Fix Presto glitches, Toronto woman tells TTC

A Toronto woman is sounding the alarm about possible glitches in the TTC's Presto electronic fare technology, saying on three recent occasions card readers on buses have malfunctioned — and in one case the driver ended up kicking her son off the bus.

TTC advises riders to carry tickets, tokens, cash, in case card readers fail

Presto card readers have malfunctioned three times in the past few weeks, according to a Toronto woman who says her son was kicked off a bus in one incident.

A Toronto woman is sounding the alarm about possible glitches in the TTC's Presto electronic fare technology, saying on three recent occasions card readers on TTC buses have malfunctioned – and in one case the driver ended up kicking her son off the bus.

Bernadette Hume said the first problem happened a few weeks ago.

"I got on a bus, tapped. The card didn't light up. My daughter-in-law got on behind me, tapped her card," Hume said. 

Her daughter-in-law's Presto card didn't light up either, she said. 

On that occasion, Hume said, the driver kindly let them ride anyway. But that wasn't the case when her son tried to use the card last week.

Hume said he was getting on the 108 Downsview bus at 11.39 a.m. on Aug. 15 at Driftwood Avenue. He boarded and then tapped the card.

"It didn't even make that noise. There was a fault with the machine," said Hume. So her son tried the reader at the back of the bus – still nothing.

"He told my son to get off the bus," said Hume, who later checked the card balance online.

"That payment had gone through. You could see it clear as day on his transaction history," she said.

The TTC is warning there will be growing pains as the card readers are installed on all of its 1,900 buses. The commission says technicians are now halfway through the installation process. (Linda Ward/CBC)

When she called Presto she was reminded that it can take 24 hours for funds to appear on a card. But she said she put funds on it three days before her son tried to use the card, which had a balance of more than $20. 

She was asked if the card was damaged, but she said the card is only two weeks old and has been used successfully since.

When Hume informed the TTC, she said she received a letter of apology and five tokens in compensation – much less than the $70 it cost her son to take a cab to work.

But apart from the cost, Hume is concerned because Presto will soon be the only payment option for riders.

'Unfortunate blip in technology'

TTC spokeswoman Heather Brown said operators should not deny a ride if the fare equipment is not working properly. Each bus is equipped with two card readers. If one is down, she suggested, the customer should try the other.

"If the card readers aren't in service ... the operator should allow customers to board and then recommend that they tap on at the next point of entry into the system," Brown said.

"That's not the customer's fault; that's an unfortunate blip in technology. They shouldn't be punished for not having a card reader available to them."

Toronto's new streetcars are all equipped with Presto card readers. Many of the TTC's old streetcars have been retrofitted with Presto readers, as well. (David Donnelly/CBC)

But Hume said letting passengers on free will be a loss to the TTC.

"What is the TTC going to do when this keeps happening? Where will the shortfall come from? The passengers will ultimately pick it up because our fares will go up," said Hume.

Brown said there will be growing pains as the card readers are installed on all of the TTC's 1,900 buses. Technicians are just nearing the halfway point in the installation process. 

"If a reader goes out during an operator's shift, the procedure is they are supposed to call Transit Control and report it," said Brown, who did not have figures for the failure rate for the readers.

"This is a transition for everyone. We are learning the software ... There's lots of learning and things are being course-corrected along the way." 

Brown added that Presto has also been doing software upgrades, including two over the past two weekends.

But until the transition is completed in 2017 and tickets and tokens are phased out, Brown said customers using Presto should be prepared for some bumps along the road.

"Passengers are advised during the transition period to carry alternate forms of fare media – tickets, tokens or cash."