Thursday, April 17, 2014

GO Transit messily divorces PRESTO - shuts down on-board PRESTO loads on buses

Beginning June 16, GO Transit bus passengers will no longer be able to load funds onto their PRESTO cards when boarding buses. No explanation was given other than a one-sentence announcement made on GO Transit's Facebook page and on GO Transit's website. The announcement is shown alongside a graphic that reads "Load before you GO".

I was surprised by the announcement, even more surprised by the initiative because if GO Transit thinks loading PRESTO cards is part of the delay when boarding, I can't say I've witnessed it. What I found slows down my CAN WE GET TO THE STATION NOW?! commute is on-board ticket sales. People counting out change. The driver counting out change. Passengers rummaging around for change to help out Nana on her way downtown to the hospital who is short on fare. This is what slows down the commute.

In fact, in the three years I've been bus-riding the green limo, only once did I witness someone load $20 onto a PRESTO card. The driver at first had no idea how to do it because no one had asked him to do it before and he had to call into bus operations for instructions. This was in the Spring of 2012. Sure, that was two years ago but I haven't seen another transaction since. Even myself as a bus passenger have never done it. However, some passengers who have taken advantage of this service have encountered problems.

There was a whole Twitter exchange between myself (@thiscrazytrain), @MichaelSuddard, @GOvoygr, @Prestocard and @ellenroseman (yes, *that* Ellen Roseman) about an incident involving @eliphae who loaded funds on a bus and never saw those funds make their way into her PRESTO e-wallet. It took over three weeks for her situation to be resolved and it was only resolved when Ellen Roseman contacted the Media relations manager with Metrolinx (@femwriter). It was a wild west kind of day that day on Twitter.

Reading through the comments on Facebook, it's an even mix of joy and anger at this news. A lot of anger is stemming from people who commute from rural communities who don't necessarily use GO Stations. They rely on the on-board PRESTO terminal to load funds. A lot of joy is stemming from people who hate any kind of bus-passenger payment transactions. "It's one less thing for drivers to worry about", wrote one person. I guess these people don't have anyone on their routes who pay for single rides, and in quarters.

I guess this is a sign of the times, folks. PRESTO allows for online transactions. Bus passengers will have to watch their balances more closely and load funds before the balance enters into red alert, and well before 24 hours til mayday, allowing time for the load to work its way across the GO system.

Below is the account from @eliphae. Did her situation drive the final nail in the coffin for on-board PRESTO loads?

from: eliphae
date: Sun, Apr 6, 2014 at 7:54 PM
subject: Babbling records of a Presto mess

Hello :D~!

I'd like to thank you again for your help in clearing up my recent Presto nightmare~! Looking back from where I am now, now that its all over, I can't imagine how it'd been solved without tackling the incident face on and making the necessary calls to nag at their customer service to get something done. For that, I'd have to thank you and numerous others on Twitter for keeping me grounded and pointed in the right direction!

So now that its over, GO Voyageur kindly poked at me to make a documentation of the entire recent run in with Presto and the particular circumstances that started off this entire month-long epic fail by the transit system. This will probably not be very concise and will definitely run off random tangents, but please bear with me.

I work in Hamilton, and journey there and back to Oakville everyday for the past few years. I usually make my transit by taking the more economical option of carpooling with coworkers, but now and then I found myself having to take the GO Transit instead. Now, one of my coworkers had previous let me in on the ability to load your card while boarding the bus, a feature which I found liberating and very convenient. Up to a few weeks ago, I haven't experienced any problems doing this.

So on Friday 14th of March, I boarded the bus as usual and inquired to load my card with a 20$. The driver complied and I was given my receipt. There was a charge for underpayment, and I worried a bit that I may have forgotten to tap off the day before, and thus made doubly sure to tap off hence after. I came home that day by carpool. Imagine my surprise the following Monday, when I tapped on only to be flashed Non-Sufficient Funds!

My usual trip of Oakville to Hamilton, with a stopover at the Hwy407 Oakville carpool lot, comes to the amount of $6.84. I originally had $5.68 in balance, and upon loading a 20, I was definitely expecting more than one ride before it hit the bottom!

That evening, I logged onto the Presto website to try and check my transition records. Unfortunately, it was my parents' card, which they failed to activate properly within the 30 day limit. Therefore another week was spent on trying to get it activated.

At this time, I raged on Twitter and randomly on the Presto Facebook page, giving a go at the passive aggressive approach. Thankfully, you and GOVoyageur and a few other friendly mates heard my aimless flailing and reached out a hand!!

I phoned in numerous times to Presto, and had various well meaning CSR agents insinuate on why patience is a virtue when using their system, and how one must wait a full 24 (if not more) hours before starting the next stage. I refused to load anymore onto the card for fear of it becoming even more muddled up than it is already, and had to instead run downtown several times to the GO Station to flash the card at the balance checker. Apparently you must wait a full 24 hours (if not more) after the card is initiated for activation, before attempting to activate it. Any tries at flashing the card within this 24 hour waiting time is useless.

Finally, on March 21st, one week later, my card was activated on my Presto account, and I was able to check my transit history. Here I shall link once again to the screencap I posted to Twitter;

Anyone who has accessed their online Presto account has no doubt seen this table. And then possibly spent a good while trying to make heads or tails out of it. The invisible deductions doesn't make it any clearer. But in the end I supposed I made a decent connection of how much funds went or out at each line.

GOVoyageur came to the rescue and made a much in-depth diagnosis of the catpuke chart of doom. I shall attempt to copy and transcript it in its entirety.

8:21 Tap ON. Debit $5.20 base fare. Next, attempt to load $20 to ePurse
8:21 System closes trip. Debit $3.50 Underpayment to York U. Credit ePurse with $16.50.
8:28 Exit bus and tap OFF. System interprets this as tap ON. Debit $5.20 base fare.
8:55 Transfer to Hamilton bound bus and tap ON. This is 2nd Zone 13 entry showing as $0.00 (also a bug)
8:55 System thinks you didn't tap OFF 1st bus, so debit $3.50 Underpayment (reflected in balance)
8:55 At this point you also lost the GO-to-GO transfer credit within 3 hr Travel Window
8:55 (1st Zone 13 entry) Tap ON. Debit base fare of $5.20.
9:38 Exit bus & tap OFF. Debit $1.64 to complete 2nd bus trip to Hamilton.


Apparently the transaction log is read bottom to top, with the newest at the top, except for the Zone 13 entries, which are in reverse order.

From what I gather, the card was tapped on before the driver managed to set the machine on load mode. Then upon the switch, the original trip was cancelled and an underpayment charge was deducted. A new trip wasn't activated until my tap off the bus at the Hwy 407 stop over, which then of course registered as a tap on. I don't really understand the GO-to-GO transfer within the 3 hour travel window, exactly, since it was all within a one hour duration. So the third trip was initiated, somehow...

Anyways, I ended up phoning in to GO Transit, now with some solid evidence of a bugged card system and feeling more credited to ask for a refund. A friendly CSR informed me I would have to wait a week for the inquiry to reach the head of the queue, and that they are apparently very much backlogged.

Over a week later, I was still waiting. And if it were not for the friendly folks on Twitter, I reckon I'd still be waiting. As it were, Michael Suddard managed to direct me to Ellen Roseman, who sent me to Anne Marie Aikins who was able to take up the issue to GO Transit and have it looked at immediately! Cheers for joy!

I was rather hazy and feeling worn out at this point, but was anxious as ever to see it through. Fortunately, a call came the following day at work, from a lady at the GO Transit call center. A credit coupon has been mailed out!! And indeed, I have received it shortly before typing this wall of text.

So the moral of the entire mess? Either load money at a GO Station, or make sure the bus driver know you wish to load, and have it done before any tapping is done! I admit at certain times during the entire mess, I envisioned myself buying paper passes daily instead. No doubt I'd receive the stink-eye from every other passenger for holding up the bus, but at least I'd know where my money is going~!!

So glad it's over.



Michael Suddard said...

I brought Ellen Roseman in,as it seemed eliphae was getting the runaround from Go Transit and Presto.

Waiting a week to get the whole thing even looked at seemed outrageous as well. The fact GO Transit was backlogged on Presto issues, as eliphae noted in her e-mail, also smells. If Presto is so awesome, why is there such a backlog?

Ellen Roseman should be congratulated in this as well as she quickly got the issue to GO Transit's media relations department. I'm sure Ellen would have eaten GO Transit for lunch if things didn't get quickly resolved.

George said...

I've heard from some passengers (my kids) that when coming from York or McMaster, students loading up their cards cause delays each and every day.

Of course I can't tell how bad it is anywhere else because I ride trains :) and not buses.

I'd love to see some stats on this. I don't think GO would do this lightly.

Taylor said...

People loading their cards on the bus results in the driver having a large amount of cash on them - I think this is a safety issue.

C.J. Smith said...

Hi Taylor
Definitely noted.

Peter said...

IMO, this article nailed it. In my 3½ years on Route 12 in the Niagara region, the biggest delay boarding buses is ticket sales in St. Catharines. Early morning commuters usually use PRESTO, but very few ask the driver to load their ePurse. Last summer I sent an e-mail to the former president of GO Transit suggesting a PRESTO+Autoload sales campaign to the parents of Brock University freshmen just so passenger boarding might be expedited, especially on Friday afternoons when many students head home. That suggestion fell on deaf ears. The drivers and I keep informal counts of Friday afternoon PRESTO users - it's roughly 10-15%. I view that as a 85-90% failure rate for PRESTO.

GOvoygr said...

If nothing else, this scenario showed the power of social media. Individuals from across the province came together to right a Metrolinx issue that was so wrong on so many levels. Next issue: $6 PRESTO cards that break prematurely.

Saddle up amigos. We ride. Hasta luego!

Anonymous said...

Gee, GO transit and Presto have screwed this up once again

Unknown said...

My commute includes the 51 bus from Pickering to Centennial College. There are a lot of people loading $10 or $20 on their cards on these trips. I have even seen $5 loaded, and wonder why? It isn't even enough for one trip.
But I'm guessing that getting rid of loading the card on the bus won't speed things up, because these passengers will now buy tickets, and we'll have to wait while change is made.
This will turn out to be another "fix" that will create a bigger problem than it solves.

Anonymous said...

I am an Operator for Go Transit. I for one and most of my co-workers are glad to finally see this happening.
When presto was first introduced, we were told that we wouldn't be loading presto cards on the buses. That was soon changed to only when someone was stuck out somewhere, we could load their card. It was then changed again to when ever and where ever, we had to load them. What it has done is enable people. The courtesy is being abused. You now have Operators loading not just the one off card to loading 15 to 20 cards at Terminals and Go Stations because people can't walk that 20 feet to go inside and do this. It is time consuming, it has made trips run late on a daily basis. Your having buses miss connections, your having to call to get other buses to wait for connecting passengers, now making those buses late. Your having buses miss train meets because of this as well. Operators starting their next trip late because of this.
The safety of our Operators. You may as well put a bigger target on our backs because of having to load these cards.
There are so many options for passengers to load their cards. At a terminal, agency, go station or on line. There is no need for Operators to do this.

C.J. Smith said...

Very happy someone with a first-hand point of view wrote in which I appreciate! I'm not on a route (90) where loading cards is a daily occurrence or a habit but I can imagine how the abuse has become a problem. I can't see these (mostly students) changing their ways unless they want to pay cash and full fare all the time. Laziness wouldn't necessarily "pay off" would it?

Anonymous said...

It's not just the students that do this on a regular basis. Yes, they are guilty of holding up the service one after another doing this. But you now have regular passengers on express services doing this 2 to 3 times a week. Holding up service because again, instead of walking inside to load their cards they can sit in their vehicles and wait till the bus pulls up to join the line and it begins. As for the gentleman who said that ticket selling will hold up service, there are even machines at most go stations were they can purchase tickets prior to boarding and they don't. The reason they put the 5 dollars on the card is they may have 1 or 2 dollars left on the card which would be just enough to get them where they are going. We have always sold tickets on our buses. The thing is, you have now added more disruption to the service regarding the loading of Presto cards on the buses.

Anonymous said...

Wonder why GO is the only agency that allows Presto reloads on the bus whereas local GTA agencies don't allow this.

Jack C. said...

I can definitely understand driver and passenger frustration with Presto loads delaying trips. Of course, a few grumpy Go drivers have griped about selling tickets on board for years, and since long before Presto.

I remember about 5 or 6 years ago, someone got on a 92 bus (or whatever the route is) on Hwy 2 in Pickering and bought the ticket with a $20 bill. The driver glanced at the bill in her hand and made an audible growl, and proceeded to print the ticket (shoving the keyboard in irritation with far more force than required) before the passenger had finished speaking. She had said she was going to Yorkdale, and he popped out a one-ride before she could finish and say she wanted a day pass (which would have used up much more of the $20, obviously).

The driver then started muttering even more audibly, and she said, "No, it's okay. Never mind. I'll just take the one ride. You already printed it. It's okay." He then proceeded to give her her change using the smallest coins he had (many quarters, dimes and nickles) in a passive aggressive gesture aimed at showing his displeasure.

The young woman sat down, looked at the handful of change, and asked, "Are you out of toonies and loonies?" He replied, "No, I'm not." She said, "You gave me all quarters and dimes and nickels." He said, "Is that a problem?" She said, "Well, this handful of change is ridiculous." He then snapped loudly, "YOU GIVING ME A 20 DOLLAR BILL IS RIDICULOUS! YOU KNEW HOW MUCH THE TRIP WOULD BE, DIDN'T YOU?"

Taken aback, the young woman said, "That's why I was asking for the day pass." Driver yelled back, "FAT LOT OF GOOD THAT DOES WHEN I ALREADY PRINTED THE TICKET, EH?"

She said, "Can you lower your voice? You're not being very courteous." He said, "That's unfortunate, Miss" with all the sarcasm he could manage. And then he said, "Next time buy a 10-ride. We shouldn't even be selling these things on board. I'm not a cashier at Walmart."

I chalked it up to a bad day, and 95% of the Go drivers I've encountered have been reasonably nice. But I got the sense that this particular driver was venting his irritation at fares on an unsuspecting passenger (who, by the way, offered NO provocation or attitude, other than having a 20 to pay her fare).

I suspect the Presto situation has aggravated an already sore point for some drivers.

Peter said...

@Anonymous (April 18, 2014 at 1:53 PM)
Thank you for your insights. I wish more operators would share their views with us here, anonymously, of course. It’s an education for us. Unfortunately, passengers don’t realize they have a responsibility to ensure the success of a trip. That’s why I wrote this a while back:

You are correct that there are other ways to load funds to cards, but they are not always available or are rejected by passengers. Where in Stoney Creek, Grimsby, and St. Catharines can you find a terminal? Drivers and passengers in St. Catharines have been crying for a kiosk of some sort since 2009. My son has configured autoload at least twice, and it won’t work for him; repeated calls to CSRs ended in futility. My wife’s autoload had other problems. Look at the Twitter posts about online loads not being applied to an ePurse even though the credit card transaction cleared days ago. The net result -- a distrust of PRESTO’s online load functions. So, who do passengers turn to? A familiar face they can trust, namely, you and your colleagues.

Passengers don’t realize that the time delays you described are cumulative, and they jeopardize the transfer credits in the Travel Window for all riders. BTW, do you know how to extend the Travel Window so it is applied to passengers' cards?

As painful as the time delay is for drivers, the pain of PRESTO stealing money from passengers is far worse. This IT blunder seems to have been the last straw for management.

Anonymous said...

SO they basically spent a boatload of cash installing these machines on buses only to call them defunct in June 2014. Smart. I'll have to remember to carry cash on me for the odd time I take the bus home instead of the train. IMO, that's bullshit.

Peter said...

@Anonymous (April 21, 2014 @ 11:36)
The Presto POS terminals are staying, but drivers will not use them to load $ to your card. You can still tap ON with your Presto card or purchase tickets with cash.

Unknown said...

I hate to necro-post, but it's worth noting that e-purse loads are still being accepted on GO buses per this tweet.