Monday, October 15, 2018

Sit round the fire kids, it's time for another Presto card story kindly contributed by a reader of the blog

There’s a special feeling you get in your gut when you try to deal with anything Presto. It’s knotty and hollow and saps all of your energy. Like when you call the Bell helpdesk or ask Rogers about those pesky extra charges…
But wait - that’s just being mean to Mama Bell and Ted.
I honestly believe there is no other entity on the planet that can rival Presto for sheer inanity.
My hate-affair with the crappy piece of plastic goes back two years, to when I first signed up. And, I’m pleased to say, that after wrapping up yet another head shaking chit-chat chat with a Presto Apologist Operator just 5 minutes ago, my hate is as strong as ever.
Why do I hate you Presto? Let me count a few ways:
You use two tap machines for UP Express
For a system that is supposed to be built on ease of use and consistency, it’s a sticky business hopping the train to the airport. Last week I ran to the Union platform and tapped on. I got a friendly green arrow punched the air and went on my merry way. It was only when I tried to tap on again the next day when green turned to red…
What have I done?
The nice lady at the desk explained that I had ‘tapped the wrong machine’ the day before and now my account was in arrears.
She explained that they’ve put two machines at Union, one for Bloor and Weston commuters and one for Pearson travelers.
‘If you tap the wrong one it gets confused’
‘It’s not the only one.’
As we watched my train chug away, she turned her head to yell at another errant customer about to tap into the abyss.
‘Are you going to the airport?’
‘Er, yes?’
‘Wrong machine!’
She showed me the error on her screen and gave me a number to call to fix it.
‘Can’t you fix it?’ I asked
‘Why not?’
‘The system doesn’t let me’
I called the number and a nice bloke told me he’d put the request through to Customer Service.
‘They’ll call you back in 5-7 business days’
‘Can’t you fix it?’ I asked him
‘Why not’
‘The system won’t let me’
Everything takes 24 hours
When I bought my new card I explained to the nice lady at the counter that I needed to transfer funds from a lost card and could she please give me very simple, super specific instructions because this happened once before and I ended up with three new cards because I went and registered the account and, you know, you can’t transfer $ to a registered card…And then I found my lost card but I couldn’t ‘un-lose’ it because somebody at Presto had marked it as lost and when it’s lost, well – it’s gone forever.

She looked at me sideways and gave me a little business card with very simple, super specific instructions.
I went home, signed on and followed the instructions...

Ah crap.

It didn’t work.

The nice man on the phone told me that I’d have to wait 24 hours before I can transfer the funds.
‘Because we don’t get the newly purchased card numbers until the end of each day’
‘Why not?’
‘I don’t know’
Regular Presto users are all too familiar with the 24 hour rule.
 - Want to register your card? Wait 24 hours
 - Autoload? 24 hours.
  - Transfer funds? Sure! In 24 hours…
For a transit system that prides itself on its on-time performance the payment system is pretty tardy.
You can’t tap on the train

I picked my wife up from the station the other day and she told me how she’d watched a whole slew of passengers getting fined for non-payment. They all had Presto cards. And they all complained that they couldn’t tap on because they were running for the train.
Were they lying?
Well, let’s see…1. Do people run for trains? Yup. 2. Are the Presto machines plentiful, and stationed at regular intervals along the platform? Er, nope. 3. Do these customers have a history of skipping the fare? Well, we’ll never know because the TSOs didn’t check. This was a zero tolerance kind of a day.
The GO fare payment model is unique and inane. In Europe gate-only access is the predominant mode. Either that or blind trust (Danke Wiener Stra├čenbahn!). Metrolinx is neither of both and nothing of anything.
Metrolinx needs to understand that their transit system is supposed to serve its customers - not the other way around. They need to remember what people are like: People don’t want to line up, people make mistakes, people are always in a rush and people are usually trustworthy.
Metrolinx, if you want a fool proof spoof-proof system then put gates in. If you want a trust-based system then put readers everywhere and give your customers the benefit of the doubt. Don’t punish people for the mess you made.
I could add a dozen more how-do-I-hate-you reasons for this heart breaking piece of crappy plastic.   I could bemoan the:
  • Alpha-numeric-online-usernames? Ouch.
  • Replace-lost-card-doesn’t-give-me-the-option-to-change-the-card-type? Ah!
  • Pre-boarding-ticket-inspection-at-Pearson-but-nowhere-else? Why??!
But, I can’t dwell on our differences. I need to pull myself away.  After all, it’s not me, Presto – it’s you.


G said...

Well, I can answer your very last question anyway: they do pre-boarding inspection at Pearson because the whole system is so confusing that the chance of a foreign visitor figuring it out is basically zilch.

The two different machines to tap on the UP Express also strikes me as crazy. As a computer programmer myself, I can't wrap my head around how badly designed this system must be to make this necessary.

Ed said...

There is a valid reason for an autoload taking up to 24 hours to show up on your card.
The backend database updates right away and your load is on your account as soon as the transaction is finished. Since that value is stored on your card, it has to update the card. Since Presto transactions are not real time and the system has no way of knowing where you'll tap next, each device is uploaded with that transaction amount that will be loaded onto the card. Not all machines get updated at the same time so the lesser-used devices will take longer. The ones at Union are fairly quick at updating a card. Once the amount has been loaded on the card, the backend database updates the rest of the devices so you won't get another load....

Notice it say UP TO 24 hours. In practice it rarely takes that long.

As for the people getting fined, take a course in time management. It takes a few seconds to tap and there are machines all over Union. You do NOT have to pick one close to the platform. There are no devices on the platforms because vandalism. When it was tried, the drunk assholes after sporting events and arena events regularly broke them by kicking, knocking over, hitting with bottles and various other methods of attempted destruction.

When I was in Switzerland and France, there were no gates, just fare inspectors like we have here. The difference is that if you had no ticket, you paid a fare that includes a premium to the fare inspector.

Ed said...

Whoops just checked the Presto website. It's been changed to available IN 24 hours. Stupid and misleading.

Donna said...

oh please! if you're late and running for the train, then WHOSE FAULT IS THAT?? it's your own. People need to take responsibility for their own actions. NEVER have I not tapped because I was running late. I dont know about other stations, but lately the fare checkers at Ajax are standing in the tunnel on the other side of the Presto machines and therefore you cannot go up the stairs to the track unless you pass the fare checkers. What I would like to know is if people have not tapped, do they give them a ticket or do they give them a chance to walk back 10 metres and tap their card?

Ed said...

Donna, everyone gets the chance to go back and tap. People who refuse are given tickets and probably miss their train. There are people who legitimately forget because they are zombie walking so it's a good thing for them.

Warren Downe said...

I believe this passenger’s experience warrants an entry in the Presto Chronicles as Chapter 36.

Where are these PRESTO readers at Union Station? Can anyone provide photos of their vicinity?

I, like others, have never NOT tapped on because of time constraints, i.e. “running for the train”. I have been in conversion with fellow passengers at a station, tapped, and later standing on the platform wondered, “Did I tap?” Unlike the 2-ride and 10-ride tickets in days of yore, a PRESTO card provides no indication on your proof of payment for a trip — good luck finding a balance checker when you really need one. As for the “slew of passengers getting fined for non-payment”, no sympathy from me.

The poor customer service cited, especially from the ticket agent, is worrisome. Senior staff have told me self-serve TVM’s with one agent providing guidance will be the new customer experience. We’re doomed.