Sunday, August 28, 2011

YRT's Problems with Presto

After much delay and marketing, on July 18th York Region Transit (YRT) rolled out the Presto Card payment system. There were free Presto Card campaigns where the card issuance fee was waived at Richmond Hill Centre Terminal, Finch Station and Newmarket Terminal.
From travelings on Yonge Street there has not been that many passengers using the card.  Since the roll out, I have only seen one person use their Presto Card to pay a fare.   But, YRT has only rolled out the Presto Card to those that regularly use tickets.  Hopefully once all the kinks are worked out YRT will roll them out to the monthly pass holders to use.   But this will take a while as there are several issues that need to be ironed out. is reporting several customer complaints that YRT seems to be unreasonably attempting to resolve.  The first has the been the distribution of the card.  Kevin Ball says it best about this experience:

"All in all, it has been only a frustrating and disappointing experience,” he said. “I was dumbfounded that any system could be run this poorly.” article.

Kevin had issues finding the card distribution in the first place.  He lives in Newmarket and attended the Newmarket Terminal where he was told he could obtain it.  The card was not there.  He was told the York Region Transit Office in Richmond Hill has the card.  A couple of issues here for Mr. Ball, the Richmond Hill Transit Office is only open between 8:30 A.M. and 4:30 P.M. Monday to Friday.  Now let's ask a very poignant question, what might the average transit user be doing between the hours of 8:30 and 4:30 during a regular weekday?  Working full time or attempting to navigate the transit system just like Kevin Ball!  Mr. Ball even tried the local GO Train stations, sure they have the cards but they are only open in the mornings for a couple of hours to sell GO Fares.  In the end Mr. Ball returned his card after having the Presto system reject his card and being unable to refill the card.  To further aggravate the situation, Mr. Ball was unable to get a live operator on the phone when calling Presto itself and e-mailing  about the issues.

Next up is Jo-anne Brown who ordered the Presto card online and had it delivered for her teenage daughter.  Ms. Brown then inquired with York Region Transit as to how to ensure only student fares were deducted as her daughter fits into that fare category.  The rocket scientists at YRT said the only way to do this is to come down to the Richmond Hill YRT Office to have the card set correctly.  And the hours again on that office: 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. Monday to Friday.  Ms. Brown was also told the Newmarket Terminal would be able to do this as well.  But, the Newmarket Terminal, like Mr. Ball above found out, did not do this.  She visited the Richmond Hill Transit office during her work hours to get the card activated.  But that was not all to finish activating the student card: "Ms Brown had to tap the card within seven days to complete activation, but was told that, since she didn’t want to actually board a bus, she could have the fare refunded by pushing the cancel button. There was no cancel button, however, and instead she had $2.75 deducted,..." Ms. Brown has since turned the Presto card into an very expensive, yet, decorative coaster for her coffee table.

Two weeks ago on CBC Radio's Metro Morning with Matt Galloway, a freelance reporter reported that he tapped his Presto Card at Finch Station and boarded a northbound VIVA Blue bus. YRT's Transit Enforcement was on the VIVA bus checking fares.  They tapped the reporter's card and the reader said he hadn't paid.  The reporter embarrassingly disembarked the bus with the transit enforcement team and tapped the Presto Machine he used and it showed he paid.  In the meantime, the VIVA Blue bus pulled out without the reporter on the bus for which he duly paid his fare and he was made to look like a fare evading scofflaw when in fact the reporter had fully paid his fare and was entitled to board the bus.  There was no word of an apology from York Region Transit or Presto in this case. The next guest on CBC's Metro Morning was the head of Metrolinx, Bruce McCuaig, who did not offer an apology but pointed out Presto was a new system and there were technical glitches being worked out across the system.

So with this in mind the reporter followed up with the head of York Region Transit, Richard Leary.  Mr. Leary however stayed on YRT's carefully written script just like a seasoned politician in a political campaign in response to the reporter's questioning.  Unfortunately the Mr. Leary's published comments in the article only make him seem totally out of touch with what has gone on in YRT's failed attempt at rolling out Presto: 

YRT general manager Rick Leary said the rollout has gone better than expected and the transit service has registered only eight complaints.

Really?  Then why was the Presto roll out delayed from March 2011, as written in a staff report to the Region of York's transportation comittee, to July 2011.  According to my sources at YRT there were significant technical issues that needed to be worked out and that is why there was a delay.  From Mr. Ball's and Ms. Brown's experiences and Mr. McQuaig's own admissions, it appears that there are still technical issues to be worked out.  Thus, Mr. Leary's contention that the "rollout has gone better than expected" is simply not true. 

“It’s been nearly seamless because everyone else has gone first.”

No things have not been "seamless" for York Region Transit.  If the system roll out was "seamless" the Presto program would have been rolled out as promised by Regional Transportation staff of March 2011 instead of July 2011.  "Seamless" also does not mean having distribution network issues requiring people to have to take off work to visit the transit office during work hours.  "Seamless" also does not mean Presto card fare payment issues where users are accused of not paying their fares properly (CBC Reporter) or not being able to use the duly payed for card itself (Mr. Brown).

As for the issues raised by Mr. Brown and Ms Ball, he conceded the distribution network is not fully in place, but said it will change in 2012 as the system expands. Right now, the focus is on education and attracting riders who typically use a cash fare or 10-ticket packages. By the middle of next year, YRT hope to also sell monthly passes via Presto.

"Education and attracting riders"? The only thing the Presto experience so far has shown is YRT can not handle a roll out of a new fare system that is properly tested and easy for the customer to use.  Presto has had technical issues as Bruce McQuaig, the head of Metrolinx pointed out on CBC Radio. So if there were so many technical issues, why was the Presto system not delayed by YRT and a proper explanation in staff report presented to the Region's Transportation committee. This report would have said there had been issues in other jurisdictions that need to be ironed out and, thus, a one year delay would save the Region and it's transit customers time, money and frustration.  But then again, Mr. Leary would not be able to contend that the roll out has been "seamless" and would be forced to admit the failure of Presto.

“What we have is working very well,” Mr. Leary said.   

Really?  After reading and hearing about the issue of Presto, I don't think this statement by Mr. Leary is believable.

1 comment:

  1. Late as I may be to the party, but I've used a much similar product in Hong Kong called the Octopus card. It worked wonders as there are vast number of vendors that support this payment system because of how simple and reliable it is. From public transport to convenience store, the card was a simple tap and go.

    What I didn't understand why did they not seek International or even continental guidance. It feels like we're the last ones to the party.


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