect the quality and value of the services provided

Go home, Metrolinx.  You’re drunk.  Take DRT with you.


Unknown said...

While I understand the intent of this post, the sarcasm and hyperbole obscure the actual point. This author implies that local transit agencies should not limit their co-fare rules to the Presto travel window. I disagree: it's Presto that needs to change.

Let me give you an equally valid counter-example to illustrate why we should shorten the travel window. This weekend, I took the GO bus from Bronte Carpool Lot to Square One, a trip of ~20 minutes. I got off the bus, took MiWay to my destination, returned on MiWay and took the bus back. By the intent of the fare rules, I should have paid two MiWay co-fares and two one-way GO bus fares.

What did I actually pay? One co-fare and 1.27 GO bus fares. You see, when I tapped on the first MiWay bus, I paid the co-fare and got a 2-hour transfer window. I used that transfer on my return trip to Square One, and when I tapped on my GO bus, the 3-hour travel window had not elapsed, and my overall GO bus trip was Bronte to Bronte via Square One. I cheated the system.

So now we have a contradiction: extending the travel window would cause fare revenue to fall, and shortening it would cause repercussions for people who take long journeys. Clearly, neither of these propositions are viable.

The author touched on this in the article, but I think it needs to be driven home: Guelph and Milton Transit aren't necessarily doing things right, they're just doing what they can in absence of a better system. What is this better system?

Zone-based maximum journey times.

Let's look at an example of an agency that does things the right way: Transport for London. TfL's Oyster card doesn't start a journey timer when you touch in, it evaluates journey times when you touch out. This design means that the maximum journey time can vary, depending on the number of zones one passes through.

If we do some rough distance estimates based on TfL's maximum journey times, Bronte Carpool to Square One would be 80 minutes, and St. Catharines to Pickering would be 260-315 minutes, plenty of time for Pedro to make his connection in Durham without worrying about the transfer window.

Since GO Transit already uses a zone-based fare system, and since Presto already knows how to calculate fares between these zones, it shouldn't be too difficult to implement zone-based maximum journey times. Obviously these times would have to be modified for GO's service area, but that's the general idea. Of course, I've been wrong before...

I hope I've demonstrated that zone-based maximum journey times are superior to any fixed journey time, regardless of length. I'm always open to feedback and would love to engage in some further discussion. :)

(I wonder... could I apply to work at Metrolinx with a compilation of my TCT comments in lieu of a CV?)

C.J. Smith said...

Yes, yes you did!

Anonymous said...

As well as zone based journey times (a good idea) the system should use business logic which can calculate a one-way journey versus a round trip within-the-window journey.

@Tyson - anyone can apply to work at Metrolinx! Check out the careers page and reach out to someone in the dept that interests you. (Or try to find a contact through this site). Good luck!

Anonymous said...

This site has no connections with GO transit.

C.J. Smith said...


State the obvious. Any time.

Anonymous said...

Are you SURE this isn't a GO Transit site...? (sound of head slapping)

C.J. Smith said...


Ali Gator said...

Tyson, thank you for your detailed analysis. Yes, you should apply to Metrolinx; I’m surprised they haven’t contacted you.

In days of yore when we had paper 2 and 10 ride tickets and monthly passes, co-fares worked seamlessly with local transit partners. The point of the article is that Metrolinx is making promises they can’t keep, especially relying on PRESTO, which IMO is seriously flawed. I’ll admit to sarcasm in the last line of the article. Everything else is fact.

To your point of shortening the Travel Window, others hold the same opinion, if for no other reason than to reach the coveted thresholds of 36 and 41 trips sooner to enjoy substantially reduced fares until the end of the month. Given that GO Transit had to adjust the Travel Window from 4 hr. to 2.5 hr. to 3 hr. tells me the “one size fits all” design was flawed from the beginning.

You didn’t “cheat the system”. You merely exploited features of the system. Others have done the same between short hops like Ajax to Pickering; it’s worked for me between St. Catharines and Niagara Falls. Let’s remember that PRESTO can cheat passengers. PRESTO pilfers funds when ePurse loads are executed on open trips, typically on buses. TCT blew the whistle on this thievery. GO Transit planned to stop ePurse loads on buses altogether, but recanted. If memory serves me correctly you were charged incorrect bus fare when the driver set up the trip incorrectly. As CJ can attest, I’ve been burned the same way.

Anonymous said...

We don't need loopholes and back door fare dodges. We need a system that works - properly. As any good programmer knows, users will always do the wrong thing. You need to plan for this and make the software bullet proof. Right now there seems to be more than a few PRESTO holes.

Peter said...

You're absolutely correct, Anonymous (10:22 AM). The question is, why can't/won't Metrolinx fix the deficiencies?

Unknown said...

Ali -- Thanks for your reply. I'm glad we agree on most of this topic.

Maybe I editorialized a bit when I said I "cheated the system". You're right, I just took advantage of the way it was set up.

I was charged an incorrect fare when the driver set the trip up incorrectly, but I hope with the introduction of PNG into GO service, GO's CAD/AVL will automatically set up the trip details just like OC Transpo does now. Heck, OC Transpo buses don't even have a Presto head (just BFTPs).

Ultimately, Presto needs to undergo a lot of change, but the progress and process are very opaque (there's no "to-do" or "in-progress" project list that's publicly available). If we at least had some sense of planned new features, we wouldn't have to speculate so much.

I have a great deal of respect for the Presto developers: Accenture sold Metrolinx a crappy system and they've had to fight an uphill battle to customize it to fit Toronto. But the motivation to improve the system has to come from higher up, and I don't think anybody at Metrolinx is putting that pressure on.

I'm a strong believer in cautious optimism, but I'm not holding my breath.