The head of Winnipeg's transit union is calling on the city to let go of its Peggo cards because of problems with the electronic fare-collection system.

Aleem Chaudhary, acting president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, says Peggo cards have been nothing but "a pain" since they went online in June 2016.​

"I personally think it failed, because they spent millions and millions on technology that I particularly don't think worked," Aleem Chaudhary said Tuesday in an interview.

"This system that they bought, the fare boxes and the readers and all that, they've been a headache ever since day one. It's costing the city millions."

'Not sure why they would be saying that'

Winnipeg Transit officials were taken back by the union's desire to get rid of Peggo cards.

"I'm not sure why they would be saying that. They haven't approached us with a conversation about that," said Greg Ewankiw, Winnipeg Transit's acting director. "I don't know how they're quantifying that information."

Winnipeg Transit officials also said they've fixed a glitch that prevented Peggo credits that were purchased online from getting transferred to the cards themselves.

"When you purchase something online, that product that you've bought — that pass or that cash — has not yet actually made its way to your card," explained said Kirk Cumming, Winnipeg Transit's information-systems manager. 

"What happens is that all your purchases are transferred to buses overnight in the garage, so that the next time you get on a bus, that product is actually transferred to your card.  It's that process that has experienced a problem."

From June through August, 311 received a total of about 1,400 complaints about Peggo cards, Cumming said. There were approximately 66,000 Peggo cards in service at the time, tapped on electronic card readers about five million times, he added.

He said now that the glitch has been fixed, the city is resolving complaints on a case-by-case basis, either by adding cash to cards automatically or letting customers know compensation is on the way.

Michael Tyas Peggo

Michael Tyas is getting an $80 credit from the city after experiencing repeated problems loading his Peggo card. (Submitted)

University of Manitoba employee Michael Tyas is among the Peggo users expecting compensation. He said Winnipeg Transit agreed to give him an $80 Peggo rebate after the fare-collection system failed to credit him for a series of online credit purchases.

"I kept finding myself getting stranded, far away from home, without any change, just with my Peggo card that I knew I had put money on," Tyas said in a telephone interview.

"Technology is always going to have issues, and this is something no one expected to happen," he said. "But on the other hand, I just find this so antiquated right from the get go. There are no self service kiosks, it takes so long for the money to get on your card if you do it online.

"It makes me wonder why they chose this system in the first place — it's so inferior."

Some bugs expected

Patty Jamieson-Bell, Winnipeg Transit's acting finance manager, said the Peggo system is still being implemented and some bugs are to be expected.

She said the city does not know whether the number of Peggo complaints is consistent with complaints about transit fare-collection systems in other cities. She also said transit can not calculate how much revenue has been lost because of Peggo problems.

Transit union urges Winnipeg to part with Peggo cards1:50

Chaudhary said the union has pegged that loss at up to $3 million a year in lost fares a year, plus up to $2 million to repair and maintain the fare boxes.

Jamieson-Bell said they have no idea how the union arrived at such a figure. Winnipeg Transit is expecting a $10.7-million shortfall at the end of this year, mainly because of changes to the way the province funds the utility and reduced ridership, which they blamed on low gas prices.

"It's an industry-accepted practice than when gas prices are low, ridership loss can be experienced," Ewankiw said, adding he expects ridership to rebound now that gas prices are on their way up.

Transit rest in peace

Winnipeg Transit buses display rest in peace sign Tuesday in honour of the funeral for slain operator Irvine Jubal Fraser, whose badge number was 521. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

The transit union also blames the Peggo system for creating disputes between riders and drivers. While Winnipeg Transit initially instructed bus drivers to confiscate defective Peggo cards, the union advised drivers to simply allow passengers with defective cards to ride for free," said Everett Rudolph, acting executive vice-president for ATU 1505.

"It's not the operator's job to enforce," said Rudolph, whose union is still reeling from the February killing of Irvine Jubal Fraser.

This spring, city council approved a transit-safety package that calls for four new measures to protect drivers this year and three they could institute next year.

This year, transit plans to test safety barriers, launch a program to encourage customers to report safety problems, improve reporting of incidents to police and create a transit advisory committee to review how the service operates.

In 2018, the city could spend up to $710,000 to hire five full-time security staff, create new positions called "point duty officers," expand its surveillance system and hire one more instructor to train drivers to defuse conflict. The funding would also allow Winnipeg Transit to hire three new drivers to allow the training to happen.

The 2018 measures depend on council approval of next year's budget.​