Thursday, April 19, 2012

This Crazy Train's Presto Chronicles, Chapter 17: A 2.5 hour travel window is not enough time to travel GO's system

My Presto Chronicles Series is a big hit on the interwebs.

I've decided to create a proper label for the series so all of the chapters can be read without having to weed through other Presto stories. You're welcome!

Today's Chapter is written by a guest of Chez This Crazy Train, Peter S.

Peter has concerns about GO's travel window:

One aspect of PRESTO I haven't read about in the “Chronicles” series is the insidious "travel window".  I have no idea why this “feature” exists, but there is a 2.5 hour travel window to complete your trip (1).  This includes transfers between GO Transit bus, trains, and other participating transit systems.  The travel window was originally four hours, but this was changed “to provide you with more flexibility and better match your travel patterns” (2); who are you kidding, GO Transit?  Some GO Transit employees still believe the time period to be four hours – don’t be fooled!  To be clear, the entire trip, including transfers, can be longer than 2.5 hours, but the last transfer must occur within the travel window.  One caveat that I’m aware of – bus drivers have the power to increase the travel window to allow for delays they have encountered, but I’m not sure how this is accomplished.

My commute is between Pickering (Zone 91) and St. Catharines (Zone 83); Zone 91 to 83 at the beginning of the week, and the reverse at the end of the week.  The trip requires a train/bus transfer at Burlington.  Depending on boarding time and the direction of travel, the trip duration ranges from 2:40 to 3:00.

For my first use of PRESTO, I arrived at the Pickering train station early to ensure there were no issues using my card; the tap ON was successful.  In retrospect, this was a mistake, because the travel window clock starts with the tap ON; train schedules are immaterial.  The tap OFF at Burlington was equally successful.  For some reason, we boarded the bus later than normal that morning.  From PRESTO’s perspective, the transfer was a few minutes outside the travel window, so I did not qualify for the transfer credit.  Travelling from Burlington to St. Catharines was deemed to be a new trip.

Ok, mea culpa.  The GO Transit CSR who responded to my query on the matter went into great detail to explain what had happened and how my account had been debited.  It was well worth the $4.17 I lost on the transfer credit to gain the insights to PRESTO’s machinations.  As a bonus, I now have a contact who can give me the straight answer to my questions, something not all CSR’s are capable of.

Per Metrolinx’s web site, “The Government of Ontario, GO Transit, and nine transit systems in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and Ottawa have partnered to introduce PRESTO – a new electronic fare card that allows riders to transfer seamlessly across multiple transit systems.” (3)  This is a wonderful policy statement, but let’s look at “transfer seamlessly” in action.

Per GO Transit’s web site, “PRESTO users get an automatic discount when transferring between GO Train or Bus services and PRESTO-activated local buses anywhere across the entire GO network, not just at GO Train stations.” (4)  This reduced fare is known as the co-fare discount.  But wait; there is more!  “Transfers between GO Transit and participating systems must occur within 2 1/2 hours.” (4)  What does transferring from one carrier to another have to do with the travel window?

GO Transit cannot transport a passenger from St. Catharines (or points east) to Pickering (or points east) in under 2.5 hours to allow them to use PRESTO to pay the co-fare ($0.65) with Durham Region Transit; the full fare will be charged.  Per DRT's web site, "a PRESTO Card does not provide proof you are a GO Train passenger following (or before) a trip with DRT" (5), so (in theory) even a cash co-fare payment may be denied.  A CSR informed me I could use my PRESTO card to buy a paper ticket at the Burlington train station so that the requirements of the co-fare with DRT could be met.  I was dumbfounded!

Whereas I agree with Metrolinx’s policy statement on PRESTO, the imposition of an artificial system-wide 2.5 hour travel window undermines the goal; the net result is less flexibility than the existing 10-ride paper tickets.  It is not clear to me why PRESTO cannot implement the travel window at the card-level, i.e. default to 2.5 hours, initially, and adjust as required “to provide you with more flexibility and better match your travel patterns” (2).

The GO Transit Passenger Charter promises “a safe and easy experience” (6).  With all due respect, Metrolinx, PRESTO doesn’t deliver.



Tim K said...

Great guest post. Definitely something for Metrolinx to address. It would take anyone living further east than Oshawa more than 3.5 hours to get to Pearson Airport. Is this a cash grab!?

TomW said...

The reduction in time window does bring a benefit: if you try and do a return trip within the time window, it doesn't count towards the loyalty scheme, because the system reads it as a transfer.
(Example: taking the GO bus to a shopping mall, arriving at 10am and leaving at 1pm)
Hence dropping the window from 4 to 2.5 hours meant those boarding for the return trip get the full benefit.

The fundamental problem is that is hard to tell the start of return trips from transfers.

My solution would be that the transfer window is much shorter (say 1 hour), but is measured from when you tap *off* not on.
(If you have a default trip set, then it would be 1 hour + time allowance for train trip.)

Toro said...

GO is extoling the benefits of Presto on facebook so I posted a link. I think customers need to know its pitfalls as well. Perhaps it can help encourage Presto to fix some of the issues.

DoGoGuy said...

When I take a bus from Point A to B, then transfer to bus 2 Point B(20min layover) to Point D, I get charged a LOWER rate then if I took the direct Point A to Point D. It is all very strange.

Peter Seelert said...

@TomW I agree with your analysis. Using a reduced travel window triggered by the end of trip (tap OFF) event makes sense. For the occasional traveller, the full tier structure of the loyalty programme doesn’t come into play, whereas the transfer credit provides immediate benefit.

TomW said...

@ DoGoGuy : You've found one the loop-holes :-)

When you transfer from GO to GO, your fare on the second leg is the fare for that trip alone minus a 'transfer credit' of$4.50.

That means if your second trip is short enough to cost only $4.50, it will be free... which means your multi-leg trip can be cheaper than the single-leg version!

Practical upshot: be lazy and ride the GO bus a short distance to/from your station - it won't cost anything extra!

Anonymous said...

This past summer I was doing a 2-hour (one way) commute everyday. I had to move before I shot myself in the head.

Oh Peter, how can you stand it ...

Peter Seelert said...

If I had to do this commute every day, I would shoot myself, too. I tried driving to and fro in 2002 when I had a similar gig in St. Catharines; that lasted all of three days. Getting to know my bus drivers has added a degree of humanity to my commute. I appreciate everything the drivers do for us. If I may paraphrase JFK, ask not what your driver can do for you; rather, ask what you can do for your driver.

DoGOGuy said...

TomW: I have had a couple trips where they gave me money back. I wish I could bus it to work everytime, but alas that is not possible due to the time and schedule of GO transit.