To get good insightful answers, how the question is framed matters. I missed an opportunity on Thursday
Using the PRESTO card
I excitedly purchased my PRESTO card shortly after GO unveiled the fare payment system for public use. I rushed to the Hamilton GO Centre to get my card.
With disappointment, I learned that I could only use the card for GO train trips and not for bus-train trips.
Finally, in October, I was able to use my PRESTO card for the first time. I decided to take the Hamilton bound rush hour GO train instead of my usual QEW Express bus solely to fulfil my wish to use the PRESTO card.
My excitement would turn to grief when faced with the complexity of PRESTO.
When I arrived in Hamilton, I quickly tried to “tap off” the system while heading for the HSR bus that was seconds away from the John and Jackson bus stop.
My “tap off” failed but I was unaware.
Learning of the error
A couple of weeks later, I tried to use my PRESTO card and it told me “insufficient balance”. I also had a 10-ride pass for the route I took and used it instead.
Disembarking the train in Oakville, I went to the ticket counter to ask about my incorrect balance. The ticket agent informed me that I did not tap off correctly and charged the full fare to Niagara Falls.
Not Correcting the error
I was not too bothered by this, it’s impossible to use PRESTO on the GO bus to Niagara Falls and I believed it would be a simple matter to correct the error. I was wrong – there was no appeal. Further, he informed that it was my responsibility to verify that the system registers my “tap-out” before leaving the station.
I tried a few venues figuring I had a strong case against the overcharge – after all, it was impossible for me to use PRESTO to Niagara Falls. After trying in vain, I gave up on the matter and promised to never use PRESTO on the GO system again.
Correcting the error
Last week, I made my first trip into Toronto’s Union Station since the error in October. I earlier than expected as the new HOV lanes meant the GO bus took less than an hour into Toronto. With the extra time, I decided to try my luck with the Union Station Customer Service Centre.
It opened at 0700 and there was a line-up of people with PRESTO issues. I spoke to one of the supervisors at the centre and after some discussion, he agreed that it was impossible for me to have gone to Niagara Falls. After a lecture about how I was responsible for the error, he agreed to correct the situation and refund me the difference between Hamilton fare and Niagara Falls fare.
Listening to other people experiencing difficulties with PRESTO, I realized the system’s complexity is both a blessing and a curse. To work across many transit systems, PRESTO requires complexity. The problem is the complexity increases the opportunities for human error.
In my case, I was rushing to transfer to a city bus and the card reader was either malfunctioning or I failed to get my card read. Likely, it was the latter – my fault.
The woman beside me had her card frozen when she ran into a negative balance – she refilled online and returned to a positive balance. However, the card does not reactivate automatically. It requires a ticket agent to press a button.
Allowing a negative balance is a brilliant idea – it ensures people get home with their PRESTO card. It’s a feature deserving promotion as one of the benefits of the card. PRESTO can improve the feature by automatically reactivating upon loading a positive balance.
Multi-zone, multi-transit agency trips need simplification. A PRESTO mobile app would go a long way towards simplifying the experience. A mobile app, using push notifications, will tell cardholders when their balance is low or if my card doesn’t tap out after a set time.
Why I love PRESTO on Hamilton Transit
I’ve been using my PRESTO card daily on Hamilton’s local public transit system. I love it, more importantly, it simplifies my travelling experience. I store my PRESTO card within my wallet. Whenever I board a bus, I simply pull out my wallet and swipe it at the reader.
The PRESTO card charges me ticket fare – $2 per trip.
More conveniently, I do not need a paper transfer to switch buses – my PRESTO card allows me unlimited travel for two hours after paying my initial fare. I’ve lost many paper transfer slips.
The card saves me time, money (not losing paper transfers), and is simple to use on the HSR.
I’m no longer purchasing paper HSR transit tickets – it’s PRESTO card or bust for me.