TTC set to move its Metropass over to the beleaguered Presto system

Acknowledging some bumps along the road, the TTC is rolling out some of its monthly Metropass on Presto this month to try to work out any kinks before open it up to everyone.

TTC Riders group says it still has concerns, given past glitches with the smart card

TTC riders can now purchase the equivalent of a monthly Metropass on their Presto card. Only 2,000 adult and 1,000 senior passes will be made available during the first month. (CBC)

Acknowledging some bumps along the road, the TTC is rolling out some of its monthly Metropass on Presto this month to try to work out any kinks before open it up to everyone. 

The TTC's shift to Presto has been beset with problems — from the smart cards not reloading cash to the card readers not registering a person's fare. 

Heather Brown, TTC spokesperson, says the commission will make more monthly passes available if the trial is a success. (LinkedIn)

That's why the Metropass rollout is starting small, a TTC spokesperson said. There will only be 2,000 adult passes and 1,000 senior passes available in June. 

"We started with a smaller number to allow us and Metrolinx just to test the overall customer experience," Heather Brown said.

Brown said the pilot project will look specifically at whether there are any issues in buying and loading the Metropass on to the cards, and whether the cards were then properly debited by the TTC.

Riders group concerned about card's reliability

But an advocacy group for transit riders is not yet convinced of the Presto system's reliability.

"I'd like to say thank you to the riders out there willing to be guinea pigs," said Jessica Bell, executive director of TTCriders. "A test pilot seems like a sensible idea because the Presto rollout has had problems and there are trust issues."

Brown acknowledged that there had been some issues when the smart card readers were introduced on streetcars in 2015, and then on buses and at subway stations last year.

While the TTC reported about 16 per cent of its vehicle had a malfunctioning Presto reader in December 2016, Brown said that number has been cut to between two and three per cent. About 90 per cent of subway fare gates are also glitch-free, she said; earlier this year, passengers could trick those by swiping their umbrella. 

"We've certainly seen an improvement in the reliability of the readers," she said. "Some of the machines were freezing before customer transactions were complete [but] now we are seeing less of that happening as well."

Jessica Bell, executive director of the TTCriders, says she was an early adopter of the Presto card and had a bad experience. (CBC)

Brown says some of the difficulties in moving to the Presto system were because of the TTC's size, noting that it's the largest of the 10 agencies that use the service. 

If the pilot project goes smoothly, however, the TTC will add other plans to the smart card, including student Metropasses.

"We'll eventually introduce daily and weekly maximums — once you hit that threshold you are not charged any more," said Brown.

Shift to Presto

Right now the TTC uses Presto as a single-fare card, every tap debits $3 from its balance, while a Metropass allows for unlimited rides for the month. The cost of the Metropass will be the same as it is through the TTC.

While there's no deadline set, next year the TTC will begin the transition from tickets, tokens and passes to full implementation of Presto.

"The one thing the TTC is doing well is they're not forcing everyone to move over to Presto until it's working," said Bell, of TTCriders. "But it costs $6 to buy a Presto card. We'd like to see the card be made free. It's free in other cities; why not here?"


Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for the National Network based in Toronto. His stories are on CBC Radio's World Report, World This Hour, World at Six and The World This Weekend as well as CBC TV's The National and CBC News Online. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.